(northern) Western Exhibitions is thrilled to announce a retrospective of Miller & Shellabarger's photographic work at our second location in Skokie, Illinois. Married artist collaborators Dutes Miller & Stan Shellabarger use self-portraiture, laborious material processes, and considered craftsmanship to meditate on love and death, across a myriad of media. The possibilities of connection, partnership, interdependency, and the eventualities of loss penetrate the objects and enactments of their work. While known primarily for how they adopt traditional American craft techniques, including silhouette cutting, sewing, crocheting and bookmaking, Miller & Shellabarger: Photography focuses on the role photography plays in their ongoing projects dating back to 2005 and extending to the present.
This exhibition is presented at Chicago contemporary art gallery Western Exhibitions’ second location, (northern) Western Exhibitions, in Skokie, Illinois and opens with a free public reception on Saturday, February 11 from 5 to 8pm and will run through April 23, 2023. Gallery hours are Wednesday-Saturday, 12-6pm, and Sunday, 12-4pm.
The artists’ most recognized artwork is the performance Untitled (Pink Tube), an ongoing non-theatrical performance begun in 2003. It is a lifelong artwork, publicly performed together, in which they simultaneously crochet at opposite ends of a long tube of pink yarn. The artists have agreed that when one of them is no longer able to perform, the other will unravel the tube, in public. As the object itself will never be made available for sale, the artists periodically produce photographs of the performance, the first one taken in 2005 at The Suburban, an artist-run gallery helmed by Michelle Grabner and Brad Killam, in Oak Park, Illinois. The third photograph of the performance was taken in 2013 on the steps of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, during an exhibition there marking 10 years since the piece was initiated. The fourth photograph, from 2015, documents a performance on and around the tree on which they were married in Palmer Square Park in Chicago.
The show will present other photo-documented performances. In Untitled (Origami Cranes), the artists folded paper into origami cranes over the course of three Saturdays, eight hours at a time, on a bed in the window of a Chicago futon store. Two iterations of Untitled (Grave) will be shown, one from Basel, Switzerland, the other from Portland, Oregon, in which they dug, in close proximity to one another, two holes, deep and large enough for each man to lie in. Upon completion of the holes, they then bored a small tunnel between them so their hands could clasp underground and out of view. The photo-driven artist books Sewing Books document Untitled Performance (Sewing), a piece in which the artists repeatedly stitched and unstitched, while sitting against one another, the garments they were wearing from ankle to neck over the course of the day. Additionally included are the Seed photographs which capture the outline drawings they made of each other’s bodies using sunflower seeds. Executed outside, after documentation, the seeds were simply left to let nature and the forces of entropy take their course.
Some series in this show are not performance documentation but are conceived wholly as photographs from the start. Their Tintype series queer the history of this media by explicitly depicting their relationship, as opposed to vintage tintypes, where men were often seen arm in arm, arms around shoulders, or even sitting in one another’s lap, their sexual orientation seemingly ambiguous. In the Spooky Distant Action series, images of each artist twirling in space with lit sparklers at dusk were overlaid atop one another, akin to a multiple-exposure photograph. Mimicking spooky distant action—the quantum entanglement of two particles ensures their connection, even at great distance— the artists’ bodies whirled in tandem, creating a particle trace of their two mirrored selves. The Erasure series involves in situ magic-eraser drawings of the artists’ intertwined initials, “S&M.” Miller & Shellabarger made a stencil of this cypher and overlaid it atop resonant spaces in their shared home – their desk, the kitchen, the wall that abuts their bed – and erased through the stencil the accumulation of their daily life (dust, dirt, etc.), imprinting the monogram into their shared existence.
Miller & Shellabarger have had solo shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Chicago Cultural Center, and the Hyde Park Art Center, all in Chicago and at INOVA in Milwaukee, the University Galleries at Illinois State University, The Carnegie in Greater Cincinnati, and Gallery Diet in Miami. They have performed and have been exhibited in group shows across North America, including the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis; the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati; the Time-Based Arts Festival in Portland, Oregon; Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York; Sun Valley Center for the Arts in Idaho; Institute of Contemporary Art in Maine; and Sala Diaz in San Antonio. Miller & Shellabarger are a 2008 recipient of an Artadia Chicago award and a 2007 recipient of a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation award. Their work is in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, the DePaul Art Museum, the Newark Public Library, Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University and the National Gallery of Canada. Their work has been written about in Artforum, Art in America, Art & Auction, Frieze, Artnet, The Art Newspaper, Flash Art, Chicago Tribune, and the Chicago Sun-Times. Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger also maintain separate artistic practices. They live and work in Chicago.
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Key Image: Untitled (Graves, Oregon), 2010. Archival inkjet print in artist-made custom frame, 33h x 44w in. Edition of 3.