Dining at local “mom and pop” restaurants or frequenting family-run businesses is increasingly uncommon in the United States. Corporations, such as Walmart, Panera and McDonald’s, are making it difficult for these businesses to survive. That being so, a longing for a former way of life in the midst of a changing American Dream is one way to see the five artworks that occupy the storefront gallery at the Arts Incubator.
“Mom & Pops” is nostalgic for the past it evokes: a time when immigrants flocked to America, especially during the twentieth century, in pursuit of the American Dream. Some may have opened a family business, like a tailor shop or a restaurant, to achieve this dream. Hyeon Jung Kim’s “Labyrinth,” a circular structure filled with business shirts covered in clear plastic bags, suggests a family-owned dry cleaning store. The business shirts reflect a time when more Americans dressed up for work, unlike today’s casual professional attire.
By way of contrast, Melissa Leandro’s two-part piece “Carrito de Helado,” an ice cream cart shaded by an umbrella, and “¡buen provecho!,” a picnic table with woven tablecloth, underscore the “family” part of a family business. In a symbolic move to “pass down the family recipe,” visitors can take a magnet with the ice cream recipe found on top of the cart. They can also grab an ice cream sample and sit at the picnic table to eat—instead of eating on the run, as is common today.
A revelation of the show is how “mom and pop” businesses have evolved. A digital presence is a new alternative to a brick-and-mortar approach. This is one lens through which to view Jacolby Satterwhite’s “The Matriarch’s Rhapsody,” a digital video that includes his mother’s drawings, along with 3D animations and family photographs. The video evokes how the labor economy is changing from manual work at a physical location to immaterial labor amidst today’s digital revolution. Perhaps the American Dream is still feasible, but this show is a reminder of how the means to obtain it are changing. (Amy Haddad)
Through September 11 at Arts Incubator, 301 East Garfield.
Elliot J. Reichert is a Chicago-based curator, critic, and editor. He is a currently a Hatch Projects Curatorial Resident at the Chicago Artist Coalition and Art Editor of Newcity. Formerly, he was Assistant Curator at the Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University. His writing has been published in The Brooklyn Rail, the Journal of Visual Culture, and Newcity.