Slime structures, slug residue, snail shells, shed skin, praying mantis egg sacs, human and chonky bug bodies, fungi, and fur are just a few of the miniature ecological marvels on view in Kayla Anderson and Dao Nguyen’s “Manifesto for Mutualistic Tendencies” at Logan Square’s Comfort Station. Something of an intermedial poem to non-human actors, Anderson and Nguyen have crafted an exhibition that could be summarized as a relationscape, an ecological assemblage that plays with the borders between what constitutes inhabited spaces and the art object as artificial or natural.
Not quite wholly indebted to the earth arts of their artistic forebears, Anderson and Nguyen nonetheless seem to desire a pulling into focus of the potential inherent in considering the artist’s role within a greater ecological constellation of making. Anderson’s “Slime Structures,” one of three videos by the artist in this exhibition, is perhaps the most direct in this regard, showing a variety of found slug made iridescent and haphazard structures on the walls of Austria’s Hohensalzburg Fortress. It’s tempting to read these shambolic and coruscating miniature gastropod architectures in contrast to the architectonic pageantry of the eleventh-century castle they reside on, a kind of zooming in on, and therefore critique of, the materials of life and living by human and non-human actors. Yet, Anderson’s move in this video is cannier then such a simple binary, instead presenting the viewer with a miniature exhibition of a slug’s work. Anderson’s gesture here speaks to a general thesis that surrounds this exhibition on how we value the work of the non-heralded (read: non-marketable) maker, be it a slug’s gooey habitat or a bird’s nest.
Nguyen’s sculptures consider similar themes, punctuating ornate stoneware and ceramic with natural materials such as a snail shell, swallowtail skin and cobwebs. “Sticks and Stoneware” and “Playscape” are collections of ceramic-constructed vessels and stupas on various interconnected display tables that are exhilarating in their visual and technical density and details. Others such as “Heap” evoke prokaryotic design, magnifying the cellular level that binds us to our respective surroundings and ecosystems. These works seem to be about approximation, how to get as close as possible—in material, concept, or to the real thing—to that which we might so often keep out of sight.
Presented during the hottest summer on record, Anderson and Nguyen’s poetic series of manifestos resonate in their explicit proffering to background the primacy of humanistic concerns in favor of cultivating symmetrical relationships between human and non-human. However, this show is not simply an art exhibition’s pang for greater ecological care, but rather an attempt to suggest that we are already an ecological assemblage, a fact known, but often forgotten. This entanglement of human and non-human affective agencies, when fostered, can provoke us to consider how we might reorient ourselves to become more like, than different, from our surrounding natural ecosystems.
Kayla Anderson and Dao Nguyen’s “Manifesto for Mutualistic Tendencies” at Comfort Station, 2579 North Milwaukee, through July 30.
Chris Reeves is a creative researcher and artist who received his PhD in Art History from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2021. In 2020 he co-edited his first book, “The World’s Worst: A Guide to the Portsmouth Sinfonia” released on Soberscove Press.