Mannequins, grocery-store checkout belts, paintings and an assortment of domestic detritus are a few of the items in Cathy Wilkes’ mixed-media installation, “I Give You All My Money,” at the Renaissance Society. Most of these items have undergone some form of decay: ash-covered pierrot mannequins, jars of encrusted baby food, tattered bits of cotton, flower petals and a rusted basket.
The death of a child imbues the overall theme and tone of the exhibition. Macabre traces and remnants of this child—an empty stroller and empty jars of baby food, bowls with baby spoons and a knee-high table that suggests a child’s accessibility—imbue the installation with maternal mourning. Wilkes’ installation, in total, is a still-life arrangement that remarks on the fragility of life.
Intervening amidst death, two mannequins indicate some form of restoration. One is a nurse who sits on a toilet encircled with flower petals. This nurse is our guide, aiding bodies through death and life. The second mannequin is a priestess who reigns at the altar of consumerism. Positioned between two grocery-store checkout counters, she wears a birdcage on her head with shards of cotton dangling from it, tattered dish towels patched together as a dress, and a plastic bag of broken flower pots at her feet. Her magical powers, if any, seem hopeless.
Literally rising above the ashen remnants is a wood ladder painted white. Like the ashes and flower petals, the ladder has undergone transformation, its white paint suggesting resurrection, or at least some form of escape. (P.D. Young)
Through March 4 at the Renaissance Society, University of Chicago, 5811 South Ellis