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Sometimes going just a little off the beaten track can lead to marvelous discoveries. Recently, I got a tip about one such photography exhibit in Chicago that yielded many delights: “The Nature of a Collective”, now at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art (UIMA) through November 30, 2014. The show is mounted by the Stella Photography Collective, a group of twelve Chicago-based women artists, who formed in 2008 for disciplined monthly critiques. Since Stella is comprised of seasoned professionals, the level of artistry I found does not surprise me, but I never imagined the show’s remarkable sophistication and cohesiveness.
“The Nature of a Collective” is not so much about “nature” as it is about personal geography – how we discover ourselves within our environment. The environment in this show takes nearly as many forms as the twelve exhibitors contributing to it, from Patty Carroll’s women sumptuously draped in the patterned fabrics of domesticity to Peggy Wright’s seascape on parallel rows of silk panels that flow as you pass between them. In fact, flow is what this show does beautifully, integrating the work of very different artists as if they were all singing the same refrain, each in her own unique voice, resulting in a deeply resonant and uplifting chorus. Here, I will highlight several whose voices exemplify both the confluence and range of this inspiring show.
The exhibit starts on a jubilant note with sculptural effusions of color photographs that have been cut into lyrical, organic shapes and reassembled by Aimee Beaubien. In her free-standing sculpture, “Untitled (work in process), 2014” she playfully reimagines the concept of water, intertwining vibrant photographic arcs of waterfalls, a river rushing over its rocky bed and even a watermelon. Her joyful noise lifts the spirit.
In contrast, Alice Hargrave’s nearby photographs and video installation have a palpably quieting effect. Her images depict fleeting light patterns and gauge time by picturing the interstices between the events in our lives. Her tonal studies of skies, trees and unfocused interior spaces are subtle, atmospheric meditations. Kate Joyce offers a matrix of four identically framed images taken from a hidden vantage point in a lush garden. In three of them, she captures cameos of different women wandering through the space (one is left uninhabited for acute comparison) in a presentation that deftly begs the question of whether and where we belong in a utopic natural world.
In keeping with the theme of a garden, and yet offering a distinctly different visual impact and message, Jean Sousa’s oversized Peony blossoms become abstractions that recall the warmth of a womb. Their softly lit, textural folds and fleshy tones are both intimate and delicate, inviting a metaphorical reflection on the life cycle. Liz Chilsen’s decidedly sociological perspective traces the generational movement of Americans from rural to urban locales in her highly personal series “View From My Family Home”. She often frames her images from inside a curtained window, her camera peering out onto varied horizons. Chilsen’s poignant images evoke vexing questions – are the curtains a barrier or a form of protection, is she trapped or seeking haven?
In the final installation of this show, Suzette Bross presents a series of inventive iPhone “Walks”, tracing her own feet as she traverses her environment. Her work serves as an incisive synopsis of our modern lives. Through city streets, in museums and on beaches, her staccato patterns trace both the fragmentation of our days and the paradoxical synergy of our life passages. Bross’ arrays of color, form and movement mark a sweeping, upbeat tempo that delivers a fitting crescendo for this exciting show.
The work of thirteen artists is on view (two collaborate on their presentation). In alphabetical order, the members of Stella Photography Collective are: Aimee Beaubien, Suzette Bross, Patty Carroll, Barbara Ciurej & Lindsay Lochman, Liz Chilsen, Christine DiThomas, Mary Farmilant, Alice Q. Hargrave, Kate Joyce, Mayumi Lake, Jean Sousa and Margaret (Peggy) Wright.
For more information on this exhibit, go to: http://uima-chicago.org/exhibitions/
For more information about the Stella Photography Collective, go to: http://elinspringphotography.com/blog/discovering-stella/
Or visit their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stella-Collective/232415016798522
Feature Image: Installation shot of “The Nature of a Collective”, now at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art (UIMA) through November 30, 2014. Artwork by Aimee Beaubien (courtesy of the artist and UIMA, Chicago)