In the absence of light, darkness prevails.”
Heather Mekkelson told me that “the urban landscape is the primary impetus” for her latest installation “Absentia Luci,” currently on display at Hyde Park’s 4th Ward Project Space. Hers is the only work in the room. Paracords bisect the blank white space of the gallery like telephone lines, staunch and powerful in their ability to demarcate the human experience from above. Each cord has been toned with what Mekkelson called “a light-pollution mauve,” a pastel purple evocative of the city sky, which is itself a combination of natural light and that cast by Chicago’s sodium vapor street lamps.
Light, pollutive and otherwise, is as important to Mekkelson’s sculpture as it is to the urban dweller. “I associate it first and foremost with living in the city,” she said. “I think I’ve been here over twenty years now, and that color is very unique to our location.”
She described her conceptual square one when planning “Absentia Luci” as “what it would be like to have all of the light erased,” making the 4th Ward Project Space’s exhibition room ideal for the piece. The room has no windows; it is austere, unadorned, and thus devoid of the constructive and destructive interaction of light sources that characterizes the urban experience, giving it a functional similarity to a “blank canvas” for Mekkelson.
With this canvas, Mekkelson has constructed a multi-material sculpture that absorbs its viewers. Walking into “Absentia Luci” is like walking into the middle of a spider web—once in the gallery, you find yourself inside of the piece itself, quite literally incorporated by it. By entering, the observer becomes privy to a view of the city that may have formerly gone unnoticed. “There’s a lot of landscape around urban settings that kind of just gets passed over, [like] the visual cacophony of the city up above us,” she said. “But actually, there’s some really poetic, formal aesthetics that exist up there.”
“Absentia Luci,” 4th Ward Project Space, 5338 S. Kimbark Ave. Through March 26. Saturdays, 1pm-5pm, and by appointment. Free. (773) 203.2991. 4wps.org
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