A vintage metal Marlboro sign cut in half on two vintage Herman Miller metal stacking bases that becomes a chair (Noel Mercado’s “Bum A Smoke”), found wood objects, plywood and acrylic (Angela Finney’s “Perspectival” series), paper pulp painting and human hair (Hope Wang’s “Stray Storms Soggy Cigar”)—all parts of a multidimensional mixed-media exhibition where traditional distinctions between art and craft, high and low, and functional and decorative are explored, challenged and redefined. “Crafting Pragmatics” thrives at those intersections.
Painting, sculpture, collage, textile, screen print and unexpected elements (again, human hair!) merge to create a cohesive whole. The synergy between the three artists lies in their shared exploration of blending traditional art forms with contemporary contexts and perspectives: Each uniquely bridges the past with the present, creating a dialogue between historical techniques and modern concepts.
Mercado delves into the fundamental nature, life cycle and cultural significance of found objects, meticulously repurposing them to create new forms and configurations. Case in point: his recent collaboration with Knoll where he was invited to reinvent three of their classic chairs. Fascinated by the process of deconstruction, a journey that has provided deep insights into the essence of structure, material and beauty, the artist finds an intricate balance. This approach not only breathes new life into his objects of choice, but also recontextualizes them, inviting viewers to explore their transformed meanings and the stories they carry.
Finney has a natural curiosity for materiality. Informed by her furniture and interior design background (her studio and shop, Finney, creates and curates original abstract art and large-scale, experiential art installations for commercial spaces), she combines the histories of art, design and craft, integrating found objects with vibrant colors and geometric patterns. Her abstract wall works are highly sculptural, comfortably existing between art and design, creativity and sustainability.
Wang’s fusion of weaving and textile work (she is the founding director of LMRM “loom room,” a communal weaving studio working to broaden accessibility to weaving equipment for fiber artists in Chicago), as well as painting, prints, photo collages with digital technology parallels this concept. Her focus on capturing transient human moments through a traditional craft, reimagined with modern technology, mirrors the overarching theme of integrating historical art forms into a current-day narrative.
“Crafting Pragmatics,” curated by Anna Cerniglia of Johalla Projects, weaves a complex narrative that twines cultural histories and personal introspection into a harmonious blend of the old and the new that reflects on the paradoxical essence of the human condition. And as Finney, Mercado and Wang incorporate layers of meaning and time into their work, they collectively provide a multifaceted exploration of how contemporary art can both preserve and reinterpret the essence of traditional crafts and historical contexts—both at once.
“Crafting Pragmatics” is on view at Engage Projects, 864 North Ashland, through February 10.