Social-practice photographer and activist Emmanuel Pratt fills the gallery’s north walls with splashes of vivid and exuberant color images, done in the humanist magazine and brochure style, depicting the efforts of the Mycellia Project to reclaim the urban wastelands of Chicago and transform them into gardens through the ministrations of the local community. The site for the research-activist group’s major project embraces the South Side’s Englewood, Washington Park, and Woodlawn neighborhoods, where some of the residents have turned contaminated and blasted ground into bounteous little farms.
Apart from the worthiness of the project as an example of the environmental regeneration that it seeks, Pratt indulges in a bit of his own photo-art, eschewing the straightforward documentary shot for composite works in which he overlays a base image with smaller photos that replicate it. The initial and lasting effect of the photo-artist’s strategy is to divert the viewer’s attention from his documentary purpose to the aesthetic surface of the image, which induces the kind of disorientation that attends the first look at a cubist painting. Yet after a visual sorting process, some of the images stand out for their surreal elegance. In “Foreclosed House Transformed: Think-Do House,” the base image of the gray building sporting a vibrant mural is overlaid by three successively smaller replicas, such that the two middle ones seem to be partly cut out to reveal the sky. There is no apparent meaning to the construction that could be related to the social significance of its subject, but the eye is delighted. (Michael Weinstein)
Through March 8 at City Gallery, 806 North Michigan.