We urbanites have all cursed the slow-moving, camera-toting tourists, snapping photos of the iconic buildings in the cities we hustle through daily. As residents, with the dulling nature of time, our appreciation of these structures is diminished. As tourists, they are like vivid stage-sets captured in our minds, but, like all other memories, they are fleeting. We return home and try to explain them to our friends with words, charades-like gestures, and amateur photographs. Artist Susan Giles explores these ideas in greater detail with her current exhibition, Buildings and Gestures, currently on display at Kavi Gupta Gallery in Chicago through March 13.
Travel and tourism are not new subjects in her work and the expansion of these themes to include architecture is, for her, only natural. Giles, not a native Chicagoan, says she got interested in architecture because it’s a rich part of this city’s history. “I spent a couple years abroad in touristy places and I’m interested in buildings as icons and that you can get these souvenirs of famous buildings, but they’re only a small fragment of the experience. That memory is always slipping away.”
The exhibit includes four small sculptures fusing together iconic building models into an architectural gobstopper. Some of the paper sculptures are freestanding and others appear to be exploding out of the wall or ceiling, composed of all or some component of postcard worthy sites, like Big Ben, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Duomo. It is easy to recover our own travel imagery with the vaguely anonymous minarets, domes, turrets, and arches of these pieces.
And this is exactly what participants in her video, Buildings and Gestures, seek to do. The video’s subjects are describing a piece of architecture in layman’s voice, complete with curly-q descriptions and accompanying hand gestures. It is smartly edited and sectioned into awkward pauses, use of architectural buzz words, like “gothic” and obligatory “-esques”, and sweeping charades, which prohibits the viewer from ever recognizing the structures that the subjects are earnestly trying to describe. The video itself is housed in a large-scale corrugated cardboard and wood structure that compliments the anonymous descriptions.
Susan Giles: Buildings and Gestures
835 W. Washington Blvd, Chicago
Through March 13