A naked man was waving to me, darling!” a perplexed lady cried to her husband by the entrance of the Logan Center for the Arts on Saturday afternoon. In the gallery, some were intrigued. Others were deeply unsettled. “Go Away, Ghost Ship!” is composed of twenty-one pieces by four artists graduating from the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Chicago: Alex Calhoun, Autumn Elizabeth Clark, Zachary Harvey, and Sara Rouse.
The exhibition’s title is a reference to an early episode of the original Scooby-Doo! cartoon series, a theme that seems to have emerged naturally. “I read on the Scooby-Doo! wiki that the ‘Go Away Ghost Ship’ episode is the first one where their lives are in danger,” Calhoun told me. “And that’s relevant, somehow.”
“Our exhibition is perhaps somewhat mysterious, but mostly kind of playful,” she continued. The work of all four artists evokes the element of surprise, albeit in different ways. The exhibition draws on a wide variety of materials and media, including wallpaper, acrylic, photographs, fabric, steel, and fallen tree branches.
To think that the yoking together of these objects and surfaces is haphazard, however, is to misunderstand the philosophy of their work. “We are so varied in our interests and in our ways of working that to put shows together that have everything in common wasn’t a reality,” Rouse said, “but I think what makes it interesting is that we have a lot of different kinds of work to play with, and see how they affect each other.”
Harvey’s mixed media installation “TESTTUBEBUTT.NET,” which includes two naked male actors, aroused significant interest. The piece shares its title with a website one can visit to view a live stream of the installation. It considers images of the male form, probing questions of masculine desire and impulse.
Another eye-catching piece is Clark’s “Underneath,” a collection of eleven found and designed wallpapers. By putting the normally banal medium of wallpaper in the spotlight, Clark asks his viewers to consider how different wallpapers govern one’s spatial conception of an enclosed room.
“I work a lot with humor, especially between the objects and the viewer, the objects and myself, the objects and each other,” said Calhoun. “I think play is a big part of it for me.” These ideas are manifested in her piece “Swing,” in which materials like wood, rocks, and rope are set against one another in a gigantic swing-like structure.
The relationship between these pieces and Scooby-Doo! may not be immediately apparent, but all four artists have ideas about how their favorite childhood cartoon series has shaped their art. “I take one material and turn it into another,” Rouse said. “I’d say it’s that unfolding quality that makes it Scooby-Doo!.”
Clark considered how her love for crime and mystery stemmed from watching Scooby-Doo! as a child, and how it led her to question the world around her. “Through repeatedly making pieces about similar questions and subject matter that I have not fully grasped, I find myself discovering answers and finding new questions to ask myself,” she said. Rouse chimed in: “The mystery, chase, and discovery that happens when I make my work is what has fueled it for so many years.”
Harvey, in turn, alluded to the childlike quality of his art, adding, “and the colors are very Scooby-Doo!.”
As soon-to-be graduates, these artists are tentative when discussing the future. In Calhoun’s words, “the what-comes-next piece is complicated, but ideally it involves at the very least Chicago in some way, and probably the southern half of it.” Harvey already lives in Pilsen, and Rouse intends either to stay in Hyde Park or to move to Bronzeville. Clark plans to collaborate with a friend from Columbia College at Blue Jacket Films, with the hopes of producing a horror film – an idea very much in keeping with the sense of mystery and enigma that Scooby-Doo! has inspired in several generations.
“The four of us are like a small Scooby-Doo! gang,” exclaimed Rouse, “and all we need is a band.” Calhoun quipped, “And a dog!”
Logan Center Gallery, 915 East 60th St. Through May 14, 2015. Tuesday-Saturday, 9am-9pm; Sunday, 11am-9pm. Free. (773)702-6082. arts.uchicago.edu