Chicago Artists Coalition Presents OUT OF CONTEXT Review– Cultural Symbols Unplugged

Chicago Artists Coalition OUT OF CONTEXT
In Michael Donovan Moore’s painting Where The Wild Things Are, an anthropomorphic turtle stands erect, glancing out at the viewer with a subtle smirk as he props a door open, perhaps daring us to guess where exactly he’s headed.

By its own definition, anyone who —even subconsciously— navigates popular culture will be able to extract meaning from Out of Context– a group exhibition that explores the universality of culturally encoded symbols we see daily, and what is revealed when they are taken out of context. Curated by Sabrina E. Grieg, the exhibition showcases the practices and sensibilities of CAC’s emerging contemporary artists-in-residency, featuring thirteen works by six artists working in mediums that range from painting and interactive sculpture to ceramics and gifs.

The gallery buzzes with curiosity as groups shuffle in to get a first look at the new works. The artists aren’t simply showing their work– they are celebrating the challenges and breakthroughs that shaped their past year as residents of HATCH Projects (a juried incubator for contemporary Chicago artists and curators). The Chicago art community’s support is felt in numbers: those in attendance point and confer with one another as they explore the tightly-packed opening.

Several pieces rest on the gallery floor while others are hung or projected at eye level.  This layout  seems to encourage movement and close looking. Each piece sparks recognition, then reflection, as our familiarity with certain symbols is destabilized by an unfamiliar medium or contradictory context. Alejandro Waskavich’s gif series remove and add symbols to distill male intimacy from competitive sport culture. Small children are seen clambering excitedly over the dozens of rubber cubes in Elana Adler’s interactive installation Tangible Negotiations, upending our expectations of rigidity in geometry. Upon viewing Nora Chin’s self-portrait Nora Simpson,  viewers crack a nostalgic smile.  We see her likeness to Lisa Simpson, battling the angst of adolescence with self-aware intelligence.

Chicago Artists Coalition OUT OF CONTEXT
Nora Chin’s repurposing of The Simpson’s creator Matt Gorening’s signature style communicates the humor of uncertainty and coming-of-age in her self portrait titled Nora Simpson.

Alejandro Waskavich’s gif series prompts viewers to consider the permissive power of athletic camaraderie in instances of physical intimacy between males in visual culture.

Wen Liu’s Reading My Shadow subverts our initial reading by adding subtle layers of intention. The black paint used in this piece is in fact Chinese-English dictionary ash, and presents a phrase with US military origins, “I’ve got your back”. Installed where two gallery walls meet, the seatless chair casts a sharp shadow in the corner, playing at our associations with function and language to communicate her experience with cultural assimilation.

You can expect to find yourself contemplating the questions of intimacy and identity raised by our daily patterns long after exiting the gallery. Between the relevancy of these themes in our current society and the fresh takes brought by these artists, Out of Context is, in this writer’s view,  a cohesive show guaranteed to bring you new perspectives on familiar symbols and signifiers we interpret every day.

Chicago Artists Coalition OUT OF CONTEXT
Elana Adler’s installation of rubber cube frames wobble and wiggle as viewers are invited to move and stack them, creating an ever-changing collaborative structure.
Chicago Artists Coalition OUT OF CONTEXT
Wen Liu’s installations milk meaning from their materiality: black paint, Chinese-English dictionary ashes, wood, and latex simultaneously evoke functional and domestic associations in Reading My Shadow.


Exhibiting Artists: Elana Adler, Nora Chin, Haerim Lee, Wen Liu, Michael Moore, and Alejandro Waskavich.


Thru January 24th


Chicago Artists Coalition
2130 W. Fulton St.
Chicago, IL 60612


Free Admission

For more information visit the Chicago Artists Coalition website.

Photos: Samantha Sylvander

Samantha Sylvander
Samantha Sylvander

About Samantha Sylvander:

Sam Sylvander is an art historian, writer, aspiring curator, and Chicago native. She is a recent graduate of Wellesley College with a BA in Art History and Media Arts & Sciences. Chronic wanderlust has led her to nine countries and counting, collecting the best recipes and friends along the way. She enjoys visiting museums, always carries a notebook, and can't resist browsing every vintage clothing store and used bookshop she comes across.

Share this:

Make a Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *