Visual Arts

Groundbreaking Observations

Susan Giles's "Scenic Overlook" opens amid HPAC reception

Kip Wilkinson

Christmas tree lights and dainty teal Japanese lanterns lining the high, pipe-exposed ceiling began to sway ever so slightly as the Guida family attempted to bust through a wall with a sledgehammer. The family and friends took turns posing for photographs and dirtying their suits with drywall dust and plaster.

The Hyde Park Arts Center celebrated and literally broke ground at the opening of the new Guida Family Creative Wing on Sunday, April 19. The center’s 75th Anniversary Campaign and the $750,000 donated by John and Julie Guida made the expansion possible, and HPAC will knock down a few extra walls to make way for the new ten-room wing.

Glasses of Chateau St. Jean chardonnay and bottles of Lagunitas IPA in hand, guests left the ceremony to explore the opening reception of resident artist Susan Giles’s exhibition “Scenic Overlook” with audio commentary by audio artist Lou Mallozzi, happening just below in the main gallery. 

Mallozzi’s commentary could be heard echoing throughout the upstairs wing. “Subject is female with short blonde hair,” Mallozzi said, watching me watch him through a massive white telescope somehow dwarfed by Giles’s wood sculptures. “Female subject holds pen up to her face. Subject begins writing in small black notebook.” 

Tom VanEynde

Tom VanEynde

The audience wove in and out of Giles’s colossal sculptures, each one representing one of the world’s largest towers: the Tokyo Skytree, Canton Tower, CN Tower, and Ostankino Tower. The site-specific installation explores the physicality of architectural space and how the subject constructs identity in relation to place. Giles, a Fulbright scholar, became fascinated with investigating the physicality of place after studying art and tourism in Bali, Indonesia.

“The towers were constructed to transmit signals for communications media and feature public observation decks,” she said of her inspiration. Sitting atop tripods, each sculpture was positioned to direct the viewer’s eye to the same vantage point on the balcony overlooking the gallery, all aligned toward Mallozzi’s telescope. “They stare back at the observer, challenging viewers to critically examine their position as tourists,” Giles said.

A few children bounced throughout the main gallery, waiting for their parents to finish their drinks and small talk. “The children are positioned left, standing stationary,” Mallozzi observed. The three kids realized they were being watched, and turned red. They awkwardly huddled together, plotting retaliation. Each one jumped in an opposite direction, dancing unpredictably and sporadically. Mallozzi switched his attention to an unaware couple.

After many years of admiring Mallozzi, Giles knew she wanted to collaborate with the audio artist. “He came by my studio during Melika Bass’s opening, and when he saw my work for the show, he told me about his performance,” she said. “I liked how it was dealing with overlapping ideas of observation and transgression…It would interact with my work in an interesting way.”

During her last few months as resident artist, Giles is working on a proposal to the Chicago Cultural Center for an exhibition with her husband, Jeff Carter, and self-described builder Faheem Majeed. “The possibility of opening all of the garage doors of the HPAC is making me think about public sculpture,” she mused. “It’s kind of like taking down a big wall and opening the space to everyone.” Maybe John Guida can lend her a sledgehammer.

The Hyde Park Arts Center, 5020 S. Cornell Ave. Through July 26. Monday-Thursday, 9am-8pm; Friday-Saturday, 9am-5pm; Sunday, 12pm-5pm. Free. (773)324-5520. hydeparkart.org.

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