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by Victor M. Cassidy
Three recent shows in the Chicago fall art season -- Jae Ko at Andrew Bae Gallery, Inga McCaslin Frick at FlatFile and Burtonwood & Holmes at Gescheidle -- caught our eye.

Jae Ko
Opposites coexist in Jae Ko’s work, creating tremendous tension. Made from dyed, seemingly delicate layers of paper, her dense, introverted sculptures suggest gently throbbing undersea creatures that allure with their beauty but devour any that venture too near.

To make a sculpture, Ko unrolls adding machine paper and reshapes it into a tight, roughly circular form whose rounded volumes recall donuts, hanks of yarn or even modern-day pictograms. She soaks the paper in black, red or orange ink, dries and stabilizes it. The resulting sculpture, which may measure from one up to three feet across, is composed of many long sheets of colored paper with wrinkled edges placed side by side. Wall-hung, the work looks invitingly soft, but is stiff to the touch.

Edges are the key to Ko’s effects. According to her, they "create line drawings, which spiral, tighten and loosen" depending on how she rolls the paper into a form. The "lines" lead the eye around the sculpture and its sides, but never outward, reinforcing its sense of self-containment. The openings between paper sheets vary in width, creating a shadow that changes subtly and makes the work seem to move as it is viewed from different angles.

Ko’s current work originated several years ago when she created a memorial to her late father by burying a roll of paper, slit vertically to its center, on a beach by the Atlantic Ocean. When she dug up the piece, she discovered that prolonged soaking had swelled the roll of paper into a compelling form.

This is the first Chicago show for the Korean-born artist, who has exhibited solo in Tokyo and the Washington, D.C. area.

Inga McCaslin Frick
Working like an interior decorator, Frick combines draped curtains, velvet, silk rope and the like into luxurious ensembles. She photographs these with a digital camera and adds in more visual material as she manipulates the image on screen. Next, she enlarges the image to poster size, prints it out and affixes the printout to the gallery wall. Finally, she extends the digital printout into the gallery space with matching real-life curtains, velvet and other materials.

As the artist tells it, she "takes the Renaissance vocabulary of spatial illusion and strips it of its realistic rationale to produce startling works that delight and gently bewilder." Cheerful and colorful, her work is best when she does not attempt too much. Polka comprises rectangles of white, silky cloth with polka dots printed on them that range in color from black to gray. Three of the dots exist in the digital image on the wall, but the fourth and fifth hang in the gallery as real objects. A close look tells us that Frick adds paint here and there to bolster her digital images and melt them visually into the gallery wall.

Yellow Yonder is great fun. In the digital background is a yellowish cloud with dark dots inside. A long black and white striped cloth begins in the digital world and emerges into reality where it sweeps up, droops and ends in a mess on the floor. Beneath the dark dots in the background are digital red velvet ovals, whose shape and seeming movement suggest a flying saucer invasion. These start out digital, become real-life ovals glued to the wall, and then enter the gallery as velvet objects, threads dangling beneath their lower edges.

Frick, who has exhibited widely for many years, is full of invention, but definitely not full of herself. This unpretentious, thought-provoking show asks us to re-examine principles of art and perception that we have long taken for granted.

Burtonwood & Holmes
Tom Burtonwood and Holly Holmes called their show "J’Accuse" after Emile Zola’s 1894 denunciation of French anti-semitism in the Alfred Dreyfus case. Using the 2003 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute list of 100 top arms manufacturers worldwide, the artists chose roughly 20 British and American companies "to illustrate the domestic connections between the war effort and local economics."

The artists selected one product photograph from each of the arms manufacturers and made a painting from this, which became part of their show. Deep in the gallery, they mounted a map of the United States and placed a pin where each selected company has its main manufacturing plant. Next, they printed out local tourist information from the Internet, placed it behind the manufacturer’s photograph, and tied a string between this material and the headquarters town on the map. (They were planning to give the same treatment to England, but ran out of time.)

The exhibition consisted of 15 paintings with titles like Honeywell, T45Frigate, Bullets by ATK, and the like. All paintings were copied from the photographs and deliberately executed in a brutalist style. The artists’ single innovation is drips, which run down some paintings and draw our eye to the central image. "The drips emphasize deterioration, things breaking down," they explained. "Arms are presented as new and powerful machines. The drips de-glamorize them.

"Politics are central to our work," Burtonwood and Holmes stated. "We want to change peoples’ minds." When asked what alternative they proposed to the present war on terrorism, the artists replied: "We have no idea what to do -- and don’t believe that it’s our job to come up with solutions."

Bottom line: The viewer’s response to this show depends on how much he or she shares the artists’ political opinions. There’s no esthetic merit here.

Burtonwood and Holmes, a husband and wife team, make all their work together. "We met at college," they explained, "shared our ideas, and began to collaborate. Three years ago, we came to Chicago and started to make paintings from ideas we’d talked through together." It’s not uncommon for one of the artists to start on a painting and the other to continue it, making radical changes. They’re both mellow about this, which bodes well for their marriage.

VICTOR M. CASSIDY writes on art from Chicago.