RUSE at Ben Russell Gallery

by: Corinna Kirsch

Walking along Morgan Street in East Pilsen, it’s difficult to tell which brownstone might house an art space, but for the opening of RUSE, the second exhibition at Ben Russell Gallery, the eponymous Ben Russell made it easy—sitting on a plastic lawn chair outside his front door, he welcomed visitors while over the course of the evening, his arms held a rotating cast of objects: a dog, a beer, even fireworks.

Russell, an already established filmmaker and curator, alongside co-curator Brandon Alvendia, began putting the front two rooms of his apartment and environs to use as an exhibition space this past May. The premise of each show is predicated upon a set of limitations that includes the following: one artist must produce a wall-mounted work that fills at least three quarters of the 13 x 10 ft. wall of the main exhibition space and another must make a 15-30 minute long performance. The sermon-like list of commandments goes on, but the project of Ben Russell Gallery is meta: it’s an apartment gallery, but also a curatorial project that makes transparent the boundaries of putting on exhibitions in an apartment. Why not turn a backyard into a sculpture garden, use the alleyway as a performance space, and a closet—okay, maybe it’s a tiny, windowless bedroom—into a screening room instead of disguising its existence?

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In the larger of the two indoor rooms, Miguel Cortez’s surveillance project “Quien te esta mirando?” consisted of a closed-circuit camera that transmitted its video to a website,http://www.mcortez.com/webcam.html. I accessed the website, but it wasn’t showing a live-feed at the time—maybe this was part of the ruse? Propped up against the wall across from Cortez’s installation was Kelly Kaczynski’s wooden maquette of a stage, See It Always Falls Around (The Sky). The stage’s diminished scale and vertical format severed it from any functional ties and instead showed the structure’s quasi-Minimalist, gridded underside. These motifs, of surveillance and multiple points of view, continued into the screening room playing Paul Chan’s Re: The_Operation (2002) from his Tin Drum Trilogy. Bruised and wounded cartoon heads of military officials from the Bush-era introduced a montage of footage and audio culled from a variety of sources, mashing up fiction, reality, and half-truths into an endless video loop.

After the sun set, Roxanne Hopper and Julie Rudder began their alleyway performance, No One Alive Today Will Ever See This Again. The performance included a moonlight sonata that left a usually talkative crowd quiet, with the whisper-tone hush of the words Ohhhh! Beautiful! Romantic! as the audience’s epilogue that closed the evening. Perhaps RUSE was a misnomer—there was no deceit, just a humorous, playful, and candid approach to the rules of art and exhibition as a game.

Ben Russell Gallery is located at 1716 S Morgan #2F.

Original post from Art Talk Chicago: http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/art-talk-chicago/2009/07/the-weekend-in-review-73-75.html

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