A. Laurie Palmer, Sensing Connection to the Time Left (detail), 2018, fabric, thread, steel cable, hardware. Installation view. Photo: James Prinz.

A. Laurie Palmer, Sensing Connection to the Time Left (detail), 2018, fabric, thread, steel cable, hardware. Installation view. Photo: James Prinz.

A. Laurie Palmer

A. Laurie Palmer, Sensing Connection to the Time Left (detail), 2018, fabric, thread, steel cable, hardware. Installation view. Photo: James Prinz.

The Rogers Park community borders Evanston, Illinois, on Chicago’s far north side. In 1992, the collective Haha, comprised of artists A. Laurie Palmer, Wendy Jacob, John Ploof, and Richard House, initiated a project in a Rogers Park storefront that involved growing hydroponic vegetables and herbs for people with HIV. The project was called Flood. In addition to serving as a distribution point for meals and produce, the storefront functioned for three years as a hub for educational activities and alternative therapies. Not far from Flood’s former Greenleaf Street location is the noncommercial gallery Iceberg Projects. Founded in 2010, the space is located in a remodeled carriage house behind the home of Scott Wenthe and Daniel S. Berger, the latter a clinical associate professor at the University of Illinois College of Medicine who founded the largest private HIV treatment research center in Chicago. This spring, Palmer returned to the neighborhood to mount a solo show at Iceberg that focused on the politics of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and on the spatial and temporal scales of human bodies and rock.

Palmer’s diaphanous floor-to-ceiling installation Sensing Connection to the Time Left, 2018,is comprised of sheer white curtains that intersected and obscured the volume of the modest gallery. Numerous undulating lines are stitched across the transparent fabric, echoing each other in a ripple-like arrangement. The patterns were adapted from geological survey maps detailing the strata of sedimentary rock comprising the Illinois Basin, a coal-rich region that reaches across Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Black thread details the near-parallel lines representing a cross section of the earth’s crust in the immersive and flowing diagram. Two distinguishing red zigzag lines sewn between the black stitching articulate a valuable, albeit thin, shale vein cutting through the interior North American rock bed. The rock that makes up this formation, know as the New Albany Shale, is rich in hydrocarbons; the Illinois Department of Natural Resources opened up the region to high-volume fracking in September 2017.

In order to decode the encrypted information sewn into the gauzy installation, viewers relied on an 8 1/2 x 11" color printout pinned to the wall next to the exhibition’s press release that mapped the contours of Illinois and Indiana against a stratigraphic overlay of the Illinois Basin. These didactic artifacts contrasted with a list of towns handwritten on the wall opposite the gallery door: PLATTEVILLE, SHAKOPEE, FORT PAYNE, ST. LOUIS, MOCCASIN SPRINGS, EAU CLAIRE (IL), EAU CLAIRE (KY). These place names were interspersed with a few technical terms pertaining to the region, together forming an abstract word map that was carefully composed in capital block letters and drafted with an array of colored pencils. The top of the list read UNDIFFERENTED HERRIN COAL. The label NEW ALBANY SHALE was inserted in the middle of the list, followed by MIDDLE DEVONIA and LOWER DEVONIA which are terms for geological time periods. At the bottom were the phrases PRE-CAMBRIAN BASEMENT and IGNEOUS INTRUSIVE.

With the exception of the researched language included in the list and the exhibition’s press release, the installation was a poetical interpretation of an invisible mass below the surface of the earth—even the itemized nouns read as oblique unless the viewer possessed highly specific regional and geological knowledge. Equivocally political, the show brought the viewer’s body into proximity with its own stand-in layers: The delicate and puckering fabric panels divided the gallery into filmy architectural strata, inconveniently small spaces for bodies. As one walked through the space, the continuous lines weaving through the scrims moved in tandem with the air currents, suggesting an interplay between the bodies of viewers, the interior environment, and the subject of Palmer’s work. Throughout, Palmer emphasized the vulnerabilities of that great accretion of sedimentary rock in the midst of its exposure to high-pressure extraction. Though the work’s subtexts may hold political implications, Sensing Connection to the Time Left is emotional and abstract, far from the edifying practical strategies that shaped Flood.

Michelle Grabner