Art beyond binary at Threewalls | Art Review | Chicago Reader

Art beyond binary at Threewalls 

Edie Fake continues his investigations into queer identity, while MSHR makes art that's scannable.

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Clare Britt

One of the first pieces you'll encounter in "Binary Lore" is Edie Fake's LGBTIQUA, which consists of a word formed from eight pastel-toned octagons, each one containing a single letter. The octagons are staggered in a way that makes you want to recombine them. Read left to right, the letters spell the nonsensical QITAULBG, but if you mix the order up you'll find words like LAB and QUIT; if you follow a zigzagging line, the word QUILTBAG emerges. It may sound like a slang name for a body part, but QUILTBAG is in fact an acronym for Queer/Questioning, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Transgender/Transsexual, Bisexual, Allied/Asexual, Gay/Genderqueer; the term is viewed by some in the queer community as more inclusive than "LGBT"—it literally holds more.

The art in "Binary Lore," the last show at Threewalls's current location (the gallery plans to reopen early next year in a new location, as yet TBA), is about expanding options and categories beyond either/or. The exhibit pairs Fake—he of the Gaylord Phoenix comic zines as well as the more recent "Memory Palace" drawings, which depicted a part-real, part-imaginary queer Chicago—with Brenna Murphy, a Portland, Oregon, artist who works with digital technology. She collaborates here with Birch Cooper under the moniker MSHR (pronounced "mesher").

MSHR's Ceremonial Chamber is an interactive sound and light installation comprising two rectangular glass tables placed at opposite ends of a shallow bed of sand that holds pieces of driftwood, mirrors, white string lights, and a number of red and green strobe lights—the entire thing has a trippy, techno-organic feel. The tables contain digital prints of mysterious, runelike forms that alternately bring to mind coral reefs, ivory carvings, or Mayan statues. They also look like bar codes, which is essentially what they are: when you move a sensor across the images, you actually modulate the sound. Touch certain images and the pulsations get faster or slower; others raise or lower the pitch. The real magic happens when people play the tables together: there are six sensors in all, so groups can create their own impromptu symphonies.

Fake's part of the show extends on the "Memory Palace" drawings he exhibited recently at Thomas Robertello. Except for one drawing, the works here are three-dimensional and somewhat architectural in nature, inspired by the signage and decor of old movie theaters. There's a four-part floor piece assembled from striped and marbled linoleum tiles; on the wall, a series of geometric, black-and-white sculptures resemble marquee lights, though the bulbs are plaster.

Each marquee arrangement is made up of several units that can be reconfigured in countless ways. As installed now, they look like superenlarged fragments of those QR codes that seem to be popping up everywhere, including on museum walls. QR codes—themselves configurations of modules made up of individual black or white dots—are capable of holding several hundred times' more information than conventional bar codes can. As it turns out, QR codes and QUILTBAGs have a lot more in common than you'd think.

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