Repetition is painful. Repetition is frustrating. Repetition is harmful. Consider how repetition is used as a punishment by the dated grade-school discipline of writing on a chalkboard: repeatedly writing a phrase to force the student to meditate on it and retain the lesson.
Repetition is satisfying. Repetition is empowering. Repetition is melodic. Consider how repetition is used as a comfort: a repeating chorus in a favorite song, predictable and gratifying with each note.
The exhibition “Layer, Mark, Repeat,” curated by Cristobal Alday at the Chicago Artists Coalition, features the work of Bryana Bibbs and Sirimas Benz Amatayakul. Together, the artists investigate the intense, visceral reactions a body has to repetition. Each offers their own perspectives, creating contradicting aesthetics. The exhibition is exceptionally well-balanced, inviting and meditative.
Bibbs’ piece, “After,” stretches across nearly an entire wall of the gallery. Made from strips of handwoven cotton, paper and Sharpie marker, the textile invites the viewer to consider the colossal feat of physical echoing this piece was born from. Positioned to the far right of the piece is a QR code that shares video documentation of Bibbs making the textile. Performative, contemplative and meticulous, Bibbs works with these strips of paper tirelessly as a way to sift concepts of trauma, time and memory. The paper is composed of old journal entries. Though illegible to the viewer, the sheer volume of entries is enough to pack this piece with the heavy weight of emotional baggage. “After” pokes at the tedious, methodical side of repetition. Bibbs wrangles the act and shapes it into an elixir of healing. “After” feels like a massage: a constant probe of pain, light enough to endure but harsh enough to tear muscle down and allow the body to grow back stronger.
The wall opposite “After” hosts a row of seven paintings by Benz. Each acrylic painting explodes in layered, rich, controlled chaos. A performative element is added as the acrylic paint spills off the surface of the canvases and onto the gallery wall behind it, as if this exploration took forceful hold of the artist. Benz uses repetition as a vehicle to ruminate on the loss of innocence in childhood. The canvases house layers upon layers of thick, frosting-like strokes, playfully depicting murmurs of abstracted flora, bugs, stars and more. The resulting texture is impossibly interesting and demands a deep desire to be felt. Viewing each piece is reminiscent of finding shapes in clouds: noticing the dimensionality of the clouds, just out of reach, wishing a fleeting moment could be touched and materialized.
Both Bibbs and Benz explore complex realms within the human experience by using reiterating materials and practices. Though the aesthetics of each artist’s work are contradictory, they are united by their undeniable feat of endurance. “Layer, Mark, Repeat” relinquishes the melodic nature of repetition in a warm, deeply meditative manner that leaves room for the viewer to ponder in a profoundly personal way alongside the artists. (Ally Fouts)
“Layer, Mark, Repeat” is on view at Chicago Artists Coalition, 2130 West Fulton, through July 14.