“Yes, but to die and go we don’t know where”
Shakespeare, “measure for measure”
“For in the sleep of death, what dreams may come”
In “Death Bearing,” artwork by Isabelle Frances McGuire, Kira Scerbin and Joe W. Speier serve as the Grim Reaper coming to claim one of Chicago’s beloved Hans Gallery. Peter Anastos, the gallery’s founder and curator, has arranged a tasteful selection of artworks that are less about mourning and more about tension, humor and the eerie with a touch of creepiness.
Joe Speier exhibits two uplifting mixed media artworks, “Be Good” and “Recliner in Living Room.” “Be Good” hangs on the left wall near the entrance to the gallery. The message, “Be good to yourself,” is painted in bold gray letters across the canvas, accompanied by a large portrait reminiscent of a stage-child scribble done with ballpoint pen in the early years. At the forefront are loose brushstrokes of purple under the outline of the red flowers. Speier’s other work, “Recliner in Living Room,” hangs near the back window. Reflecting its title, the piece depicts a girl, hands behind her head, lying on the couch in her living room. Similar to “Be Good”, Speier’s technique mimics an amateurish doodle that has been pixelated and magnified. In an interview with Gabrielle Jensen, Speier reflects on his practice, “I’m interested in images that are born out of a need to self-soothe,” drawing from sources such as DeviantArt, thrift stores, and memes that are typically considered “low value ” ” imagery.
In Speier’s words, the pieces are meant to communicate a comforting message about rest, “that it’s okay to take a nap; you are perfect!” and, indeed, it is soothing. But Scerbin and McGuire’s work evokes a more eerie feeling.
Scerbin’s three works “Sucker,” “crocus” and “So Tight Girl” manifests from an otherworldly dimension and renders figures brought to this level to express a foreboding. “Sucker,” placed across from the gallery entrance, depicts an abnormal figure with a blunt head and bulging eyes floating in red space accented with floral patterns. “So Tight Girl” also features a peculiar figure with a gray face and blue eyes floating next to a giant pink heart in a setting that could be a bridge near a large body of water. Many words have been used to describe Scerbin’s figures, ranging from “primordial flesh body”, “surrogate”, “a mixture of gray alien and ancient fertility image”, “humanoid with references to Albert Pinkham Ryder” and “salad fingers”. ; which is all true. The irregular figure is only understood from a distance as something possibly human because of openings such as the mouth, eyes, nose. Other details in the figure’s flesh hint at more mystery such as circles around the bones, bruises, scabs, tattoos and other textures.
McGuire’s sculpture, “Lamp #1” (self-portrait) is placed in the center of the gallery. Two cords hang from the ceiling with LED bulbs centimeters above the floor. Hanging, frozen, in tension are miniature models of the atomic bombs Fat Boy and Little Man attached to the light cords. Growing up in Los Alamos, New Mexico, the birthplace of the Atomic Bomb, I immediately recognized the models and felt the serious weight of their message.
“Lamp #1” (self-portrait), says McGuire, is “part of a larger series of open-source models and 3D prints. I’m interested in this nebulous ever-growing pool of mostly files for creating cosplay and war memorabilia.” It was inspired by “Call of Duty” and the U.S. military as a major stakeholder and its function as a recruiting tool. When the game is played, McGuire notes, “There’s a kind of folding of reality that happens and game time is blurred with real-time. There is a moment in the beginning of the new ‘[Call Of Duty]’ where the player’s perspective shifts from the character, Ghost, to the point of view of a bomb hurling itself at a group of enemies. “Lamp #1” (self-portrait) is a reflection on the extent of immediate destruction and death that would be caused by an atomic bomb as well as McGuire’s personal history.
The impending sense of an end is acutely present for small gallery spaces. Small gallery initiatives are extremely vulnerable and only last from two to five years. As a result, they are inherently ephemeral and wonderfully ephemeral. Knowing this, I still mourn when one of my usual haunts closes. And sometimes I wonder if it is possible to provide more support to the stability of small art initiatives. But that discussion can be saved for another article—this one is about honoring the closing of Hans Gallery and Anastos’ generous opportunity to let viewers mourn in a final celebration through “Death Bearing.”
Anastos founded Hans Gallery in 2019 and has curated three years of compelling exhibitions, bringing together Midwestern art legends and international artists. Serving as an important gathering place for emerging and established creatives, Hans Gallery brought palpable energy to Chicago and the broader art community.
“Death Bearing,” at Hans Gallery, 2000 West Carroll, open by appointment. Until January 14, 2023