Critics’ Picks

Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Seven Thousand Cords (After Beuys), 2014, steel, wood, dimensions variable.

Chicago

“A Proximity of Consciousness”

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago Galleries
Sullivan Galleries and Betty Rymer 33 S. State Street, 7th floor
September 20–December 20

Richly sensorial, “A Proximity of Consciousness,” curated by Mary Jane Jacob and Kate Zeller, explores glancing moments of intersection between social practice and the natural elements. How social practice ought to be exhibited has been a bone of contention among supporters and critics alike, due in large measure to the fact that what is essential to the genre, what is lived and experienced, has not always been easily translatable into the syntax of gallery displays. If the curatorial rhetoric around this show resists defining social practice, one is nevertheless left considering alternate notions of its artistic usage.

For Seven Thousand Cords (After Beuys) (all works 2014), Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle carries out the intimate activity of splitting wood with invited guests. Culminating in stacked firewood piles possessed of a high-modernist veneer, the work lends the exhibition a redolent air of autumnal potential. To dizzying and poignant effect, Michael Rakowitz’s Every Weapon is a Tool if You Hold it Right shares the history (and served up a meal) of masgouf: the national dish of Iraq, made of Asian carp, a fish that is considered an invasive species in the US. In Rakowitz’s work, the masgouf becomes heart-wrenching synecdoche for the ongoing conflicts in Iraq. Laurie Jo Reynolds’s self-termed “legislative art” tackles the (in)human aspects of the carceral. Her replica of a living room represents one site of her collaboration with the Tamms Year Ten coalition—activists who managed to shut down the supermax prison in Illinois in 2013. In some instances, it is better when art answers more questions than it raises.