The Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA) offers a plethora of photographs on display this summer, featuring three exhibitions: Jeffrey Wolin’s Pigeon Hill: Then and Now; Michelle Murphy’s Responsive Beauty; and Susan Aurinko’s Searching for Jehanne, The Joan of Arc Project.
Pigeon Hill: Then and Now is a series by Jeffrey Wolin. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Wolin was an art professor at Indiana University, Bloomington, uneasily co-located near the Pigeon Hill housing project. He created a series of large-scale black and white prints of the mostly white, low-income residents. After learning years later that one of his subjects had been murdered, he returned between 2010 and 2015 to re-photograph more than 100 people, and to record the changes in their lives since his initial photographs were taken. The result is the riveting Pigeon Hill: Then and Now, pairing portraits with narratives written in metallic ink at the bottom of each print. A 2014 video also features eight interviews.
The written stories are powerful additions to the images. The narratives describes how one subject’s “dad bounced when my mom was pregnant, ” how a woman got a new tattoo to cover the initials of her old boyfriend, and another had a miscarriage. Many of the subjects’ stories tell of alcohol and drug addiction, of violence and truancy, of prison time, mental illness, and how they wished they had stayed in school.
There’s an imperative discomfort in Wolin’s work, a pendulum between photojournalism and voyeurism made starker by the mostly well-heeled white viewers present at the opening. What can we gather from these stories? A sense of understanding and awareness? Are we bearing witness to stories that might otherwise never be told? Or are we clucking, “There but for the grace of God go I?”
The exhibit is mostly heartbreaking, as many of the subjects have remained marginalized and poor. But it’s also hopeful, even when looking at the pain and trauma of neglected and abandoned children, seeing how many of the subjects were able to better their lives in some way despite their struggles.
In Responsive Beauty, photographer Michelle Murphy (who earmed her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago) successfully blends a scientific eye with whimsy and feminism. The exhibit includes an array of images of beauty products and their applications, including a collection of images of eyes adorned in makeup.
Her refractions cause reflections, as she notes the “triangular relationship between consumer culture, the billion-dollar beauty industry, and the wage disparity between men and women.” Making mundane makeup into a tool, the now-unrecognizable pieces start to look alternately micro- and macroscopic, a galaxy of minutiae.
Murphy explains that “by mixing forms of arts and methods for examining science, I seek to open pathways to lesser known histories. My point of view is political…Imagining awkwardness and failure is a strategy to disrupt perfect grids, sharp focus and competitive nature of capitalist systems.”
In her exhibit, Murphy makes an artistic science out of subjugation, and attempts to put infinity in the palm of your hand (or the corner of your eye).
Searching for Jehanne, The Joan of Arc Project is by Chicago artist Susan Aurinko. While visiting France, Aurinko visited a chateau where Joan of Arc lived, and became interested in the saint’s life and the culture surrounding it. Aurinko later returned to France to photograph the saint’s other haunts. These photographs were used to create Searching for Jehanne, The Joan of Arc Project. Inside ornate gilt frames, Aurinko superimposes statuary, or photos of real girls (some of whom attended the opening) over buildings and architectural forms. The series explores the saint’s history and significance in popular culture today.
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The three exhibitions run through October 21 at The Loyola University Museum of Art, 820 N. Michigan Ave., 312-915.7600. The museum is open Tuesday 11am-8pm, and Wednesday-Saturday 11am-6pm. Admission is free.