Gabriel Chalfin-Piney and Jade Williams’ exhibition, “Timely Sanctification,” on view at the Chicago Artists Coalition, offers a multi-sensory experience not to be delicately consumed, but rather devoured. Curated by Cristobal Alday, the gallery is packed with mixed media sculptures ranging in scale: where Williams’ piece “Lightbody No.1 (Beam Me Up, Fantasii)” demands the viewer to crane their neck upward, Chalfin-Piney’s “Beitzah” taunts the viewer to fight their urge to slip a small token into their pocket. The room explodes in a treasure hunt of sapphire blue and dandelion yellow, creating a cohesive throughline between the sculptures. Each artist offers a display of world-building, unique to their own perspectives, that playfully and powerfully coexist in the gallery. Each artist’s distinctive visual voice becomes beautifully enmeshed in their environment, like two neighbors in separate houses sharing their tools with one another on yard work day.
Chalfin-Piney’s piece, “Oranges on the Seder Plate,” sits low on the floor like a sacred altar. Intricate and surprising materials of wax, chestnuts, crab, metal and candles invite the viewer to encroach upon this revered space. The square base is supported by four wood planks on each side, flowered outward. The illusion this implies is that this sculpture could be folded up into itself like a crate, leaving the world of these absurd and fascinating sculptural elements perfectly housed, contained and transportable.
Nestled in a corner of the gallery is Chalfin-Piney’s “Nostos and Algos (Two Nuns),” accompanied by the sound piece, “Two Swords,” by Devin Shaffer. It is important to examine these pieces in tangent, as their proximity dramatically shifts their effect. The sculpture includes two axe handles, with beeswax candles where the blade would be. The sound piece strings together the light clinking of two swords benevolently making contact: pulling and stroking slices, not an ounce of violence can be detected with each chord. These two pieces both offer a jarring contradiction: the harshness of an axe and the malleability of the wax, as well as the violent nature of a sword but the tender, lovely instruments that they can become.
Williams’ piece, “OTHERKIND,” hangs on the wall furthest from the entrance, subtly hidden by the dominating sculptures in front of it. Reaching this piece, like discovering treasure, is an earned satisfaction. Roughly the size of a standard quilt, this woven tapestry depicts a family of four, their faces knit with sequins, giving a blurred-out effect. Though faceless, their emotions can be read through their gentle holding of one another. The person in the foreground appears smaller and childlike. Each of their hands comfortably rests on the thighs of two other figures. A person in the background crouches down to join the image. The complex sequining of the faces neutralizes the figures so that the viewer can project their own loved ones into the frame, while the rest of the tapestry gives us a personal connection to Williams.
Both Chalfin-Piney and Williams welcome the viewer to sift through their worlds, as if they are looking through a box of memorabilia from someone else’s childhood but feeling an undeniable sense of familiarity with each object. The natural materials that Chalfin-Piney chooses, combined with the deeply personal found objects that Williams incorporates, allows for an environment begging to be grappled with using all of our senses. These two artists have created a space for us to ponder our histories, meditate on our spirituality, interrogate our relationship to nature, and leave with a defiant sense of empathy and gratitude. (Ally Fouts)
“Timely Sanctification” is on view at Chicago Artists Coalition, 2130 West Fulton, through April 7.