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Eden Unluata Foley's Staffs of Memories and Knowledge

Between 2011 and 2018 I was the Chicago correspondent for Hyperallergic, the New York-based art blog read throughout the global art world. This post is part of a series on my blog devoted to writing about artists in Chicago.

Eden Unluata-Foley is a multi-discplinary artist based in Chicago. He is currently (summer 2020) taking part in a city-wide exhibition of public art called Art in Place, for which artists exhibit work outside their homes as a way to continue connecting their practice with the community during the extraordinary circumstances of a pandemic-induced social lockdown. 

Unluata-Foley's work is a sculpture titled Staffs of Memories and Knowledge. All kinds of common and unusual objects (household items such as buckets, old cameras, a model car, a Moorish-style lamp, gourds, cans) are glued together in seemingly random chains around lengths of wood. The ensemble is then painted a uniform yellow that serves to harmonise the mix of items and render some of them difficult to "read" as a specific item. The viewer's eye thus constantly switches between looking for specific personal meaning in an object (does this thing connect to the artist's background in Turkish culture?) and seeing the whole as an abstract shape in space (do the formal linear aspects of the piece hark back to the classic grid of mid-twentieth century abstraction?).

The artist claims that the piece is inspired by the walking staff used by shamans. In this secular context, perhaps the magic properties are transferred to a literal representation of the memories we carry around with us, the objects we accumulate in our lives and can never quite shed, the things that we pick up and discard, and which in every case say something about our relationship to the world and to our own inner life.

Taking to me about the piece, Unluata-Foley said: "The staffs don't reflect a specific memory, but rather they are reflective of how memories and knowledge are created by compiling a variety of experiences together, drawing out meaning from this amalgamation. I'm also interested less in the symbolic aspects than the formal arrangement of the staffs in space."

And a final question that I always like to ask: what was the first piece of art you remember making? "I was never really the artistic kid. I had a wild imagination, more appropriate for a writer than a visual artist. Until college I was not destined to be an artist, though I wanted to be a designer."

For more information on the artist's work, go to the website for Eden Unluata-Foley.


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