Despite the attention paid to the New Museum survey show “Unmonumental” at the beginning of 2008, the conception of modernism as a deflation of Wagnerian pomposity can be traced to any number of cerebral twentieth-century artists and thinkers, from Duchamp and Adorno to Debord and Venturi. Eel Space director Patrick Holbrook reflects this modest respectability in a concise summary of his curatorial approach, “I take pleasure in finding common threads among diverse strategies.” And, indeed, the works shown since March in this fledgling first-floor nook tend to be fragmented gestures employing the contingency of everyday symbols, found materials and simple craft. May’s “Gained in Translation” group exhibit was largely text-based work, and Val Snobeck’s audio walking tour of the gallery’s Humboldt Park environs dispensed completely with the specificity of objects.
Of course modernism had its own Wagnerian demagoguery—especially in architecture, and especially Le Corbusier. Jesal Kapadia’s video and photo display about the French visionary’s decaying and abandoned structures in Chandighar, India, now showing at Eel, portrays in a more remote context the same ghosts of colonialism that haunt high-rise American public housing projects inspired by European social-spatial engineering. Slowly relating in subtitles a quote from colonial-era Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib to the desolate scenes of the city, and re-photographing wide-angle shots of Corbusier’s odd structures from the glossy pages of an architectural history book, Kapadia bypasses ambivalent post-everything irony, suggesting instead a pathos more quietly monumental than the buildings she depicts.
Other works in Eel’s current show, “Devastation and Space,” depict yet more curious fossils left behind by the contradictions of bygone paradigms; Emily Gomez’s series of photographs, taken in the muted tones of an antique 8 x 10 camera, present with nostalgic luminosity the modern structures and spaces that have come to occupy sacred Native American sites. Snorre Snojost Henriksen’s video, “PsychoSomatic,” physically deconstructs the mind/body split, as he and a collaborator rocket on skateboards through the underground tunnels connecting the psychiatric wing to the rest of Telemark, Norway’s Central Hospital.
This focus on the interaction of bodies with objects and spaces remains a theme in Eel’s upcoming programming. There will be a group show in September on utopian designed objects called “Speculative Ways of Living.” “Re-Embodiment” will be a performance-focused group exhibit and event in October, a participatory relational piece by Geoffrey Hamerlinck opens in November, and artist Chris Lin will purportedly be living in a cardboard cave in the space come December. It actually may be that the gallery will be shifting tone and striking out into more giddy territory, but, in the Eel spirit, I’ll refrain from wild-eyed prophecy. (Bert Stabler)
Eel Space is located at 2846 W. North, 1A