The theatricality of peeling back the red curtains, which drape the entrance to Diane Christiansen and Shoshana Utchenik’s first collaborative work, sets the tone for their multimedia wonderland currently occupying Gallery One and its flanking catwalk at the Hyde Park Art Center.
Imbued with a whimsical sense of play, this artist environment, which incorporates elements of collage, painting, drawing, sewing, linocut prints, sound art, animation and sculpture, is a winsome accumulation of objects and ideas that explores the dichotomies of internal and external relationships.
The journey begins amidst the coniferous trees of the Ego Forest, complete with a canopy of stylized, Buddhist-inspired swirling paper clouds suspended overhead. The sprawling tentacles of a softly glowing paper-mâché octopus dominate the Relationship Bardo, and the two-dimensional pup tent in the Teacher Garden is a sort of Potemkin pit stop. The viewer’s quest ends in the Meditation Clubhouse, constructed of re-proposed wooden doors and boards, if one is brave enough to walk the narrow plank up it.
The two-year-long transatlantic dialogue between Chicago-based Christiansen and Ljubljana, Slovenia-based Utchenik provides the projects core content, and is excellently exemplified not solely by the grounded locales, but by the Tibetan prayer flags that criss-cross the air amongst them. Each flag is made from a bricolage of handwritten correspondence, diaristic texts and ephemera, including scraps of tea bag wrappers, postal custom forms and grocery lists. Their rawness tempers their hermeticism, helping to resolve some of the tension between the pair’s conceptual rigor and slapdash style.
If, to quote the Buddhist nun whom the artist’s also cite, “the path is the goal,” one can experience the calm and joy of “Notes to Noneself” free from the compulsion to isolate and analyze every loaded element of the installation. Invited to create their own flags and hoist them up to the second floor using a rope and pulley, more then one visitor expressed relief that the balance between the barren dregs of winter and the bright, watery promise of spring was tipping, so the lesson must not have been lost.
“Notes to Noneself” shows at the Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell, through May 2.