March 5 – May 21, 2010
Lauren Kalman, “Blooms, Efflorescence, and Other Dermatological Embellishments”
Annie Heckman, “You thought that you were alone but I caught your bullet just in time”
Free, public reception: Friday, March 5, from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Artists’ talk (free with Museum admission): Saturday, March 6, 2:00 p.m.
|Lauren Kalman, Cystic Acne, Chest|
“Blooms, Efflorescence, and Other Dermatological Embellishments” includes jeweled adornments that replicate the skin infections, lesions, and sores caused by medical conditions such as acne, cancer, herpes, and syphilis, as well as photographs of models wearing these adornments. In rendering the grotesque and undesirable aspects of actual human skin, Kalman’s jeweled adornments subvert conventional consumer desire for such talismanic commodities, from which buyers and wearers subconsciously seek to appropriate qualities coveted in the imagined “perfect” body. For instance, the artist explains that “gold’s brilliance, indelibility, and unoxidising surface signify beauty, purity, and immortality, qualities that are also desirable in the body,” yet her own pieces, though handcrafted using traditional metalsmithing techniques from gold, silver, and semi-precious stones, instead illustrate the physical body’s susceptibility to disfigurement, contamination, and decay.
Kalman’s photographs document these jeweled lesions and sores—most of which are more prevalent among AIDS patients—in situ on the body of a young, white woman, the stereotypical imaged body of consumer culture and one less often associated with the AIDS virus. This imaged body, which Kalman conceptually aligns with the imagined body, “is stylized, static, and manipulated, often an amalgam of bodily ideals and contemporary aesthetic paradigms.” Although her photographs retain some shock value in their depiction of pierced flesh, they also advertise these perverse piercings as jewelry, transforming them back into objects of desire connected to beauty, status, and wealth through their placement in relation to the romanticized ideal body, thereby dramatizing the corrupt and corrosive nature of consumer culture. However, her representation of disease in the documentary medium of photography, particularly as displayed in the context of a medical museum, simultaneously blurs the boundaries between commercial and medical images of the body. Details about Kalman and her work can be found at: www.laurenkalman.com.
|Annie Heckman, installation detail|
"You thought that you were alone but I caught your bullet just in time" comprises glow-in-the-dark house-of-cards structures built of interlocking cut paper pieces, each drawn upon in graphite and coated with phosphorescent paint to resemble a human or animal bone. Heckman’s intricate and tenuous skeletal structures have the potential to be broken down and rebuilt during the course of the exhibition and, due to the nature of the glow-in-the-dark paint, must be recharged on a programmed lighting cycle in order to remain visible, creating a self-enclosed system of decay, disappearance, regeneration, and re-emergence. Heckman contextualizes this installation in the tradition of European bones churches such as the Kostnice Sedlec in the Czech Republic and the Capuchin Chapel in Rome, saying, "The imagery created by the collections of carefully arranged human bones in these tremendously sad, hallucinatory burial grounds flits black and forth between flowery, ornate flourishes and gruesome, brittle remains." As in these churches, the skeletal imagery of Heckman’s installation evokes awe at the paradoxical beauty of human mortality.
Yet the installation's title—an earnest but impossible wish the artist dedicated to her brother shortly after his death—and the work’s specific grounding in Heckman’s personal experience of loss collapses this grand symbolism down to the mourning of a single life passing, to the level of an individual body, once animated and now reduced to pile of bones. From this singular, specific foundation, the installation is rebuilt as a memorial for the multiplicity of lives past and present that together provide a brief glimpse into the wonder of life itself. Heckman explains, "Faced with the impossibility of characterizing mortality, I look back to moments of awe to formulate a language for approaching death and loss. Looking deeply into anything with wonder is a form of re-generation and of self-abuse. I want my viewers to remake these encounters with me, to become my companions in brief confrontations with the unknown." More information about Heckman and her work is available at: www.annieheckman.com.
These exhibitions are the latest in the Museum’s ongoing "Anatomy in the Gallery" program, which showcases paired exhibitions of medically inspired contemporary art within the context of the Museum’s historical exhibits and artifacts. The Museum has exhibited this artwork since 1998 in accordance with its mission: to enrich the lives of its visitors by enhancing their appreciation and understanding of medicine.
This project is partially sponsored by a CityArts Program 2 grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.