Walking into the gallery, visitors first encounter the project room, a small space to the left past the entrance. It is here that the work of O’Neill and Smith are most cohesive. The room is lit by fluorescent black-light tubes, casting a purple hue onto pieces by both artists. O’Neill’s work in the project room and throughout the show are from her photo series “Ride Into the Sun On Repeat.” O’Neill, who has an MFA from the School of the Art Institute, rephotographed a black-and-white image of flowers from a 1970s gardening manual. All her work is based on the same photo, capturing the image in different light and different situations. The black light produces better effects on Smith’s pieces; he used glow-in-the-dark paint on both works. “I Miss You” is a sculpture resembling ropes trimmed with tassels that drapes across the wall. “Glory Hole with Hearts” features an ornate design in a wood frame backed by a mirror. The black lights lend these pieces an otherworldly depth.
The work of Smith, an SAIC grad now based in Brooklyn, often incorporates sexual innuendo, as is evidenced in part by his titles. In the main gallery, two large sculptures evoke sex toys. “Self Suck,” made of leather, pleather, rubber and plastic, hangs to the side of the gallery. The black sculpture resembles a whip, or a hoop, meant to be jumped through. “You Will Never Love Me Again” drapes dramatically through the main space. Composed of a beige-colored, painted plastic chain, leather and foam decorated with small plastic flowers, the piece appears both tough and enticing.
O’Neill writes on her website that the flower photograph reminded her of banality and of record covers, and it does recall New Order’s “Power, Corruption & Lies.” The exercise produces some beautiful images, full of subtle changes in shade and light. Yet the work, set plainly under glass in the main gallery, feels a little dull without the black light. (Kerry Cardoza)
Through December 19 at Roots and Culture, 1034 North Milwaukee.