Debra Tolchinsky | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Debra Tolchinsky 

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Debra Tolchinsky's show at Artemisia, "Case Studies," uses photography, computer animation, and text to create portraits of eight fictional characters who, in an attempt to find happiness, modify their bodies in ways that range from familiar to haunting to hilarious. Most striking are six digitally altered Polaroids pasted on graph paper and accompanied by typewritten diagnoses that seem torn from a psychiatrist's journal. "Jocelyne" hopes to save her marriage by transforming herself into a cat, and her black-and-white photo shows a fuzzy tail arcing out from an otherwise human body. The grisly shot of "Max" shows him balancing on his lone leg, having severed the other, as well as an arm, using a homemade guillotine; he "believes his true self is that of an amputee." These stark images contrast chillingly with "Isabelle," a teenager who's merely straightened her teeth, yet because the images are grouped together, even her alteration seems unnatural. Tolchinsky originally studied film, which is apparent in the exhibit's eerie highlight: a narrated clip of computer animation titled Lucky, in which a doctor explains how he found Lucky mutilated and paralyzed inside a plastic shell, then helped reconstruct his original form. The funny counterpunch is a shadowy montage showing Lucky's human head grotesquely fused onto a doll's body; Lucky himself declares he would have been happier if he'd been left alone, because he now feels "free of everything that had been previously holding me down." By placing Lucky at odds with the physicians who wanted to "save" him, Tolchinsky deftly illuminates the great divide between mental happiness and medical well-being. Artemisia, 700 N. Carpenter, through November 30. Hours are 11 to 5 Tuesday through Saturday; 312-226-7323.

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