Detail of Kate Conlon's Flying House drawing, part of the Kinetic Drawing series
“A blue lead pencil and a pair of shears” & Final Viewings
Kate Conlon and Michael Lopez @ Julius Caesar
When we closed JC for the quarantine lockdown, I began thinking about exhibitions for re-emergence. I was trying to imagine what could spark after so long in our private bubbles. Sequestered for what I imagined could be an interminable six months, nine months, or what have you – I immediately began picturing Kate Conlon and Michael Lopez’s work.
That is to say, I imagined us having a lot of fun together, touching and playing with the work from two very generous artists. As the pandemic has dragged on and our bubbles grown ever more entrenched, there is a constant reconfiguring of our lives to these new restrictions. In this pair of exhibitions, Conlon and Lopez at once demonstrate the renegotiating of warmth and contact while memorializing how we exhibited before. I can’t imagine a better pair to bring thoughtful engagement with our melancholy reality than Kate Conlon and Michael Lopez.
“A blue lead pencil and a pair of shears”
Kate Conlon @ Julius Caesar
I met Kate Conlon in grad school at SAIC. Since then Conlon has worked as an educator, co-founded Fernwey Gallery, and currently co-directs curatorial projects through Limited Time Engagement (LTE). From her time as a print-maker at SAIC to her work with Fernwey and LTE, I’ve come to associate her work with a conversation between left and right brain tendencies. This was perhaps most obvious at her exhibition Doubling the Cube, in which she modeled one of the eleven dimensions of space time using the game Battleship. Her work embodies a sense of touch, generosity, and silliness while provoking thinking about thinking.
Conlon’s work centers around speculating on the unknowable. By finding creative freedom in an inevitable intellectual defeat, her investigations’ humble conceits invite engagement. Through re-engineering tools from antiquity without blueprints, or exploring the permanence of identity attached to impermanent materials, Conlon’s work often puts her in the roles of both researcher and philosopher.
For “A blue lead pencil and a pair of shears,” Conlon finds inspiration in Winsor McCay’s film “The Flying House.” Part of the Dream of the Rarebit Fiend series, the animated short was created eighteen years after the invention of flight and eight years before the Great Depression. The story begins with a woman expressing fear of food-induced nightmares to her husband before turning in for sleep. She soon awakens to find her husband transforming their house into a flying machine, so they may escape George A. Profiteer and his threats of foreclosure.
McCay’s film depicts a world where the laws of man are as inescapable as the laws of physics. Only in an animated film, a genre known for subverting expectations of reality, can a couple even dream of escaping their debts. Film critic Richard Eder describes the film as being at once innocent and nightmarish. Just as a fanciful, childlike imagination allows the couple to dream of escaping their adult responsibilities, their adult minds conjure a world bent on eliminating such delinquents. Chased by towering giants and impossibly large cannons, the film is a tale of escape and entrapment. In the end, even in a world beyond the laws of science, this couple cannot imagine a world with forgiveness.
Conlon’s pieces straddle the world between children’s fantasy and adult knowledge. Her kinetic drawings inspire touch and play, and remind one of an elaborate page in an interactive children’s book. Yet their fastidious construction belies the innocent creativity they depict. Similarly the Moravian workbench and dog holes in its top have the physicality of an adult-sized toy, reminiscent of those teaching a child hand eye coordination. The interlocking objects – sculptural sketches inspired by early flight machines – reflect her research. Much like the world in which we find ourselves, “A blue lead pencil and a pair of shears” presents struggle within us to balance the search for understanding with the freedom of play, unburdened by expectations.
Kate Conlon is a Chicago-based artist whose work explores the various ways we make sense of the world. Conlon’s work has been exhibited at venues including Goldfinch, Chicago; MANA Contemporary Chicago; 68 Projects, Berlin; Museu do Douro, Portugal; and The Grand Rapids Art Museum. She has received grants and residencies from Kala Art Institute, ACRE, and Chicago Artists Coalition and is the 2020-21 Artist in Residence of the Chicago Public Libraries. Conlon is a co-founder of Fernwey Gallery and Limited Time Engagement Press and currently teaches in the Printmedia departments of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Columbia College Chicago.
Michael Lopez @ Julius Caesar
I met Michael Lopez while working as an art handler. The trials of facilitating exhibitions without being exhibited is ubiquitous for artists fresh out of grad school, and we got through it with equal parts joking and commiserating.
We later had a studio visit where he took me to a low-rise storage building. He unlocked his unit and wheeled out library carts packed with his work. He then assembled the pieces into groupings, like pop-culture transformers made of 90’s tchotchkes and 2 x 4s. I knew I liked it, but I didn’t understand how they functioned. Then I saw his exhibition at Adler & Floyd. His sculptures were unloaded from a cart and mixed with personal ephemera (like those pay stubs from art handling). There was an incredible amount of vulnerability and generosity contained within the space. The scattered objects spread about like an upended bin of LEGOs, and exhibition visitors dove in like children as they arranged his offerings into tiny, self-curated exhibitions.
“When reading tarot cards,” says Lopez, “you are given a selection of random cards … and then have to develop a narrative filtered through your own perspective.” Lopez constructs sculptures while imagining how they might coalesce into arrangements. Once they are finished, however, he lets the audience share in the process of assembling them. “What you see when they are completed,” says Lopez, “Is entirely your problem.”
Final Viewings represents a departure from that relationship with the audience. Wood, fabric, ceramic, paint, plaster, and plastic combine references of film, people, and events into altarpieces. Objects once stacked or propped against one another are now fixed into place. The modular elements previously pointing to the impermanence of narrative are now frozen. The potentiality of loose arrangements has been shattered by segments bolted together or sinking into one another like a gravestone into the earth.
“I think at this moment there is a desperate search for a story that explains why things are the way they are,” says Lopez. “Having a set story allows you to proceed confidently without guilt.” In a society where seismic shifts in our consciousness have become routine, Lopez offers the fantasy of finality. The arrangements become memorials to the varied lives and relationships lived by its constituent parts. “Headstones mark the absolute completion,” says Lopez of his assemblies. “Their story is concluded.”
Michael Lopez is a Chicago native whose interdisciplinary practice skirts around and focuses on systems, narrative, and craft. He received his MFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago and BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is currently a teaching artist at CAPE (Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education) and University of Illinois at Chicago. Lopez’s work has been shown at Roots & Culture, Compound Yellow, Adler & Floyd, and MDL Contemporary, amongst others. In the summer of 2021 Dealer’s Choice, Lopez’s collaboration with curator Lauren Leving, will be exhibited at Material with support from the Illinois Arts Council.