“A Proximity of Consciousness” inaugurates SAIC’s season of lectures, book releases and a symposium dedicated to the art of affecting social change. The exhibition is curated by Mary Jane Jacob and Kate Zeller and showcases new works by a powerhouse roster including Michael Rakowitz, Pablo Helguera, James Duignan, J. Morgan Puett, Paul Durica, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Dan Peterman, Laurie Jo Reynolds, Temporary Services, Rirkrit Tiravanija and many more collaborators.
Forms, functions and freshness vary greatly in this expansive exhibition. Manglano-Ovalle’s “Seven Thousand Cords (after Beuys)” pays elegant tribute to the grandfather of social practice and ecological art with a stoic sculptural installation of seven cords of firewood arrayed in a minimal, Judd-worthy row across the long window bank overlooking State Street. The title invites viewers to participate through splitting and stacking their own wood, encouraging an elevated awareness of one’s inescapable participation in the carbon cycle and the inherent social dimensions of sharing resources.
Temporary Services operates a fully functioning print shop in the gallery, collaborating to publish several new tracts that are designed, printed and assembled in full view of visitors with an eye to demystify the process while giving voice to social actors outside of the purview of socially engaged art. Not at all a lament for a dying medium, “Publishing Clearing House” and its accompanying booklet assert the enduring and collaborative qualities of the printed word against the ephemerality and autonomy of digital publishing.
More puzzling are Peterman’s and Tiravanija’s collaboration with urban farmer Ken Dunn, which appears not yet to have taken place, and the work of J. Morgan Puett, whose captivating and intricate look-but-do-not-touch installation of rustic charm and futuristic utopia melds LCD screens with weathered wood furniture and hand-sewn clothing arranged around a table set for the artist and her friends. “A Proximity of Consciousness” is full of such synecdoches for these artistic and lived practices and, with the exceptions of Manglano-Ovalle’s and Rakowitz’s works, the installation feels like a series of dioramas through which one can peer into other worlds: utopian, imaginary or simply happening somewhere else outside of the gallery. (Elliot Reichert)
Through December 20 at the Sullivan Galleries at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 33 South State