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Review: Christine Perri/Harold Washington Library Center

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Christine Perri. photo by Henry Berry

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Christine Perri’s sui generis installation, “Story Forest, or the Progress of Narrative: A Sculptural Diorama,” located in the eight floor North Exhibit Case of the Harold Washington Library Center, tells an elliptical yet engaging story about story making and telling.

The Chicago artist uses figurative carved-wood sculptures and reliefs (in themselves finely wrought), various tree parts, drawings and paintings as well as books (both of wood and paper) to craft a fractured fairy-tale-like tableau on how the primal sources of nature are transformed into cultural expression—primarily, into the kinds of human experiences represented and discoverable in books. Think Field Museum displays meet the Daphne-Apollo myth meets the Painted Forest folk-art museum of Valton, Wisconsin.

Besides a number of carved-wood pieces, the fifteen-foot-long Story Forest (it really is behind glass) includes logs, stumps and branches that Perri salvaged from the street and sometimes painted, all on a bed of wood chips, as well as elements like the backdrop of large-scale forest drawings.

The diorama relates how trees become art, how trees become books, how creators (like Perri herself) shape figures and characters in visual art and literature, transforming the raw materials of life (and nature) into stories, myths, imagination and knowledge. This self-reflexive web of connections is intuitively apprehended rather than conceptually art-referential, one of the work’s strengths. It is perhaps because of Perri’s self-taught art background—though she has an MA in English from UCLA, organized the intriguing if patchy “Chicago Does Wood” group exhibition at the Hull House Center for Arts in 2005, and later was juried into a Brooklyn outdoor sculpture show—that this almost-sequestered library installation looks like nothing else around. (Jeff Huebner)

Through December 31 at the Harold Washington Library Center, 400 South State

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