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Breakout Artists 2010: Chicago’s next generation of image makers

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Jessica Labatte

“I had these baguettes,” said Jessica Labatte, pointing to the loaves in her photograph, “and then I realized oh, I need a carrot.” Such tangential streams of consciousness are common in her photographs. The leap from baguette to carrot reflects her taste for visual puns as a constructive element. Combined, the puns produce a thematic narrative in each work. In “The Internet,” googly eyes and absurdly warty gourds peer out from a web of detritus, electrical cords and silly string. In another work, a celebration has been gutted, and party paraphernalia stains a mattress and multicolored ribbons drip like gore. The picture is titled “The Economy.” The destructed still-lifes recall Laura Letinsky’s photographic vanitas, but with titles like “The Internet” and “The Economy,” Labatte is teasing out some of the larger, more encompassing mysteries of life.

“We are wastrels,” wrote Jessica Stockholder, in 2005, of her own artistic practice. Like Stockholder, Labatte frees alleyway objects and garish Dollar Store junk from their common associations. She uses color to animate and extend their edges. “Can you transcend the junk?” asked Labatte. Unlike Stockholder, though, Labatte’s finished objects are photographs, not sculptural installations. Her temporary studio set-ups are carted away after the photo is shot. She makes use of illusionistic techniques—all produced in the studio, not the computer—to subtly jar a viewer’s eye beyond the junk, and into the realm of heightened looking, if not to enjoy these brief pleasures, then to dwell on their, and our, brevity.

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