Ordinary junk gets deranged at Pilsen’s Slow gallery
When asked what traces of madness a potential psychopath might leave in the world, artists Laura Davis and Jason Dunda answer, respectively that the unhinged might either obsessively alter everyday objects, or spend way too much time in woodshop. Slow’s newest exhibition “Lock the Doors”—as its advertisement claims—leaves the visitor simultaneously “bewildered and bemused.”
Laura Davis, a University of Chicago alum and former DoVA lecturer, is an artist of alteration. Working with a mixture of everyday objects and organic matter, Davis morphs life’s detritus—the broken souvenirs, half-faded jewelry, and discarded utensils that find their way to the dusty outskirts of our rooms—to create a series of artifacts that taken together suggest a specific, obsessed psyche. At Slow, Davis’ eclectic objects are arranged on top of several end tables in the gallery, “convenient,” she says, ”because I wanted to make a collage where the pieces weren’t glued down, where each viewer could tie them together in a unique way.”
On one such table, a sea sponge is impaled in mid-air and covered in a sprinkling of pink ear-plugs, a broken mermaid figurine is drowning inside a sand-filled shell, and the portrait of a soon-to-be-ravished maiden is framed by a gorgeous, spiraling black foam structure. The pieces are innocuous enough on their own, but together they comprise a portrait of despair. What kind of a person painstakingly embeds hoop-earrings into a charred log? Reclaiming the ordinary and the overlooked, Davis makes us want to lock the door and leave nothing behind.
Her meticulousness (fascinated by texture, Davis will spend hours reworking her surfaces) is shared by Jason Dunda. In his paintings and sketches of improbable wooden structures Dunda treats simple wooden objects with a carpenter’s caress but takes advantage of a two-dimensional medium in order to allow his constructions the freedom to defy gravity.
At first, Dunda’s gouache drawings seem to lack the latent menace of Davis’s objects. His sketch of a lifeguard tower, rendered completely in pencil except for two planks painted white, captures and elongates the beauty of a rickety beach monument. His skilled and surreal painting of a tree, comprised of levitating stumps and sawed branches is more calming than chilling.
Progressively Dunda’s wooden contraptions begin to beg more disturbing questions. “The Most Beautiful Duck-Blind in the World” is just a chair, painted in interesting earth tones, attached to a barrier, and topped with a makeshift roof. The simplicity of the chair’s form belies the fact that the contraption is essentially a trap, a lure that—thrown together out of whatever happened to be lying around—makes it a little easier to snuff out a life.
Dunda’s final work in this series casts a looming shadow on the entirety of Slow’s space, for even while observing some of the show’s other pieces, one can’t help but glance back at his enormous gallows. Like a demented Boy Scout project, the contraption lacks some necessary supports, appearing thoroughly haphazard: the realism of the gallows’ wood is interrupted by a series of rectangles decked out in shades of turquoise and yellow. Entitled “The Most Beautiful Gallows in the World,” the piece forces the viewer to acknowledge that there is something exquisite about a series of ramshackled boards that add up to a particularly sinister purpose. In an era of iPads and Predator Drones, Dunda reminds us how much can still be done and undone with a hammer and nails.
Though some works require not so much leaps as intellectual back-flips to connect to the show’s eerie theme and a few feel gimmicky, but if the criticism so often leveled at conceptual art is that it sacrifices genuine enjoyment for abstruse academic effects, then Dunda and Davis’ efforts reveal a way back. There is no doubting this pair’s conceptual chops, but their combined skill also has a strange habit of making us savor being disturbed.
Slow, 2153 W 21st St. Through April 23. Saturday, 12am-5pm. (773)645-8803. Search “Slow” on facebook.com