Again and again, Erik Wenzel broke a beverage bottle's tamper-evident seal and watched as a plastic ring fell free from the cap. Marketing schemes demanded that such plastic rings differ from one another in color, size and texture; modern methods of mass production ensured uniformity within any given brand. Intrigued by the regularity of the objects as much as by their formal variation, Wenzel considered the sculptural potential of things commonly discarded--ultimately choosing to collect them.
"If I had assistants, I'd force them to drink the brands I hated," said Wenzel.
Lacking assistants, Wenzel counted upon the plastic rings left in the wake of his own more-or-less pleasant cap-twisting: each one being a reminder of that moment in time corresponding to his personal consumption. Then, in his solo exhibition "New 'N' Lonelier Laze" at The University of Chicago's DOVA Temporary gallery space, Wenzel played out his accumulation through the site-specific installation of "Rings."
As he took possession of the DOVA white cube, Wenzel forestalled rehabilitation of the environment: preserving, if not the former art, the former artist's modification of the space. Where Wenzel found a nail hole in the gallery wall, he randomly selected and then hung one of his own plastic rings. In short, the evidence of the previous show's removal determined the pattern of the current show's placement.
The resulting piece takes the form of a curious system of notation: points of intersection between personal and communal, choice and fate, intake and output, etc., being mapped. "Rings" culminates in an abstract, postminimal composition of found elements. Visually, it's interesting; it's even pretty.
Red ring, yellow ring, blue ring: What does it mean?
While it might be possible to describe "Rings" as a form of institutional critique--each bright circle calling to attention a flaw (nail hole) which he found within (literally) a structure of the Academy--Wenzel doesn't seem to want to bring it all down. Rather he aims to interact with, and preserve, the overarching framework within which he's free to exercise his vision.
With a BFA from SAIC, an MFA from UC, personal blog, documentary photography on-line, critical writing in various places, and a presence in the local apartment gallery scene, Wenzel does have a legitimate involvement in many different art-related endeavors, i.e., he's organically developed what is now called a "practice."
But his practice isn't social practice. Enigmatic and provocative, Wenzel engages--visually--not only with his environment but too with any kindred spirits willing to take the time and look carefully at what's hidden in plain sight. Is Chicago still looking?
"New 'N' Lonlier Laze"
June 25 - July 24, 2010
5228 South Harper Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60615
First Draft, July 11, 2010, not published in Newcity,
Second Draft, August 15, 2010, published in Chicago Art Review,
Third Draft, August 18, 2010, at this location.
- Paul Germanos