On Exhibit: mating rituals gone awry | Calendar | Chicago Reader

On Exhibit: mating rituals gone awry 

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"PLEASE WARM UP, little raconteur," began the item in the "Missed Connections" section of the Reader's Matches ads for January 14, 2000. The cryptic 50-word poem was followed in subsequent weeks by similarly arcane postings: "HANDSOME, 26 Y.O....relatively minute but possessed of Tatlinesque love. Eats iron, breathes perfume. Seeks young revolutionary willing to cut a few hearts." "BABY-BLUE SLEEPER, I watched you on the Northbound red. All silence. The walls rung down across the bell of the light." But after several ads ran--garnering no responses--the jig was up for local poet Greg Purcell. He was contacted by a Matches staffer and, he recalls, advised that "If you really want to connect with this person maybe you should do something like describe their hair color."

Artist Gabert Farrar, meanwhile, had been busy depersonalizing pornographic images, taking crotch shots from magazines like Club and Gallery and reworking them as glyphlike geometrized line drawings. When Purcell, a friend, saw the work he was struck by how both projects turned on what he describes as "taking something that is the most obvious endeavor--the mating ritual, and sex--and turning it into an abstraction," yet one with "its own use." Farrar, on the other hand, says he was moved by the idea of turning "accepted forms of sexual expression...into something useless." The two teamed up, somewhat furtively acquiring additional research materials at Exotic Books on North Avenue. When buying, say, Fifty Plus, says Farrar, "You can't really say, 'Oh, it's for art.'"

"Adult Material," currently showing at TBA Exhibition Space, is the result of their collaboration. Purcell's personal-ad poems, published and unpublished, are wall mounted in black News Gothic alongside the stylized anthropomorphism of Farrar's drawings and candy-colored acrylic paintings--"I never knew Transformers could be sexy," one visitor remarked of the blocky, denatured figures. The gallery specifies that the painting and poem combinations are considered single works of art, to be sold together.

The artists' split is 50-50, but since words run cheap, Purcell has sweetened the deal by offering himself for sale: purchase of a piece will entitle the buyer to patronage of "four future works (or up to 15 pages' worth) of creative literature" by him, to be commissioned at the patron's whim.

Purcell characterizes his work as "serious and prankish"; the latter's perhaps more evident in a second personal-ad series contained in the exhibit's tabloid newsprint flyer. "Replacements" was generated when Purcell, at the time a temp, employed his computer's search-and-replace function to alter the Reader's "None of the Above" ads, substituting "rabid" for "sincere," "blind" for "attractive," "Himalayan" for "muscular," etc. The absurdist results transform the section's foot fetishists, voyeurs, and would-be oral service providers into towering Heideggerian mangroves and height-weight preoccupied wirecutters beguiled by sizzling summer terror. "FEARING MS. WRONG!" reads a representative item, "39 y.o. gullible measuring fears a fluttering playpal." One recipient of the exhibit flyer sent it back, indignantly scrawled with "I did not order this."

The pair's artists' statement promises that "anyone found interpreting these pieces will be shot without ceremony"; both Farrar and Purcell say that they're not condescending to or critiquing the traffic in sex that served as their starting points. Purcell got the idea for the original poems after himself running a personal ad that quoted a line from Wallace Stevens's "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction." The ad netted him just four "not great" first dates, but it did plant the notion of publication by stealth.

A former student of Paul Hoover's at Columbia College, Purcell, who's now landed "a real job" at Recycled Paper Greetings, is involved with a number of alternative venues, from Bridge magazine to the on-line journal No Slander: The Chicago and Brooklyn International to the popular but publicity-shy Danny's reading series. Farrar, a 1994 University of Michigan BFA, designs and builds custom furnishings for 45 Degrees, a Pilsen wood shop; though some viewers, Purcell included, have seen high-end furniture in his deconstructed porn, he's more inclined to view the images in architectural terms, as ziggurats for example. His first solo show at Monique Meloche gallery is set for December of next year. He says it'll be G-rated.

"Adult Material" runs through Saturday, January 12, at TBA, 230 W. Huron; call 312-587-3300 or see www.artchicago.com for more. A free closing reception at 7 PM on Friday, January 11, will feature readings from a new issue of local literary zine The 2nd Hand and music by Birdie Num Num. A few of Purcell's personal-ad poems are featured on the Web site www.gumballpoetry.com; selected Purcell and Farrar collaborations are also on view at No Slander's site, www.noslander.com.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.

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