Critics’ Picks

View of “Forlesen,” 2013.

Chicago

William Pope.L

The Renaissance Society
5811 South Ellis Avenue Cobb Hall, 4th floor
April 28 - June 23

The day that “Forlesen” opened, the shiny black helium balloons of Ellipsis (all works 2013) bobbed in the rafters, moored to washers. A few weeks later, they had sunk to the ground and the worst of them looked like rotten grapes, molding with static dander. “Forlesen” rewards repeat viewings: William Pope.L’s riddle-like assortment of objects inhabits the space differently as the show ages. For instance, Curtain is composed of a pressboard wall facing the entrance and is covered in an orange-brown ketchup compound, buckling and cracking as it festers. Its acid waft, like some mysterious breath, animates the space between the objects in the gallery, but with no hint of a secure identity. “Forlesen” is also the title of a short story published in 1974 by the American science fiction author Gene Wolfe about a man who cannot construct a future.

Even if Wolfe’s prose weren’t itself symbolically coded and ultimately ambiguous, text would be no reliable legend. Pope.L’s “Skin Set” series (which began in 1997 and currently encompasses over a thousand drawings) is here represented by fifty-two works. The drawings portray the space between the lines of the first edition of Wolfe’s story and are made in an indecipherable bubble-script drawn in ballpoint pen. The area of the drawing only clips the letters’ edges; in one, the pate of an “e” crosses the lower threshold, and just a curve and a comma enter at upper left. In the interstices, paint, ink, correction fluid, and other substances signal a bodily presence: the evidence of fingerprints in some, applications that recall organic processes like bleeding in others. A few glued-on curly hairs comically answer the squiggle of Pope.L’s ballpoint pen drawing.

Throughout the show, the body, marked by race and available to stereotype, has been removed, but it breathes, coalesces, leaves traces, and disappears, often playfully. “Forlesen” is a homonym for the German word vorlesen or “to read aloud”: Distorted moans echo throughout the exhibition space from slowed-down spliced porn that flickers from a bank of video monitors within a wood and Masonite spaceship-like structure. When one gets enough distance from the structure to grasp its form or else gets the hint from its title—Quarter Structure (penis)— the absent body looms largest.