In Nora Schultz’s solo exhibition “Parrottree—Building for Bigger Than Real,” steel rods, metal plating, paned glass, newspaper, tinfoil, wire and discarded industrial materials are borrowed generously from the storage facilities of the Renaissance Society, nearby hardware stores and unassuming locations in the Hyde Park neighborhood—all areas in close proximity to the site of the exhibition. Disassociating them from their surroundings, the scavenged objects are assimilated by the artist into a new context, used as raw material for sculptures to be mounted, hoisted, painted, cut or printed upon. Schultz pulls the found materials into the exhibition space, exalting them, raising them into the air. The works are suspended above, perched in the rafters, nested. They are motionless yet nonetheless precarious, embodying the anxiety of a towering house of cards. Gazes are commanded upwards as if a constellation, a high-rise or a Wall Street ticker board resides there. Text phrases, themselves seemingly poached from an unspecified source, are inscribed in black marker along thin railings of scrap steel, pressure-clamped overhead to the interior structure of the exhibition space, at times reaching to the floor.
Poetics of contemporary life are battled and reconciled across discarded residue of a local post-industrial setting and the crisp, freshly printed pages of the museum’s multi-fold poster-pamphlet alike. Reading, from the ground into the air, a sore neck and frustration follow—frustration found not in an inability to decrypt the work but in an inability to capture it. An avian flock scattered by the alarming sounds of a spectator’s approach. Rising above, breaking left and right, fleeting in the blur of a long exposure. Dissipating into thin air, just past the arm’s reach of language. Beyond the stillness of this exhibition, beyond the echoed footsteps of its spectators, beyond the distant recorded sounds of Washington Park’s monk parakeet birds, there is a rhythm of mechanic repetition, of rapid and unending exchange and dissemination, calling for the exhibition to perform as a site uniquely equipped to assimilate material into new systems of value. Here, the commonplace materials of construction sites and hardware stores are built up into something uncomfortably sublime, their cultural and economic values transformed. As a format engaged directly with its local context—here, a complex system of urban communities laced with initiatives of socioeconomic renewal, higher education and unfinished revitalization—the role of the exhibition as a site of exaltation should always be in question. (Pat Elifritz)
Through February 23 at The Renaissance Society, University of Chicago, 5811 South Ellis.