Artists focus on social, spatial conditions of environment in new exhibit

A new UChicago exhibition showcases the work of three Chicago-based artists and their shared interest in the social and spatial conditions of their surroundings.

Resonant Objects, on view from July 8 to Aug. 28 at the Logan Center Gallery and the Arts Incubator, features the work of Greg Bray, Aquil Charlton and Nazafarin Lotfi, who participated in the University of Chicago’s Arts + Public Life and Center for the Study of Race, Politics & Culture Artists-in-Residence Program.

“What strikes me as particularly interesting with this cohort is the vast variety of interest and skill, strong desire for growth, and reflection on the complexity of urban space among all three residents,” said Prof. Theaster Gates, director of Arts + Public Life. “Our artists-in-residence have made steep inroads in the South Side through authentic engagement and practice, which we hope will continue to grow deeper.”

Our artists-in-residence have made steep inroads in the South Side through authentic engagement and practice, which we hope will continue to grow deeper. Prof. Theaster Gates

Over the course of ten months, Bray, Charlton and Lotfi worked in studios at the Arts Incubator, generating research, artworks and happenings that fostered interactive relationships with diverse publics and spaces on Chicago’s South Side.

“It has been a delight getting to know the artists and their work through the course of planning Resonant Objects,” said Yesomi Umolu, curator of Logan Center Exhibitions. “This exhibition extends Logan Center Exhibitions commitment to supporting artistic practices on the South Side.”

Working across painting and sculpture, Bray blends collage and assemblage with an exploration of random structures. For Resonant Objects, Bray presents abstract sculptures informed by his research into the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear purge that occurred in Eastern Japan in 2011. Fashioned from discarded chairs, Bray’s works are uncanny contortions of wood, plastic, metal and electrical cords. At once acquiring anthropomorphic guises and suggesting new forms, Bray’s sculptures speak to humanity’s resilience and capacity to create anew following moments of rupture.

As the resident musician in this year’s cohort, Charlton’s work focuses on his music education, sound design and songwriting practices, as well as his research into the life and work of influential American singer/songwriter Eugene “Gene” McDaniels. McDaniel’s politically motivated recordings garnered success in the late 1960s and in recent times various hip hop producers including Prince Paul and Q-Tip of Native Tongues have sampled his work. Following this lineage, Charlton’s presentation infuses music creation with a deep social consciousness and pedagogical intent. Culling elements from McDaniel’s music and lyrics, as well as from his own repertoire, Charlton presents a series of sound installations that interpolate the unique acoustic and spatial qualities of the presenting galleries. Also on view is Charlton’s Mobile Music Box, an interactive vehicle that features instructions and recycled materials for making musical instruments.

Lotfi’s sculpture- and performance-based practice explores the relationship between object, body and space. Lotfi engages in daily rituals of walking between her home and several spaces across Chicago’s Hyde Park and Washington Park neighborhoods, accompanied by large-scale, boulder-like sculptures crafted from papier-mâché. These mundane experiences—often reserved solely for the artist and without a prescribed audience—are recorded in physical impressions on the object’s delicate surfaces as they are rolled on the ground, as well as through the artist’s own body as she negotiates holding and carrying them aloft. For the exhibition, Lotfi presents a series of sculptures with distressed and painted surfaces alongside video and photographs documenting her actions in the public sphere.