Conserver at The Franklin

The positioning of this large grocery-store-bag-covered structure backed by leafless trees is eerily accurate to the narrative built within the structure — I should say it affirms my doomsday fantasies. Inside this giant plastic bag is a sanctuary. A safe space, where humor and severity are kissing cousins.

C. Smith’s Conserver reacts in part to the proximity of The Franklin and to the Garfield Park Conservatory. The more graceful, less literal proximity though, is to Edra Soto and Dan Sullivan’s home, in the backyard of which The Franklin sits.

Courtesy of The Franklin
Courtesy of The Franklin

By now The Franklin has garnered well-deserved support and has built a strong community of regular attendees. As a first time visitor, I feel immediately welcome and comfortable, due to Conserver and to its hospitality.

Exhibitions exist en plein air at The Franklin, a challenge or an opportunity, depending on how you look at it. C. Smith takes it as a point of resolution. The openness of The Franklin itself begged to build an enclosed environment. Smith chooses to think scientifically and referentially. He uses plastic bags to simulate a greenhouse and also as a visual device, as a means of heightening this play on apocalyptic tactics for shelter. And again, timing is impeccable in this decision as the trees lining Soto and Sullivan’s backyard are barren.


Courtesy of the Franklin
Courtesy of the Franklin

Upon entering this makeshift conservatory a waft of warmth welcomes me in.

I read an urgent letter.

Weekend at Bernie’s is the subject of this letter; tension builds as I read. Smith urges Netflix to allow for instant streaming of a late ’80s film about two friends staging their dead boss as still alive for an entire weekend of wacky fun in the Hamptons. The narrative, Smith claims, is pivotal to understanding society. He lays the claim in as honest and as agreeable terms as possible. Weekend at Bernie’s tells us all about the roles we play and why we play them. It underpins his point of view on what leads to humanity’s turmoil.

This letter, in relation to the kitsch planters holding clippings of plants on a table diagonally across from the letter, sets a morose if not calming tone for the space inhabited. A barrel holding hot stones, coal, fire and a chimney share the wall with the letter. Water is poured over the stones periodically to steam the room, providing a sustainable atmosphere for these plants.


As this description unfolds, so too does the sanguine space this work occupies. Smith has found a way to parse out the subtleties of euphoria present in mortality; he has softened the blow of imminent finality. Not by skirting around it or sugarcoating it, but by taking a head-on run right at it, laughing along the way. And the presence that exists in Conserver is one of benign luxury. The Franklin, while Conserver resides within it, floats a bit. It’s soft, swaddling. The comfort felt is matched only by a growth in interest in finally getting around to Weekend at Bernie’s.

Conserver is located at The Franklin, 3522 W Franklin Blvd, and closes Saturday with a closing reception from 2 to 5pm.

Trevor Schmutz
Trevor Schmutz
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