Say It With Ceramics; Or Streetlights | Art Review | Chicago Reader

Say It With Ceramics; Or Streetlights 

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Say It With Ceramics

Ceramist Karen Swyler took naturally to her work: her mother made and sold pottery, and the family ate from her mother's dinnerware. Swyler started making usable vessels in high school, then in 1994 enrolled in Alfred University's noted undergraduate ceramics program. But a few years ago, near the end of grad school at the University of Colorado at Boulder, she started making nonfunctional pieces for the first time. "I wasn't satisfied," she says. "I wanted the work to change more and I wasn't sure how." Noticing that "I didn't have time to spend with the people I wanted to spend time with," she started considering her work a metaphor for the conversations she wasn't having. Her show at Dubhe Carreno includes a piece called Foster, which shows three long-necked bottles, one much taller than the other two, pressed so closely together that each appears to indent the next. Swyler says she was thinking about "how my mother has been a caregiver to my younger sister and me." A bird-watcher since childhood, she also had in mind the way mother birds nurture their young.

Swyler still makes functional pieces--Striped Pair could be used for oil and vinegar. But Conjoin would be awkward, as its two cups share a saucer. She says that "intimacy between the people using them" was her subject. The three vessels in Trio are not conjoined but are made to meet at the lips. Though the piece might be taken as a humorous allusion to sexuality, Swyler says she was thinking about mutually dependent relationships. "I'm trying to bring attention to subtle behaviors people usually overlook, like a simple but important glance within a conversation."

Karen Swyler: Closer

When: Through Tue 9/6

Where: Dubhe Carreno, 1841 S. Halsted

Info: 312-666-3150

Or Streetlights

The most striking pieces in John Wanzel's show at BSD are his sculptures of lampposts: placed on unremarkable representations of grass or asphalt, they lean over too far to be realistic but are still made with loving attention to detail. Wanzel's interest in streetlights stems from his early days in Chicago: when he moved here in 1997, transferring from a college in Kenosha to the School of the Art Institute, he had little money and walking was both "really cheap entertainment" and a way of exploring the largest city he'd ever lived in. He still walks today, sometimes with friends and often without a destination; a typical trip might take him from his Ukrainian Village apartment to the lake and back. "You see the city in a different light," he says. "The scale is changed, and you can spend longer looking at the houses or condos or stores that you go by." But the old buildings, the ones he likes, are now threatened. "The new condos are a lot less interesting visually than the buildings they usually replace," he says. All his sculptures are of older street lamp models, "overhead types that seem to be the last things to go when a neighborhood starts to gentrify."

Two sound installations, a video, and some large drawings with texts about the physics of street lamps and the solar system are also part of Wanzel's eclectic show. The assistant director of Gallery 2, he was thinking of museum exhibits, with their explanatory wall labels and works in vastly different media, when he made these pieces. His texts often refer to outdated scientific theories--Wanzel is fascinated by "the lost innocence of science, where big poetic leaps could be made." In one drawing he alludes to the way Aristarchus determined the distance from the earth to the sun--using an accurate method but inaccurate measurements, so the result was 89 million miles off. In some drawings Wanzel compares street lamps to the sun, suggesting a kind of urban cosmology. And the titles of his lamp sculptures, such as East Village, Near Augusta and Wood: Hippocrates Strolls to the Corner, suggest Greek science: "I'm hoping to find new relationships between these old thoughts in science and my art."

John Wanzel: Daylight

When: Through Sat 8/27

Where: BSD, 1319 W. Lake, 3rd flr.

Info: 312-421-1917

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