On Exhibit: of mice and men | Calendar | Chicago Reader

On Exhibit: of mice and men 

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The flawed, feathery tracings of circles currently on display at Jean Albano Gallery could be mistaken for the meditations of a calligrapher--if the three white mice who drew them with a pencil attached to their exercise wheel weren't installed on a nearby shelf, busily cranking out another one. The ringmaster of this little art factory, School of the Art Institute assistant professor Tiffany Holmes, says the drawings are a snapshot of the sweet release enjoyed by people and rodents alike: "Mice run on treadmills for pleasure, to let off steam, much like we humans run on similar devices in our gyms." The paper's attached to the cage within reach of the stylus, but the mice knock the wheel around as they get their kicks: in each image different parts of the figure are missing or blurry, and as the lead wears down the lines get progressively fainter.

Unlike the poor lab mouse, we can choose to recreate off the treadmill--get out from under the boss's eye for an hour and take a stroll through the city on a sunny day--but like the mouse, we may still be observed from above. Across the room from the mouse-drawn circles (which bear the collective title Til the Cows Come Home) is Your Face Is Safe With Me, in which a large-screen TV displays a shifting video mosaic of surveillance images getting chased, blown up, and eaten by creatures from old video games. Some of the shots are generated live by cameras placed in the gallery; to get others, Holmes combed the Loop area bordered by Lake, Congress, Michigan, and Wacker for security cameras. She found 227, and rigged a lens of her own near enough to each to approximate the official eye's view. At the gallery the taped and live footage is fed into a laptop where a randomizing program chooses which clip is next in line to get chomped by Pac-Man.

Holmes has used mice to poke fun at human behavior before: Follow the Mouse, a parody of office culture mounted at Jean Albano in 2001, was a series of delicate computer-generated images based on the daily doings of the rodent resident of an office cube equipped with a motion detector. The point of Your Face Is Safe With Me, says Holmes, is to ask "What are all these cameras taking pictures of? Is there permanence or is it like a video game, just serving a temporary need?" The format emphasizes "the utter disposability of these images as well as the sheer amount of them," says Holmes. In other words, just because we're as well-documented as lab animals doesn't mean anyone has the time to bother scrutinizing us.

"Seeyouplayme," an exhibit of Holmes's new work, runs through April 17 at Jean Albano Gallery, 215 W. Superior. Call 312-440-0770.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Saverio Truglia.

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