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Aspen Mays
3319 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL 60657
June 19, 2009 - August 2, 2009

Wanting to Know While on the Ground
by Abraham Ritchie

Housed in an attractive walk-up graystone on Newport Avenue in the Boystown/Lakeview neighborhood, GOLDEN gallery is one of Chicago’s newer galleries, having been open for a little less than a year now, but also one of the city’s most promising.  GOLDEN is proving to be a permanent School of the Art Institute (SAIC) affiliated gallery (director Jacob Meehan studied photography there), many of which perennially spring up in Chicago, but most of which are usually short-lived as their organizers eventually head to one of the coasts.  I hope that GOLDEN continues to make its home Chicago.

The current exhibition at GOLDEN (through August 2) is Aspen Mays’ “Concentrate and Ask Again.”  A recent MFA recipient of the SAIC (’09), Mays’ work was a standout in the graduate MFA show.  Some of the pieces from that show have a reprise here, but the additional works on view round out her oeuvre and solidly construct her artistic investigations (as any good solo exhibition should). 

Aspen Mays. The Future of the Future (Spaceman), 2009. 53" x 68".  Archival inkjet print.  Image courtesy of the artist and GOLDEN.

The investigations of Mays are announced by the first piece on view when you enter the gallery.  The Future of the Future (Spaceman), 2009, is a figure covered in aluminum foil, standing in an aluminum foil covered room.  The helmet of the figure is an open, round portal making the suit eerily empty.  Besides showing us that the future will be shiny, via the aluminum foil, the vacancy of the figure invites us to journey along, to step inside the suit.  Being a photograph this is of course impossible, but the image extends an invitation and introduces a main theme of the exhibit: humanity’s desire for cosmic exploration and a universe of ideas, and the paradox that most of us remain earth-bound and these aspirations out-of-reach.  

But our common earth-bound condition and lack of resources doesn’t stop us from trying to explore in whatever ways possible.  Mays goes on to pay homage to this aspect of the human spirit in several pieces, though with some skepticism.  Mays' approach could be best seen through her video work Larry (2008).  The video shows a tiny lawn chair (barely two inches and also on display) tumbling around somewhere above the Earth.  With the help of the Adler Planetarium and a weather balloon, it reached 96,000 feet or as the exhibition notes state “above 99% of the Earth’s atmosphere.”  This work references “Lawnchair Larry” who was, also according to the notes, “a daring amateur, who, in 1982, traveled to 16,000 ft above the Earth strapped to a Sears patio chair and 45 helium-filled weather balloons.” 

The human desire for exploration, initially brought into by play by Spaceman, and the experience of pure flight, is tempered by the impossibility of the experience.  The model lawn chair is too small for actual use and its means of flight too risky, its singular success in escaping the atmosphere makes it all the more removed.  We can recall the Brazilian priest that in 2008 attempted the exact same flight method and died in the attempt, due to a storm.  Mays presents the amateurishness, the improbability, the low-tech and unlikely materials, but we can still recognize the human impulse to explore and see one’s surroundings no matter what the obstacles.  Perhaps the impulse that Mays presents is best summed up in Larry’s own words upon landing: “a man can’t just sit around.”

--Abraham Ritchie

(top image:
Untitled (Fireflies inside the body of my camera, 8:37 - 8:39PM, June 26, 2008), 2008, 73" X 59.5". Archival Inkjet Print. Image courtesy of the artist and GOLDEN)

Posted by Abraham Ritchie on 7/11/09

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