Circle Contemporary, the only Chicago space dedicated to integrated programming, has consistently offered ambitious and thoughtful group exhibitions since its founding early last year. Curated by Corrie Thompson, Mysterious Feelings brings together a highly varied selection of Chicago-based artists - SAIC alumni Diane Christiansen and Kelly Reaves, Arts Of Life artists Susan Pasowicz and Lee Draus, Pratt alumna Emily Lindskoog, and Jordan Martins, a current lecturer at SAIC who received his MFA at Universidade Federal da Bahia in Brazil. Overall, the show delivers on its promises:
Methods of omission, erasure, distortion, and addition are used to obscure an image in order to visually resolve it and introduce uncertainty. Together the pieces hint at something hidden in the picture, giving way to the unknown. Mysterious feelings surface in the tension between what is seen and unseen, what is familiar and unfamiliar.
An obscured image disorienting the viewer is an essential, almost defining dynamic of abstraction; here it feels limitless in its possible variations as Mysterious Feelings is a careful selection from diverse bodies of work striving to find new ideas within this framework. These are projects which live in a space prioritizing process and experimentation, digging into and following concepts organically.
Ambitious, heady, or esoteric in those rationalized terms, these artists invest in media and processes for which they harbor strong ties, often describing personal details of their practices as inextricable aspects of identity. In a conversation with Michael Workman, Diane Christiansen explains her ongoing relationship with plaster as material:
My earliest memories are of, I had a sort of lot of very lonely times in my room, and I had a really old room. Like in this house, it had a lot of old plaster walls that cracked like crazy and I would sort of visually soothe myself and I realized that's probably why I like working with plaster. I started working on plaster in grad school and then gave it up to work more quickly with gouache, but I always go back to things that involve sorting and navigating through drawing. And I love that surface, because it's relational. You can't control it. (Gapers Block)
In his statement, Lee Draus lends insight into his intimate and complex compositions:
I use lines in my drawings. I use thin brushes for thin parts and larger brushes to brush the lines out when I need to. It takes practice. I like to experiment...the details and all the fine points in my work make my art stand out from others. I pay attention to detail and I have more details than everyone else. I think it's beautiful...I don't know what other people see in my artwork, you'd have to ask them. They might say, “He's a tremendous artist and a nice guy.”Not to brag, but I try. When the time comes I'll ask them.
An earnest personal relationship to process is perhaps essential to its sense of mystery; this show’s strongest moments seem to operate with a command of the dynamics of both knowing and unknowing the subject. Throughout the installation works glance at one another, from the fluid mark-making and visceral conglomerations of Christiansen and Kelly Reaves, to the ambiguous narratives of Draus and Pasowicz, to the deft engagement of collage by Emily Lindskoog and Jordan Martins.
Martins’ Phenotypes series invites the viewer to search through collaged single edition prints (that behave as paintings) for understandable elements, inevitably compelling us to formulate meaning while deciphering between analog and digital manipulations. These works put one in a passive and uncertain position of navigating various scanned textures, distorted patterns, and image fragments, the mind reeling through a rolodex of remembered phenomena.
In a recent artist talk in conjunction with the exhibition, Emily Lindskoog discussed her photo documentation of objects which had naturally arranged or conditioned themselves in interesting or attractive ways. An essential aspect of abstraction and central theme of this show is that process of seeking out, stumbling upon, and striving to preserve mysteriously alluring events. Lindskoog’s sculptural work in this show, however, feels unfixed and infinitely rearrange-able:
I felt I had stumbled upon some magical formal moment, whether classically perfect or hilariously absurd. The photograph captures that moment: the shutter opens, the shutter closes, and that's it. A big gust of wind and it's gone. But, for me, the photographs serve less as preservation, and more as a reminder of those fleeting moments of symmetry, contradiction, coincidence, etc. Looking back, a lot of my previous work has been about time (specifically a moment) and the arrangement, alignment, and balance of the circumstances around it. Now, with these newer collages I feel like I'm just playing with that code of composition - fiddling around until I hit on something, but literally leaving it open to further interpretation. Some of the imagery in the collage is based on a photograph (preserved moment). But again, I am hoping that I can use that moment as a prompt to discover something more about it by rearranging and re-staging the elements. What is it that makes this image appealing? What is the emotional hierarchy? WHO IS THIS BABY AND WHAT IS MY LIFE? As a mother of a toddler who is very busy and is only just now sleeping well, I couldn't be more excited that I stumbled upon this way of working. I can work for 10 minutes or 2 hours and still feel like I've had some time to wander around a drawing. The birth of my son immediately followed the death of my father-in-law. These two enormously significant experiences happening within a few months of each other really reinforced the fact that I don't understand anything at all, really. Everything is changing, the possibilities are endless, and maybe it's all just magic.
Susan Pasowicz’s laborious drawings have become increasingly enigmatic over the past few years; whereas earlier works include recognizable flowers, faces, and houses, the recent drawings included here (Tunnel, A Magic Window, and Something in the Air) feature recurring motifs of soft, dreamy ambiguity. In hazy atmospheres the identifiable feels precious, materializing into view through loose repetition and retracing. Perhaps attempts at capturing that collective yet intangible “something”, unknown narratives evoke reverence and wonder.
Lindskoog relates a recent discussion with Pasowicz in the space:
I was really curious about Susan's mark-making and compositional choices. How do you start a drawing like that? What informs the arrangement? She said she started with the "orb" (my word) shape and moved out from there. She's perfectly happy that the viewer might see wildly different things in the work. When I asked if she saw anything representational, her response was more like a list of possibilities: “it could be this, it could be this...". We also talked about the mark-making as something that communicates time. Some of her marks are so dense and applied with so much intensity, the paper becomes soft and fuzzy. Other areas are loose and reveal the layers. I told her that as a viewer, I can feel the time that she spent on different parts of the drawing - like visual history. When we moved over to her work space, she talked about her desk the same way...a record of the time she spends there. The coffee rings, the places where the oil from her skin transfers, the places where she tests out different colors and tools - she likes it all.
Mysterious Feelings is on view at Circle Contemporary in Chicago through April 16.