“Ay, but to die, and go we know not where”
Shakespeare, “Measure for Measure”
“For in that sleep of death what dreams may come”
In “Death Bearing,” artworks by Isabelle Frances McGuire, Kira Scerbin and Joe W. Speier serve jointly as the Grim Reaper coming to collect one of Chicago’s beloved, Hans Gallery. Peter Anastos, the gallery’s founder and curator, arranged a tasteful selection of artworks less about mourning and more about suspense, humor and the eerie with a touch of creep.
Joe Speier exhibits two uplifting mixed-media artworks, “Be Good” and “Recliner in Living Room.” “Be Good” hangs on the left wall near the entrance of the gallery. The message, “Be Good to Yourself,” is painted in bold gray letters across the canvas accompanied by a large portrait reminiscent of a scene-kid doodle made in the early aughts using ballpoint pen. At the forefront are loose brushstrokes of purple underneath the outline of the red flowers. Speier’s other work, “Recliner in Living Room,” hangs near the back window. Reflecting its title, the piece depicts a girl, hands behind her head, reclining on the couch in her living room. Similar to “Be Good,” Speier’s technique mimics an amateurish doodle pixelated and enlarged. In an interview with Gabrielle Jensen, Speier reflects about his practice, “I’m interested in images that are born from a need to self-soothe,” pulling from sources like DeviantArt, thrift stores and memes that are typically understood as “low value” imagery.
In Speier’s words, the pieces are meant to communicate a comforting message about rest, “that it is okay to take a nap; you’re perfect!” and, indeed, it is soothing. But Scerbin and McGuire’s work evokes a more ominous feeling.
Scerbin’s three works “Sucker,” “Crocus” and “So Tight Girl” manifest from an otherworldly dimension and renders figures that were brought to this plane to express a premonition. “Sucker,” positioned across the entrance of the gallery, depicts an abnormal figure with an obtuse head and bulging eyes floating in red space with accent floral patterns. “So Tight Girl” also has a peculiar figure with a gray face and blue eyes floating next to a giant pink heart in a setting that might be a bridge near a large body of water. Many words have been used to describe Scerbin’s figures, ranging from “primordial meat body,” “surrogate,” “a mix of gray alien and ancient fertility idol,” “humanoid with references to Albert Pinkham Ryder” and “Salad Fingers”; all of which are true. The irregular figure is only remotely understood as something possibly human because of orifices such as the mouth, eyes, nose. Other details in the figure’s flesh allude to more mystery such as circles around the legs, bruises, scabs, tattoos and other textures.
McGuire’s sculpture, “Lamp #1” (self portrait) is placed in the center of the gallery. Two cords dangle from the ceiling with LED light bulbs inches above the floor. Attached to the light cords are miniature models of the atomic bombs Fat Man and Little Boy hanging, frozen, in suspense. Growing up in Los Alamos, New Mexico, the birthplace of the Atomic Bomb, I immediately recognized the models and felt the serious weight of their message.
“Lamp #1” (self portrait), McGuire says, is “part of a larger series of open-sourced models and 3D prints. I’m interested in this nebulous ever-growing pool that mostly contains files for creating cosplay and war memorabilia.” It is inspired by “Call of Duty” and the U.S. military as a major stakeholder and its function as a recruitment tool. When playing the game, McGuire notes, “There is a kind of folding of reality that happens and game time gets blurred with real-time. There is a moment in the beginning of the new ‘[Call Of Duty]’ where the gamer’s perspective shifts from being the character, Ghost, to the viewpoint of a bomb hurling toward a group of enemies.” “Lamp #1” (self portrait) is a reflection about the scale of instant destruction and death that would be caused by an atomic bomb as well as McGuire’s personal history.
The looming feeling of an end is acutely present for small gallery spaces. Small gallery initiatives are extremely vulnerable, lasting only from two to five years. As a result, they are inherently ephemeral and wonderfully transitory. Knowing this, I still grieve when one of my usual haunts closes. And sometimes I wonder if it is possible to provide more support to the stability of small art initiatives. But that discussion can be saved for another article—this one is about honoring the conclusion of Hans Gallery’s and Anastos’ generous opportunity to let viewers grieve in a final celebration through “Death Bearing.”
Anastos founded Hans Gallery in 2019 and has curated three years of compelling exhibitions, bringing together Midwestern art legends and international artists. Hans Gallery served as a vital gathering space for emerging and established creatives and brought palpable energy to Chicago and the broader art community.
“Death Bearing,” at Hans Gallery, 2000 West Carroll, open by appointment. Through January 14, 2023