Continuing through April 23, 2022
The small footprint of this gallery is perfectly suited for “Cowboy X Lightbound X Cowboy,” a succinct exhibition that pairs a single three-dimensional piece by Chicago- and Glasgow-based artist Frances Lightbound with a series of photographs featuring Cowboy’s assemblages. To be clear, these are Jason Pickleman’s photographs of Cowboy’s compositions, taken with consent and with partial proceeds going to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. The works of these artists share the intersection of the formal and the vernacular as a jumping off point. Separately, they take different trajectories from the found and the functional to the functionless art object. And sometimes they jump back again.
“The Grammar of Containment,” Lightbound’s wall-bound installation of a fraying chain link fence, is indicative of the artist’s wider practice involving space, boundaries, and the forms and structures therein. “The Grammar of Containment,” like others in Lightbound’s oeuvre, has as its basis something commonplace, which is manipulated or recast by the artist just enough to shake off its familiarity but still be recognizable. Here, a section of fence is unwound, the galvanized steel wire loosened from neatly woven joints, jutting out into space, haphazard and crimped. It’s not a fence anymore, and it probably won’t be one again. Lightbound has upended context, bringing the outdoors in. She’s transformed a readymade into a metaphor for the dissolving of boundaries, order giving way to disorder. Lightbound has also reduced the object to its parts, and in doing so highlights the elegance of its making and the sublimity of its design.
Where Lightbound’s piece is linear in its transformation, from one thing to another, Cowboy’s is cyclical. The photographs in this series depict assemblages that exhibition curator Pickleman describes as “highly temporary.” By that he means that the items gathered in the photos traverse from the functional to the aesthetic and back to the functional, or trash to art to trash again, when the recyclables are scrapped for cash and the food gets consumed, or alternatively when the city absorbs the refuse back into its ecosystem.
Cowboy, a person of the curator’s acquaintance whose housing status is unknown, arranges his possessions with the care, precision, and confidence that one would associate with an artistic temperament. In these highly formal arrangements, juxtaposition is everything. A Trader Joe’s bag lies flattened beneath a rusty chain along a worn path, a beer can and old coffee cups accentuating the mise en scène as a bleak foil to the cheery illustrations on the bag. A shiny red apple and two blemish free eggs settle along the expansion joints of a concrete sidewalk, producing a palpable expression of vulnerability and precariousness.
So often, the objects of our everyday lives are effectively invisible; we can exhibit a kind of blindness bred by familiarity. The works in “Cowboy X Lightbound X Cowboy” are an antidote to this condition. Both Cowboy and Lightbound render their commonplace subject matter not only visible, but big and rich. Meaning in their pieces expands, multiplies, and deepens — appearing, seemingly, out of thin air through the coaxing of their makers.