Skip to main content

On ‘Notes to Nonself’ at the Hyde Park Art Center


'Notes to Nonself', multimedia installation by Diane Christiansen + Shoshanna Utchenik, Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago

You enter a long, high-ceilinged gallery filled with six-foot high fir trees, their outlines cut from plywood in the simple zig-zag shapes of a child’s drawing. Stuck to the surface of the trees are hand-written phrases, drawings, and linocuts representing people, skulls, prayer flags, organic shapes. Overhead float clouds cut out from paper, hand-painted, and suspended in the air by monofilament. You pick your way through the slightly menacing forest and come upon a life-size pink octopus occupying the centre of the gallery. At the back of the room is a clubhouse, about five feet in each dimension, raised up nearly six feet from the ground, with a ramp leading from ground level up to the entrance. Dominating the space is an animation, projected on the mezzanine wall and running the entire thirty feet length of the room.

Welcome to ‘Notes to Nonself’, a multimedia installation by Diane Christiansen and Shoshanna Utchenik. My first response was: bewildered, but intrigued. The overt meanings are difficult to grasp at first, so I paid attention to how the objects were made: a combination of pleasingly hand-made improvisations and haphazardness that could only come from two very skilled pairs of hands. The more I looked, the more it felt like being let loose within a dream from the Unconscious, where objects and images appear for no apparent purpose, and yet they form themselves into narratives that compel precisely because of their strangeness.

It turns out that I was getting some of what the artists wanted to convey. The accompanying notes contain a lot of information about dharmas and psychological zones and Buddhist principles for living. More interesting, perhaps, is the fact that a lot of the phrases, texts, and sketches pasted onto the trees came about from material that was mailed back and forth between the two artists, one of whom was living in Slovenia at the time the show was being developed. In an email conversation, Shoshanna Utchenik told me that one artist might add a speech balloon with words to a drawing sent by the other. If one artist sent something too 'ego-driven', the other artist might draw something satirical over the top, and this would become incorporated in the final show. The collaboration therefore became about literally bridging distance between people, and the desire to make connections.

The show appealed to my personal involvement with image and text, too. All of these themes were summed up impressively in the colossal animated projection, which I watched twice.  

‘Notes to Nonself’ runs until May 2nd, 2010 at the Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago.

 Subscribe to Praeterita in a reader

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How to etch a linoleum block

Linoleum as a material for printmaking has been used for nearly a hundred years now. Normally, you cut an image out using special gouges similar to woodcut tools, cutting away the lino around the image you want to print. This is called relief printmaking, because if you look at the block from the side, the material that remains stands up in relief from the backing material. You then roll ink with a brayer over the surface of the block, place paper over it, and either print by hand or run it through a press. You can do complex things this way (for example, reduction linocuts), but the beauty of the process is that it is quick, simple, and direct.


A few years ago, I saw some prints that were classified as coming from etched linoleum blocks, and I loved the textures I saw in them. In the last few months, I've been trying to use this technique in my own studio, learning about it as one does these days from websites and YouTube videos. I've also had email exchanges with several pr…

Brancusi in Plastic

Artist Mary Ellen Croteau is showing these columns made from recycled plastic cartons and lids in the window of the Columbia College bookstore on Michigan Avenue. They are a playful homage to Brancusi's "Endless Columns", with a serious environmental message for our times:

Mary Ellen also runs a wonderful experimental art gallery in a window space in west Chicago, called Art on Armitage. I will be exhibiting a mixed media piece there during August 2012.

A List of Every Drink in Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises"

I first read Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel "The Sun Also Rises" when I was a teenager, and immediately fell in love with it. For the last couple of years, I have had the incredible privilege of teaching a class based around Hemingway in Paris -- while living and teaching in Paris itself, close to the Boulevard du Montparnasse, where most of the action of the novel's first half takes place.

Of the many things that one notices about the book, the colossal amount of drinking is something that stands out. These people didn't just drink like fish: they drank like whales, as if the ocean they swam in was alcohol and they had set themselves the task of drinking the seas of the world dry of it. During my read-through of the book before class started last year, I tried to underline every mention of drink in the book. And now, purely in the interests of science, I am listing the entire menu of booze mentioned directly by name. Some preliminary observations:
Most of this is…