Imagine you are being haunted in your dreams. The ghost is probably one of your relatives—specifically, one of your older, male, Jewish relatives–and he is trying to tell you something you don’t entirely understand. Thus begins the meandering story of Deb Sokolow’s new work, “The ways in which things operate,” the first of a series of Ground Level Projects at the Spertus Museum. Sokolow, whose family keeps their archives at the Spertus’ Asher Library, combines her personal history with Chicago’s Jewish history though a hand-written, hand-drawn storyboard bursting with tangents, half-truths and occasional drawings of Robert De Niro. Spanning the walls of the Spertus’ street-level vestibule, the piece incorporates the museum in both the telling of the story and how the reader experiences it, guiding them by way of thinly inked arrows through the museum’s permanent collections, their hallways, and even down the elevators as it spins a half-true, half-farcical tale of family, life and loss in the Windy City. Told in second person, this garrulous mural propels itself forward through the simple supposition that there is something from the past will change your life today. Sokolow’s ability to ensnare readers in her narrative is remarkable, drawing them in by the traced sketches and penciled commentary. The foundation of our past is an intoxicating subject for both Jews and Gentiles, and Sokolow successfully carries her audience through to the end of her story–an end that, at the time of this writing, has not yet been revealed. (Jaime Calder)
Through July 19 at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, 610 S. Michigan.