I immediately inhale the scent of foam when entering Sabina Ott’s exhibition “who cares for the sky?” at the Hyde Park Art Center. Perching atop the indoor mountain made of wood, artificial greenery and polystyrene is like living inside of an extravagant world that oozes gaudiness and relishes in the magic of nooks, crannies and caves. Ott’s Californian spirit and color envelop the entirety of the mountain in all of its 8,000-cubic-foot glory.
Ott’s mountainous exhibition is the result of her first few months in the year-long Jackman Goldwasser Residency at HPAC. According to Ott, she will continue to work and rework the installation throughout the year. “The mountain is a kind of living thing to me,” she says, adding that the “project is an open, and endless, work.”
In 2015, Ott exhibited “here and there pink melon joy” at the Chicago Cultural Center with the help of her sound collaborator, Joe Jeffers, who also contributes to the audio component of the current exhibition. For her, “Joe Jeffers has made the mountain breathe—and literally vibrate.”
Throughout her work, Ott references Gertrude Stein, from whom she has been finding inspiration since the 1990s. Ott explains, “‘a rose is a rose is a rose’ is a phrase that runs through ‘The World is Round,’ the children’s book I am referencing in this artwork.” Her addition of blue chairs on top of the mountain is a nod to the book, which chronicles the journey of a young girl named Rose. The character in Stein’s book drags a blue chair up the mountain because she knows that once she reaches the peak, she will sit and reflect for quite some time.
The exhibition is immersive. Visitors can travel in and out of the work, turn corners and camp out on top of the peak. Embedded, shelved and hung in the interior passageway of the installation are paintings, sculptures and assemblages from Chicago artists that Ott invited to contribute to the piece. She writes, “I wanted to include the artworks of others in the mountain because I feel that even (my) singular work is the result of a collectivity. I do what I do because of my relationship to others and my desire to commune and communicate with others. This (the tunnel of art) seemed like a way to express that and express gratitude to my/the community of artists that I value so much.” Her collaborative efforts also include working with Space Haus, an art production company, who planned and assisted with the production of the mountain.
The transformation of the gallery into a place of play challenges the conventionality of the traditional gallery space. Demanding attention, this installation begs for you to climb its steps, curve around the bends and touch, touch, touch. (S. Nicole Lane)
Sabina Ott’s “who cares for the sky?” is on view through May 1 at the Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 South Cornell. Ott will also have an exhibition at Aspect/Ratio from April 22 to May 30.