Dec 10th 2010

Lilly McElroy: 2009 Was a Rough Year and Barbara Koenen: Oasis

@ Thomas Robertello Gallery

939 West Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607

Opening Friday, December 10th, from 5PM - 8PM

On view through Saturday, January 29th

In response to last year’s collective frustration, Lilly McElroy has been soliciting images, stories, and jokes from friends, strangers, and anyone who wishes to take part in a group cathartic experience, by emailing them to her through a website created for the project; They may do so anonymously if they wish.

The installation will transform the gallery into a sketchy comedy club, bar, church hybrid. The exhibition will consist of a stained glass window memorializing the hardships endured in 2009, projected images provided by sufferers depicting a range of painful experiences, a video of the artist performing stand-up at comedy clubs in New York, and a hopper used to harvest the worst experiences and favorite jokes of gallery visitors. Many of the worst natural disasters, personal tragedies, financial hardships, and medical issues are represented. Images of husbands and their lovers caught on spy-cam, tumors, dilapidated housing, letters of rejection and the like form a composite experience meant to bond and relieve the pain of the many people who survived their own personal hell in 2009, and beyond.

As with many of McElroy’s projects, seeks to establish connections with strangers by reaching through the awkwardness of social ceremony and provide a meaningful gesture that is sincere in its empathic and healing simplicity. Prior projects include I throw myself at men.—a series of photographs depicting the artist literally throwing herself at men in bars.

In 2001, when the US invaded Afghanistan, Barbara Koenen began recreating Afghani war rugs in public performances. Afghani war rugs were first created in the late 1970s, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. That occupation was chronicled by tribal carpet weavers, primarily women, who began to incorporate images of weapons into traditional floral, animal, and geometric patterns. Subtle at first, the military iconography eventually dominated these unusual textiles, erasing all but the most incidental remnants of centuries of previous motifs.

Koenen was moved by the tragic nature of this cultural and aesthetic phenomenon, and wanted to feel what it was like to create something so brutal. Adopting the practice of the Tibeten Buddhist monks who make elaborate sand mandalas that they later destroy, she constructed war rugs much like mandalas made from loose spices and seeds. Taking up to 6 days to complete, the colorful and fragrant installations exist only temporarily. Once complete, they are left on display, vulnerable to accidental or deliberate intervention by passers-by. Some installations have actually been actually been walked on, and footsteps reveal the impermanence of the seemingly realistic carpet.

The three prints in the exhibition are monoprints made by fixing the remaining spices from one installation to cloth with clear medium. The prints retain much of the color and aroma of the rugs, as well as the pattern of footprints and other incidents that the installation endured. The first print is a rather true depiction of the rug, while the second and third pressings produce significantly faded, and increasingly abstract imagery.

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