Lori Waxman released “Keep Walking Intently: the Ambulatory Art of the Surrealists, the Situationist International, and Fluxus” in 2017, which may have triggered a frequency illusion, but there has been a great deal of Chicago art made about walking/while walking in the years since. In “Flattened Flora” (a reference to “Flattened Fauna,” a book about roadkill) Faysal Altunbozar and E. Saffronia Downing guide the viewer on a perambulation through personal mythologies. Using the built and natural environments as mediums and messages, these sculptural scrapbooks tell distinctly different stories.
Altunbozar continues his ongoing inquiry into desire and some of the the darker subcultures of gay communities: he posits here that the seeds embedded into resin sneaker soles (already bizarre effigies to a particular athletic masculine trope) were collected while cruising (slang for walking around a public place, often a park, seeking someone to spend biblical time with). Reader, you are welcome for not titling this review “seedy behavior.” He speculates a sort of plant singularity wherein we humans become fertilizing mechanisms for specific species. These works are violent, with bizarre trappings of capitalism (I adore the brilliant albeit dystopian choice to hang the assemblages on TV mounts),—and celestial—bearing more than a passing resemblance to angel wings. Altunbozar, channeling Ana Mendieta, also reflects on the imprints his body left on the earth during these jaunts. I vividly pictured Downing following him around on these expeditions, taking relief imprints of the marks his trainers make in the earth underneath his feet.
Downing’s work is literally and figuratively grounding. The relics she has assembled here are geological quilts made of fired clay collected on constitutionals. The resulting archeological artifacts are simply executed but extremely moving; there is magic about these playful clay collages. It’s as if Downing lifted one of the hexagonal terrazzo tiles from the weathered Roots & Culture floor and handbuilt a tessellation around it. In reality, the works are formed from sedimentary deposits, roadsides and riverbeds foraged from what Downing calls her “artist-migratory lifestyle.” Artists take note—this is how you work with a storied space.
Downing’s work is the passive counterpart to Atunbozar’s actively jarring juxtapositions. There is a tension here difficult to achieve in a two-person show; earth vs. air; corporeal vs. abstract; the natural environment vs. a garishly constructed one. This show, which I saw on a morose day in torrential rain, made me think of what the world will look like when we are all gone. Roots & Culture, kept warm and humid with an abundance of plants in the entryway, lends itself easily to such post-civilization fantasies—about the things we carry, and the things we’ll leave behind. (Erin Toale)
“Flattened Flora: A Compass Sampler: Faysal Altunbozar & E. Saffronia Downing” is on view at Roots & Culture, 1034 North Milwaukee, through May 14.