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Friday, April 27, 2012

Miller & Shellabarger

Shadows in the Light

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Chicago-based duo Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger are enigmatic extroverts. Their collaborative art grows from their relationship and transforms their physical bodies into icons. They are intensely personal, yet transcend specific narrative with universal themes of connection and love in works that are lyrical, ephemeral and mysterious as shadows.

Perhaps the shadow reference comes a bit easily, as a number of pieces in the main gallery space at Inova/Kenilworth feature the artists' likenesses in black paper cutouts.  They are displayed as pages in monumental books, as large images on the wall, and most intriguingly, as long garlands of figures. These garlands are paper cutouts, but not all figures in the string are the same. Noting their variations is like watching animation unfold in slow motion. They are suspended over the industrial gallery space of the Kenilworth building, which is an especially interesting position as it directs our attention to places overhead. The space of the viewer and the space of art are the same. The cutouts cast shadows on the walls like feathery doppelgängers, counterpoints to the precise shapes in the air. In one corner, Garland (Yoga) cascades like a totem or a waterfall, like gods or lovers.

Other works in the gallery are large outlines on paper of the artists' bodies, overlaid and described by scorched tones of gunpowder. With their emphatic verticality, they keep a sense of lightness and liveliness, although the material and outlines of prone bodies easily suggest more violent actions.

The intriguing series Chromosome Prints 1-5 delves into more esoteric grounds. It consists of embossed sheets with a variety of symbols, some cryptic and some clear. The overarching theme is procreation on various theoretical and philosophical levels. It is like a code to be deciphered, much like the human genome itself. Images are pressed into the paper with emphatic force, leaving only their imprint; no ink, no lines, simply the physical impression on the paper.  As in many other works, the iconic appearance of the artists' distinctive profiles and beards form a center point, and from there expand to musings of the body and cosmos.

The exhibition includes small sculptural pieces, textile works, tintype photographs, videos, and an ongoing project involving a seemingly endless crocheted pink tubular form. As the artists work on this piece, they are creating together, yet this action continually moves them further apart.

Miller and Shellabarger present themselves in a way that is visually and emotionally bold, an exposition of profound closeness. But for all their forms say in their work, there remains a veil of privacy. Facial expressions and physical details are not shown, as the emphasis is on the silhouette. The articulation of body language is all we are given, but in that external simplicity lies poetry. The sense of clarity, modulated by shades of ambiguity, makes “Hiding in the Light” quite an apt title.

Miller & Shellabarger will be in Milwaukee on May 3 for a gallery talk at 6 p.m., and will present a performance piece on May 4 and 5 at noon. “Hiding in the Light” continues through July 15 at Inova/Kenilworth, 2155 N. Prospect Ave.
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