Eel Space, a spanking new gallery just opened this past March in Chicago, is an artist run venue that focuses on thematic exhibitions and mostly local artists. The title of the show, Devastation and Space, honestly had me thinking about the apocalypse and dwarf planets. But the space was more visceral, and the devastation in the dialogue was emotional, physical and historical, not nuclear.
The show featured work from three artists, Emily Gomez, Snorre Sjonost Henriksen and Jesal Kapadia. Gomez’s work consists of five images on the wall when you enter, black and white landscapes, nice but not dazzling in content and composition. The first image is a strip mall of sorts, and in the center of the composition is a mound of earth, patchworked with sod. I was struck by how organic the strip mall appeared, how quickly I accepted it as natural, while the neat mound of earth seemed foreign and awkward in location. The second image is the corner of a parking lot and a hill, the hill divided by a fence running through it. Again, the position of the fence creates an strange divide in the hill, and seems arbitrary in placement. These first two images had me thinking about, obviously, constructed and organic, and the overlap between the two. However the literature about the show reveals that the locations depicted are actually sacred historical locations to various American Indian Nations. How depressing. Perhaps the most dismal was the portrait of the Tennessee Titans’ stadium built on a burial ground. Hot dog, anyone?
Kapadia’s work, a video projection entitled A vacant rectangle, left blank for a work expressing modern feeling, is a silent homage to the city of Chandighar in North India. The city was designed and built by Le Corbusier in the 1950s and the title comes from his book, The City of Tomorrow and Its Planning from 1937. The video is shot surveillance style of buildings that seem institutional and incomplete. Captions depict a conversation (real or imagined) between “I” and “he”. For example: “I asked what kind of vocation is profitable here, he said, Everything except poetry and writing”. There is a thick tension tangible between the modern brilliance that was clearly in the mind of the architect of this project, and the reality of what the buildings have become. This work is coupled by a diptych of glossy photographs taken from images in archives of Chandighar. There are flashes and reflections of exterior lights in the photos, which compoud the distance and disassociation one feels from the buildings.
The last piece, Henriksen’s Psycho Somatic was the work I was the least invested in. It consisted of a lab coat, hanging, with a message scrawled in red pen on duct tape reading MAKE UP YOUR MIND across the back. Playing on a small television was a video of a Henriksen and his collaborator Frans Ibon Svensen skateboarding along tunnels in what appears to be the basement of the institution. It seems like a video appropriate for YouTube, of some punkass kids trespassing and recording their shenanigans. The sound of the wheels grinding on the cement and echoing in the halls becomes a neutral sound backdrop for the repetitive action of the skateboarding and the words “Border” and “Clinic”. In the literature, I discovered that the location of the performance is in fact in the bowels of a mental instituion that the artist was breifly commited to. He and his collaborator and travelling the underground distance between the mental hospital and the Central Hospital of Telemark, the place for treatment of the somatic. He is physically transversing the space between the two to lay stress on the separation between the, you guessed it, psychiatric and somatic separation in the institution. Personally, the performance seemed disconnected from events it was alluding to, although I think the idea of transgression while using an amateur skateboarding video aesthetic was successful.
The work in this show felt like three separate explorations of devastation and space, specifically different types of devastation on physical space (human, emotional, ideological). It seemed like a fulfilling and thoughtful cross section of work on this theme. I’m excited to see more work in this space, and even if it is in a public transit gray area, I would recommend checking it out.
Devastation and Space will be up until the end of August, and gallery hours are Sundays 1-4 or by appointment.