Ripped skin of protruding lips with cigarettes dangling from their mouths are displayed in a neon hamster cage—not a Halloween decoration but a sculpture by the artist Tetsumi Kudo that refers to the Anthropocene. “Anthropocene” designates the current geological period, where human activity has been the dominant driving force for climate change. These visceral installations are amongst work by Brook Hsu, Saul Fletcher and Constance DeJong in “Let Me Consider It From Here,” a title that bridges intimacy and reciprocity, referring to a conversational exchange where those involved try to understand one another. The exhibition prompts such consideration due to the spatial arrangement of works, which are set in alcoves. What looks like canvas from one angle is, upon closer examination, painting on a large rug. This is Brook Hsu’s “Earth Angel” (2017). An elf-like creature is bent over, a melon protruding from each buttcheek, while a flower is wrapped all over the creature’s body. Hsu sources these figures from ancient Greek myths, fairytales and personal memoirs. In the past, the recent Yale grad has explored her relationship with her late mother, psychological conditions, recurring motifs such as dogs, and living a transitory and precarious postgraduate existence. Her use of the rug-as-canvas suggests tugging and pulling in order to learn more about oneself and the hand-dyed manipulation suggests exposing one’s vulnerabilities. Conveying the personal through text and imagery is shared by Constance DeJong’s sound domes. As we explore the gallery space, soft reverberations of spoken words are audible, but when we stand under the speakers, DeJong narrates to us, creating a site of intimacy where she is addressing us directly. Her four interconnected narratives, “Frequency Hopping 2,” “Memorial,” “Nightwalking” and “Bedside” feature trailing thoughts that take us to the New York Stock Exchange where we examine metrics, to our bedside table where we celebrate the birthdays of David Bowie and Prince. These audible restless ponderings are intertwined and set to the pace of a sleepless night.
!(web8-lmcifh-uas-062-corrected-copy.jpg?classes=caption “Let Me Consider It From Here,” Installation view, Renaissance Society, winter 2019/Photo: Useful Art Services")
Juxtaposed with Hsu’s painting, these stories invite us to extrapolate a narrative of our own. They connect to the work of Kudo by their highly personal content and expressive arrangement of form and figure. His sculptures, made in the 1970s, address the wave of environmental pollution and the lasting effects of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and World War II. Part of the Neo-Dada movement of the 1950s and sixties, he has influenced artists such as Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy. In “Cultivation by Nature and People Who Are Looking At It” (1971), Kudo uses plastic, soil, adhesive, snail shells, wood, hair and paint to make a circular biome that is split in half. The top resembles a cityscape while the bottom space, featuring a snail shell, resembles a more natural space. Kudo draws our attention to the natural evolution of ecology in relation to humans’ manipulation of plant genetics, the latter whose synthesis typically yields more crops but with fewer nutrients. With the rise of ocean waves and the seeming inevitability of deforestation, Kudo’s work challenges a reality that is produced and sponsored by overzealous appropriation of resources and destruction of the environment. Saul Fletcher’s miniature photographs line the back wall of the gallery. His intimate portraits are mysterious but he provides breadcrumbs about their content through figures in the photograph. He also leaves clues in the titles of his work: even though most are called “Untitled,” they include a parenthesis of a term that he would like us to think about. When he takes a photograph in his studio, he constructs elaborate sets and installations that take months to compose. After the photograph is taken, they are promptly taken down. The sole document that this work took place is the photograph. His small-scale photograph requires the viewer to get extremely close to the work and establish an intimate distance with it.
“Let me Consider It From Here” examines the collapse of personal and private in the digital age. Through social media, we are a living generation of “over-sharers,” but with all of the digital pings and the amount of data that is generated, the vulnerability of existence is overlooked. Even when vulnerable aspects are shared online, they are used as clickbait and mobilized in order to generate digital clout. Through the physical presentation of work that spans decades, artists who reveal intimate details and personal histories indicate that the movements of environmentalism and concern for digital surveillance endure because they affect each and every one of us. Coming together in this exhibition, Hsu, DeJong, Fletcher and Kudo, through exposing their vulnerability in their work, urge us to take care of ourselves and the environment.
“Let Me Consider It From Here” continues through January 27 at the Renaissance Society, 5811 South Ellis.
Published in Newcity Chicago