A libidinous wit roils on the surface of “Polypersephony,” a collaborative installation by Nayland Blake and Claire Pentecost at Iceberg Projects. The title is a portmanteau combining the musical term “polyphony” (voice versus voice) with “Persephone,” the famous underworld abductee of myth.
The dimly lit space has an underworld feel, not of a cave but of the secret back room of a subterranean nightclub. Light strobes through a doorway hung with a curtain of tinsel, behind which transpires a bacchanalian gathering of garden gnomes. The tinsel allows perspective but not access, ensuring that viewers participate only in the (important) role of voyeur. The wall that encloses the space is violated by an intrusion and a protrusion. What appear at first as chthonic, genital proxies reveal themselves to be the molds from which the gnomes were cast.
On a makeshift shelf, photographs recreate the cover of George Harrison’s album, “All Things Must Pass.” Each shot substitutes either Blake or Pentecost for Harrison. In the original photo, Harrison sat on a chair surrounded by lawn gnomes. In the re-creations, each artist is surrounded by a harem of lounging, bearded men. This substitution invites one to wonder who is the placeholder: Harrison or the artists, the gnomes or the bearded boys? And what of the earthen gnomes in the gallery itself? Who are their others? Perhaps they are all placeholders, and none has a claim to authenticity. There are no claims of essentialism here. Rather, Polypersephony champions a certain definitional slipperiness. Identity is a revolving door. All things must pass.
Along the back wall of the gallery, beneath a single speaker, a rank of garish pillows invites vague action. Lounge? Hook up? Wait for Persephone (or is one Persephone, waiting)? One might simply, if wistfully, grope the sensuous objects. Like the rest, the pillows are a tease.
Blake and Pentecost have united in a thoughtful and imminently satisfying exploration of language, culture, sex and experience, all rendered in an exquisite balance of giving versus withholding. “Polypersephony” is smart, earthy and awfully fun, and well worth a trip to the underworld to see. (Christopher Backs)
Viewable by appointment through October 11 at Iceberg Projects, 7714 North Sheridan.