Digital Collage, Meditations on Migration & Gnawed Paper: Highlights from EXPO Chicago 2016


The fifth edition of EXPO Chicago took place this past weekend at Navy Pier, and we’re already looking forward to the next iteration in 2017. Alongside the major gallery exhibitors were a number of non-profit organizations, institutions, publications, and emerging galleries. Here are highlights from some of CGN’s favorite booths.

Black Athena Collective at Threewalls (Chicago)

Embracing their transitory state, Threewalls partnered with the Black Athena Collective to showcase the group’s research on migration, mobility and architecture in the Red Sea region (Eritrea to Egypt). Founded by Heba Y. Amin and Dawit L. Petros, the experimental collective presented photographs, videos, and a large wooden structure. Most notable was an accordion style artist book documenting their archival research thus far. In a time of political turmoil over border control and the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, Amin and Petros poetically pose the question, “Can our art practice and methodology allow us to achieve more complex and definitive ways of thinking and interacting with land?”


Tony Orrico at Marso (Mexico City)

At first glance, Tony Orrico’s work Prepare the plane appears to be an exercise in geometric abstraction. A textured piece of white paper with rows of indentations covers the outside wall of Marso’s booth. The composition, however, is an artifact from Orrico’s ongoing performance series in which he systematically chews the entire sheet of paper. When first performing the piece in 2012, Orrico believed it would be a two-hour process; instead it took eight and a half. On display at EXPO was the gnawed paper from his 2015 performance at Defibrillator in Chicago. Orrico, who was once a member of the Trisha Brown Company and Shen Wei Dance Arts, has a special condition in which his jaw dislocates without his control. Through physical therapy and his own techniques, Orrico has learned to control it but his orifice continues to play a major role in his artistic practice.


Margo Wolowiec at Jessica Silverman Gallery  (San Francisco)

Jessica Silverman Gallery’s well-curated booth at EXPO Chicago featured an impressive roster of emerging and established female artists including Judy Chicago, Tammy Rae Carland, and Margo Wolowiec (see top image). Hung side-by-side, Wolowiec’s two abstracted canvases reference the historical relationship between weaving and computing. Wolowiec searches for images using hashtags like #landscape, #blackandwhite, and in this case: #floodwater. After collecting a number of images, she collages them together and uses a dye sublimation process to transfer the images onto polyester and linen thread, which are then woven onto the canvas. The result is a mesmerizing image full of slight irregularities that continuously capture the viewer’s attention.


Laura Letinsky and John Paul Morabito at Document (Chicago)

Laura Letinsky and John Paul Morabito, an artistic duo who have been collaborating since 2013, also explore the complex relationship between weaving and photography. The Chicago based gallery and printmaking studio Document installed a heavy tapestry from their series Telephone Game. Letinsky supplies the digital photographic collages while Morabito weaves and abstracts the images into the final composition. Trying to discover the origin of the initial images, which were taken by Letinsky while traveling throughout India, proves to be a futile task. The rough handling of the materials results in a textured and uneven canvas with stray threads dangling from the top and bottom of the piece. 


Matthew Craven at ASHES/ASHES (Los Angeles)

Matthew Craven’s collage compositions are a nod to the recent past, a time when students and scholars learned about the world’s treasures through the printed page. The artist sources his images from discarded school textbooks and collages them onto vintage paper, giving the appearance of forgotten archival materials. Craven insists that there are no social or political overtones to his work: he organizes the archaeological objects loosely according to aesthetic similarity. Buried within Craven’s two-dimensional cabinet of curiosities are his own hand-drawn objects. At EXPO, Los Angeles based gallery ASHES/ASHES presented six of Craven’s collages in a grid alongside a large-scale geometric ink drawing.


Top image: Jessica Silverman Gallery, Installation view,  EXPO Chicago, September 22-25, 2016. Courtsey of Jessica Silverman Gallery