9:00 PM, August 21, 2010: Immediate access to Swimming Pool Project Space is limited to a tiny, white vestibule located at the base of a short staircase which leads into the gallery. The vestibule is a new and temporary enclosure; a heavy, black curtain serves to partition it from what is ordinarily a single, medium-sized room.
The little, white space contains a little, white stool. And upon that stool sits a white, video monitor. A still penguin lying atop an ice floe is shown at the center of the monitor's screen: white, winter background swirling around him. A narrator's somber voice projects outward from the device as he reads aloud a letter, terminating: "...there is a density to your presence that is completely gone from the atmosphere."
Passing through the vestibule, moving quite literally behind the veil, there is darkness. By means of the same heavy, black curtain, in addition to black-painted walls, another new space has been created--contrary to that which exists in the vestibule. Over time the darkness is, gradually, illuminated by the purple hue of black light LEDs. Objects, formerly unidentifiable, begin to glow. The new scene seems to be a surreal, cold water, seafloor montage, with urchins, jellyfish, and ice surrounding the same motionless penguin featured in the vestibule's video presentation. But there is no narrator's voice to be heard; the heavy curtain causes the darkness to be nearly silent.
Proceeding forward, a third component of the exhibition is revealed: Upon gray walls, under glass, colored drawings illustrate interactions between Nature and Man, or Nature and some artifice of Man. Penguins figure prominently in many of the scenes.
Annie Heckman was responsible for the first two rooms, Lorien Jordan for the third. What did they mean to do? And, were they successful?
Historically it might have been appropriate to determine how nearly the artists approximated the likeness of a subject, e.g., the penguin. But, here it seems good to consider the function of the penguin--as an avatar.
From the penguin's point of view the cosmos is divided between two radically different (but necessary) environments: the bright world of the shore, and dark world of the ocean. Within the synthetic reality of Heckman's installation the movement of the human spectator is made to neatly parallel the penguin's cycle of life. Too, Jordan's drawings suggest an ambivalence regarding human identity--consciousness--in an environment that might otherwise be characterized by an ineluctable modality.
Between the blackness and the whiteness the black and white bird goes: back and forth. Does it choose? Or is it too but little more than a spectator: being led from one place to another according to the designs of something other than itself. With disarmingly modest means, Heckman and Jordan have conceptually broached (the eternal) questions of free will, human nature and death.
Annie Heckman & Lorien Jordan
"Love Letters to Antarctica"
Opening: 7pm - 10pm, August 21, 2010
Artist talk by Annie Heckman: 2pm - 4pm, August 22, 2010
Gallery hours: Tuesdays and Sundays from 1pm - 5pm
Swimming Pool Project Space
2858 W. Montrose,
Chicago, IL 60618
- Paul Germanos