SHop exhibit explores line between home and museum


By Alice Bucknell

With the First Unitarian Church planning to sell the Fenn House, the current residence of the Southside Hub of Production (SHoP), the title of SHOP’s latest exhibition, This House is Not a Home may seem especially bleak and foreboding. Yet, despite its somber title, SHoP bore no trace of flightiness or temporariness during the opening reception for the exhibit this past Saturday. In fact, as if in defiance of the lease’s inevitable end, SHoP appeared more integrated with the Fenn house than ever before, evoking the warm sensation of a timeless home.

Drawing from the SHoP’s own understanding of an impermanent living space, resulting from the organization’s nomadic nature and consciousness of the often unclear dividing line between residential area and museum space, much of the featured artwork attempts to reconcile this division. Dan Peterman, a Chicago-based artist, occupied the old mansion’s library with his site-specific installation piece. Using multicolored post-consumer plastic boards to take on the guise of real texts, Peterman carefully assembled these pseudo-books on the preexisting bookshelves. He also used hundreds of these boards to create a patterned tiled floor. The boards themselves were not adhered to their respective locations; walking on the fake tiles made them come loose with a clatter, and the “books” could easily be pulled from the shelves to reveal their true nature as painted blocks of plastic. This worrying instability –uncomfortable to tread across, and dismaying to hold in one’s hand–forces the spectator to double-question the apparent homeliness of the traditional library setting with its true nature as a filler. The paradoxical eeriness develops its impact by using our own assumptions about the familiar comfort of home against us, and serves as a backbone for many of the works featured in This House is Not a Home.

On the second floor of the Fenn house, hundreds of family photographs that, judging by their curling edges and vintage grain, seemed to date back at least a couple of decades, were on display. Included in these photos were close-ups of grandparents and infants cradled in their parents’ arms, too young to recognize what was going on. Their blank, shocked stares and the laughing moments of intimacy, all captured on film and displayed as a winding panorama from top to bottom of the staircase, left me with that familiar feeling of discomfort and intrigue. I felt somehow as if I were encroaching on highly personal family history, though I had been in countless “real” homes that also made use of this space in the same manner. The exhibitionist qualities of “family photos” – both in what we choose to display to visitors and how we choose to display them – became immediately apparent, and the contrast between a stand-in house and a real home with a genuine sentimental import all the more heightened.

On the second and third floors of the house, the exhibited artworks became increasingly more personal. “Seven Day Self Portrait” by David Durstowitz was a set of seven mason jars filled with the leftovers of the artist’s food intake for each day. Matt Joyat’s installation piece occupied a closet space on the third floor, where he painted song lyrics from a punk song popular in his youth. Meant to effectively recreate the artist’s own bedroom, where he once scribbled poems, lyrics, and drawings of his own, the piece evoked a similar sensation of highly personalized exhibitionism where the artist’s own adolescent frustrations came to light. An old-school tape player was haphazardly placed at the edge of one of the room’s shelves. and the viewer was invited to listen to the song from which the lyrics are drawn.

Back downstairs, the SHoP’s guest band Zamin wooed its listeners in to a soft sway with its murmuring, ethereal sound. “Our name literally translates into ‘earth’ from Urdu, which is a Hindi language,” said Charlotte Malin, the band’s violinist and a Music Performance major at Northwestern University. With its fusion of Eastern language and Western Classical roots, Zamin brought two unique traditions under one cohesive and unprecedented style. This merging, while contributing to the comforting aura of a household with its harmonious and entrancing style, doubled as a thoughtful parallel to the theme of the exhibition at large: namely, the consolidation of different art practices and influences under one roof in an effort to distinguish house from home, personal living space from public exhibition, and a place to merely inhabit from a place which to fully belong.