Approaching the theme of chance from conceptual, material, and formal perspectives, eleven Chicago-based artists formed A Surprise in the Process at Chicago Art Department. Featuring painting, photography, robotic and interactive installations, sculpture, and even crystal seeing interactions, co-curators Kara Cobb Johnson and Katherine Lampert formed a compelling and diverse show of Center Program artist-alumni from the Hyde Park Art Center.
Marcel Duchamp, Robert Rauschenberg, composer John Cage, and other notable 20th century artists explored chance through the juxtaposition of dissimilar elements, the use of found objects, and letting go of control in the creative process. With roots in Dada, Surrealism, and Cubist collage, A Surprise in the Process explores various ways in which the use of chance, accident, and improvisation may introduce something unexpected to an artist’s work.
Some artists approached the idea of chance in terms of their material choices, from found materials as the point of departure, as in Mara Baker’s “Residue Paintings,” to fluid media, as in Julian E. Williams Jr.’s loosely-painted ink drawings. Katherine Lampert’s process, rather than the materials themselves, involves a degree of chance as she sands down a pristine digital image in “Lichen Stripe,” revealing the highly textured layer of acrylic underneath. Kunal Sen uses servo motors, control electronics, and proximity sensors to introduce an element of chance. In Sen’s piece “choices,” quasi-randomly forms patterns continuously shift in front of the viewer. Suspended from the ceiling, the work reveals the small motors mounted on the back.
Other pieces connect to the idea of surprise by means of recontextualization. Lily Dithrich’s impossible chairs render everyday objects unfamiliar when restructured to negate their utility. In “Eight Line Poem,” interlocking chair frames become formally striking objects covered in a layer of ultramarine flocking. Rami George superimposes an overturned family photograph over found erotic imagery, using the former to censor the latter. Regin Igloria’s sign sculpture appears to have been moved from a public park to the gallery space, installed with living plants and placed in front of the window. It features a trompe-l’oeil painted post-it note inviting the viewer to “the great outdoors.”
Several of the artists focus on the idea of unpredictability: of human interactions, of games, and of death. Erin Toale’s “All of the Photographs Richard Nickel Took of the Building That Killed Him” takes chance and surprise as its content. The mixed media collage focuses on the ironic death of the photographer and historic preservation activist, who was killed by the collapse of one of the buildings he aimed to preserve. Both Kara Cobb Johnson and Carlos Matallana’s pieces explore the idea of chance through games. Johnson’s wall installation, entitled “Pick-Up Sticks,” references the childhood game. Matallana’s interactive installation engages viewers in game-like play with building blocks and instructional text. In another interactive work, Dana Major’s installation of light, glass, wire, and fabric formed the setting for her experiential work of crystal seeing, called “scrying,” in which she foretold gallery visitors’ fortunes at the opening reception. With lights pointed through colored glass objects onto the wall and suspended fabric, Major transformed the back of the gallery space into a playful and mystical constructed environment.
Among the upcoming projects for the exhibiting artists is Chicago Art Department’s Crystal Ball Fundraiser on Saturday, April 9th from 7-11pm, featuring Dana Major. Rami George’s work will be featured in a two-person exhibition at Roots & Culture from April 15th – May 14th. Artist-curator Kara Cobb Johnson will be curating Site as Studio, a live ephemeral art show from 12-3pm on June 12th at Trailside Museum of Natural History. Lily Dithrich is an Artist Resident at the Ed Paschke Art Center. You can see more of Mara Baker’s work at the Evanston Art Center through April 17th.