Sabina Ott’s site-specific installation “here and there pink melon joy” at the Chicago Cultural Center intersperses highbrow with lowbrow sensibilities as a means of contemplating value. Spanning three rooms, each gallery is named after the levels Dante travels in the epic poem “The Divine Comedy.” Ott visualizes the work of Dante and a bibliography of vetted literary greats in an indulgent paean to manmade synthetics, vulgar taste and a preference for the saccharinely artificial. Conventions of value assignment are reconsidered therein. Each artwork is named after lines from Gertrude Stein’s writing, and the stream-of-consciousness, choppy build-up in Stein’s syntax plays similarly as Ott’s glut of attractive material accumulations.
The first room, “Inferno,” is alive with percussive rhythms—composed by Ott’s collaborator Joe Jeffers—that play through speakers pressed against drums arranged within the installation. Her repeated incorporation of mirrors and light bulbs embedded into her gunky objects insist upon reflection of the self just as one is obliged to reflect upon sin before moving beyond this level in the poem.
“Purgatorio” is the heart of the show, with “having everything having been” sitting in the center of the room surrounded by faux fauna and patches of Astroturf. A fountain made from Styrofoam looks out upon Millennium Park, inviting comparison and evaluation. Dante’s Purgatorio was a many-terraced mount that corresponded to the seven deadly sins. Ott’s indoor parterre delights in the crassly manufactured; sprayed in luminous, pastel hues and embellished with outrageously out-of-season greens, it’s a seductive alternative to the wintry chill in the park across the street.
In the final room, ribbons of texts excerpted from Stein, Emily Dickinson, Arthur Rimbaud, Hélène Cixous and others twirl across the four-channel video projection “Paradiso,” with Jeffers’ boisterous soundscape humming through even the furniture on which viewers are invited to sit. The calmness of the darkened room and the white, flitting textual animations have a sense of a journey coming to an end. Ott successfully lays out an engaging installation that encourages consideration of value in material, objects, ideas and the self. (Carrie McGath)
Through January 4 at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 East Washington.