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Review of artLedge: To London From Chicago, With Great Love,
by Katie Scanlan

To London from Chicago, with great love
7th -23rd July, 2006, i-cabin, London, UK

The cramped cubicles known as i-cabin are host to this recent group show, which includes the work of forty artists from Chicago. Situated in northeast London in the Clarendon buildings, i-cabin is one of the few--if not the only--awkward, site-specific gallery spaces in London. Appropriately, this show is the first half of an arranged gallery exchange with Chicago-based artLedge, whose project space consists of a ledge approximately five by ten feet in size, caught between a railing, an angled wall, and a spiral staircase in a Chicago apartment.

i-cabin artists, including gallery organizers Juliette Blightman and Sebastian Craig, will be installing a show in Chicago in August; for the London portion of the exchange, artLedge organizers Brandon Alvendia and Caleb Lyons travelled to London with most of the work for the show packaged into suitcases. A few of the pieces were completed, per the instructions of the respective artists, upon arrival in the UK. These were the only parameters artLedge set for the show--that work be small, lightweight, and easily transported by luggage. Despite the somewhat sentimental title of the show, it is a deliberately messy, careless proliferation of work. "No work to be attached to the walls"--this was i-cabin's rule for their first year of exhibitions. In response, the artLedge show (which marks the eighteenth month of i-cabin's existence) gluts the walls with hanging work, most of which is not framed. Amanda Ross-Ho's Irreconcilable Indifferences, which consists of dozens of xeroxed images affixed with hot pink tape to the walls throughout the gallery's two rooms, effectually destroys the walls and directs the focus towards the more sculptural pieces. The single wall that has escaped her xeroxes is covered instead by Ben Foch's plywood-patterned contact paper, upon which he has written the words "I believe I can fly" in silver ink, rising vertically with the pattern of the grain. The wall that the paper covers is itself constructed out of plywood, but has been painted white. Hanging over the papered wall are five works on paper by Nicholas Chaffin: Norman Rockwell paintings ripped out of a magazine, whose characters Chaffin has delicately and tenderly rendered nude with acrylic paint. This curatorial decision--and in fact the entire show--seems to ask: Is it possible to reduce a thing by adding to it? Can what is lost be recovered?

The physicality of To London from Chicago--artwork, curation, and exhibition space together--responds to the commodification of the art world and to the slick, attractively hung exhibitions ubiquitous in contemporary galleries. The excessive and haphazard curation of the show, as well as many of the individual pieces, also critically address American culture, patriotism, and the way in which Americans are viewed by other nations. The opening of the show fell on July 7th: intentionally just three days from the date Americans celebrate their independence from the British empire (and, unintentionally, the one-year anniversary of the London public transport bombings). The overwhelming temperature of the criticism is light-hearted, self-abasing, and ironic; though Brad Farwell's wall-size inkjet print of an oversized water balloon descending on downtown Chicago addresses the threat of terrorism, it does so in a tongue-in-cheek way, in order to respond to the media-induced paranoia plaguing the United States. For Enduring Independence (4th of July), Kevin Jennings exploded an M-80 firecracker in clay, created a mold, and cast the "explosion" in plaster; the casting sits on a suitcase-turned-pedestal and is flanked by tacky mass-produced frames painted with the stars and stripes, containing digital photographs of fireworks. Sze Lin Pang's The Barbarians Are Coming is a set of two t-shirts (given to i-cabin organizers and worn the night of the opening) emblazoned with the iron-on epithet "barbarian" in block letters. The humour, the silliness, the intentionally amateurish and sloppy look of the show create a palpable sense of vulnerability within the i-cabin space--a sense redoubled when considering the control given up by the Chicago artists in sending singular representations of their work to be seen by an anonymous audience. The overwhelming effect is that of exposure, of revelation by way of exaggeration: exposing humility beneath brashness, care beneath abandon, sincerity beneath frivolity.
By Katie Scanlan