Tucked neatly into a second floor stairwell landing is I am here, a petite but thoughtful presentation of works by Chicago artist Amanda Gentry. Exploring the concept of presence – both active and passive – as a being in the current, chaotic, explosive digital age, Gentry manifests her own rebellion to the stimuli that begs her (and quite frankly, all of us) to be in a constant state of searching for what's next rather than simply being right here, right now. I concede to her gentle nudge and take my time to deeply engage with her meticulously crafted and perfectly subtle works. It is a meditative experience of its own: my breathing becomes more conscious, my heart rate slows, and I find myself selfishly lost in the work.
Brother John is a beautiful collection of seventeen, ceramic pillows that bear the tender impressions of individuals who rested their heads upon them while the clay was still wet. Smooth, hollow, and unglazed, each pillow bears both the physical weight of the human head as well as the metaphorical mental weight of the human experience. Our lives (collectively) are, in many ways, completely overwhelming – our bodies heavy, our minds frenetic, and our rest too brief. Gentry cleverly reminds me of the need for pause, both mentally and physically, for reflection and rejuvenation. Sleep serves these purposes, among other psychological benefits and unconscious happenings; but there is something more to these preserved pillows than this. For reasons I can’t explain, my viewing of them is emotional – evoking bittersweet feelings of intimacy and affection, all of which were quite unexpected.
What I find most interesting is Gentry’s choice to document a number of individuals rather than just herself as this reinforces the notion that it isn’t always about ourselves – the other is both ever apparent and important: physically, mentally, or spiritually. From just the hint of a presence left behind in the depression in the understated surface of the pillow, I get the sense of each individual, as if their energy remains infused in the work. I look to the right side of each one to read the name of the participant to see if it correlates to the crater left by their resting head, or in one case, the mark of their ear left behind in the surface of the clay. Their presence, coupled with mine and the hand of the artist, feels incredibly comforting. I can’t help but be reminded of the Untitled series of unmade beds by Felix Gonzalez-Torres as these contain the same sweetness (both aesthetically and conceptually) that is so alluring and affecting.
Just opposite, I find My Life in Rows: three hundred and fifty, swollen little pillows in glossy, muted shades of pink that are the product of Gentry’s practice of making multiples: creating the same thing over and over—to woo herself into a meditative state that ultimately grounds her experience into and with the present. Spread across two walls and converging into a corner, it’s enveloping and rhythmic and sumptuous (in a delightfully minimal way). Through the use of positive and negative space, and the clever decision to paint the background one of the same soft blush shades to allow some of the pillows to merge with the wall, Gentry creates unique visual pauses only found in the in-between. By utilizing the grid, a rhythm is created: a marked accounting of accruement and a logical expectation is fostered that one form will follow the next. This rhythm is disrupted when a form is that is expected to be present is not, which opens an interesting query of why. Has it been selectively removed, was it omitted intentionally, or did it ever even exist? This disruption reminds me of the inconsistencies, of the imperfections, that make life fragile, and complicated, and magical. And leaves room for the new and for life yet to come, for better or worse or the wonderful place somewhere in-between.
Images from top to bottom: Brother John, unglazed white talc earthenware incised with mason-stained slip, 17 x 14 x 5 inches each (several images) and My Life in Rows, white talc earthenware, mason stain incised slip (several images)