On the right of the frame sits a large black soft floor sculpture in the shape on a whale's tail. To its left hangs a soft sculpture in the shape if an eye. On the walls of the gallery are a series of frames collages by James Hosking.
James Hosking and María Villaseñor-Marchal, “Raveling” installation view, Chicago Artists Coalition, 2023 Credit: James Hosking

Picture a strand of thread, feel it in your hands, make a knot.

In Japanese folklore, there is a story that each and every person is born with a red thread around their finger. This thread connects them to another person: a pair destined to make indelible marks on the lives of one another. In Greek mythology, Ariadne was a princess who could walk through monsters’ lairs unscathed with a simple ball of thread. 

Fantasy, fear, connection, desire. You want there to be a narrative between these themes, some sort of fibrous tendon that connects each story, every emotion, and gives them a clear beginning, middle, and end. What threads compose your own story? It is difficult to unravel and retie the threads of the self, to know exactly where fantasy starts and reality stops, where connection becomes alienation and turns back again. 

Curated by Vasia Rigou and featuring the work of Maria Villaseñor-Marchal and James Hosking, “Raveling” is an exhibition that is intimately aware of the searching (in other words, the storytelling) that marks life. The work of these artists, and the dialogue they spark through Rigou’s curatorial gesture, understands that a simplistic idea of resolution—linear narrative, untouchable boundaries—limits life. Hosking and Villaseñor-Marchal embrace ephemerality, a capacious state of becoming, with great care. Through abstraction, representation, collage, and sculpture, both artists give breadth to the contours of identity-making. Meaning is made through the search, through touching the other, through the asking of questions. To live in this manner is to live in a state of flux. It is a way of remembering, of forgetting, of learning to cope, learning to be, learning to move as the person you are, continually made and remade in the world’s light. 

On the right wall of the gallery hang five of Hosking's collages, hung in the shape of a cross. On the left wall is one horizontal, rectangular collage.
Framed pigment prints from “The Personals” collage series, James Hosking, “Raveling” at Chicago Artists Coalition, 2023
Credit: James Hosking

Hosking’s collage series, The Personals, is created from the artist’s own LGPTQIA+ ephemera and periodicals from the Gerber/Hart Library and Archives, located on the city’s north side. With materials dating mostly from 1966 to 1981, each of Hosking’s pieces is inspired by a personal ad from the era. In some of the collages, the ads themselves are included—just typed lines, some short and sweet, others heart-breaking in their loneliness or endearingly kooky. The words of these unknown writers craft micronarratives which in turn engage the formal elements of each collage. These moments of convergence give life to, as Hosking states in his artist statement, psychic maps of desire. Intimacy is accessed within these intimate, fleshy geographies on multiple levels. Viewers are not only aligned with these defacto protagonists by virtue of the series’ subject matter but also through Hosking’s play with form, texture, color, and composition. 

In the collage, photos of men kissing, laying in repose, and posing in various states on undress are layered atop one another. Some are black and white and others are color. The color images all include shades of blue.
With materials dating mostly from 1966 to 1981, each of Hosking’s collages is inspired by a personal ad from the era.
Credit: James Hosking

Each piece is positioned in the upper quadrant of the exhibition wall, at a viewer’s chest or eye level. The size of the text necessitates one to be physically close while reading. This proximity allows for a pleasurable voyeuristic experience of the sumptuous domestic textures that populate each frame. Worlds, stories, scenes, and characters are created through close-ups of sheets, curtains, and rugs alongside hands, flashes of hair, eyelashes, and bodies curved in sensual repose. This positioning within psychic space both real and imagined gives way to an uncanny sense of communion. The warmth of the dappled sun, created through the artist’s collaged intervention, devastates as the light palpitates upon the words of a broken-hearted writer. Hosking’s work is an act of mediumship; it is a way for the past and present to meet and for the desires and lived experiences of those often denied the light to feel the glow of day once more.

Villaseñor-Marchal refers to her works as “fantasy environments.” She creates the formal elements of these environments through a combination of soft sculpture, weaving, and painted fibers. (The artist only utilizes natural fibers native to the Western Hemisphere, such as alpaca and Navajo sheep’s wool.) Villaseñor-Marchal girds her relationship to the technique and craft of weaving and fiber painting to that of Indigenous societies, in which these acts of skill and artistry were honed within the realm of women. While the artist positions her work in the urgency of the material world, through the critical lenses of Indigeneity and sustainability, these frameworks do not constitute the entirety of her practice. Villaseñor-Marchal’s position as a young Indigenous woman weaves in, out, and through her experiences as a trans woman. The contours of her personhood—her fantasies, joys, fears, flights, deaths, and rebirths—blossom upon the gallery’s walls.

On the gallery wall hang three oversized fiber paintings. All rectangular in shape and are roughly the same size. They are imbued with varying colors and shapes to create messy abstractions.
Maria Villaseñor-Marchal refers to her works as “fantasy environments,” created through a combination of soft sculpture, weaving, and painted fibers.
Credit: James Hosking

In Adipocere, amorphous soft sculptures hang from industrial meat hooks fixed to the wall. The pieces hang with body and heft; they range in size from that of a human torso to massive geode formations, or insect hives. Each work is split to reveal a jeweled center reminiscent of ripe, or rotten, fruit hanging on the vine. Adipocere is colloquially called “corpse wax”: it is a substance secreted by dead bodies when fat tissue is exposed to moisture. There is a beautiful delicacy to Villaseñor-Marchal’s relationship with the violence of the ephemeral; the contrast of the wine-hued beads that protrude from the inner whorls of each piece creates a sensation of life amongst the ruins. Upon the icy metal of the meat hooks there hangs something once living, with hearts perhaps still beating. 

The past meets the present in both Hosking and Villaseñor-Marchal’s work. These are two artists who, although formally distinct, create archives of emotion and landscapes of fantasy, showing desire in all its profane and sacred glory. To search, to want, to change and be changed by love and passion, is the mark of being human. To ravel and unravel the many strands of one’s being, building and rebuilding time and time again, that is what it means to be human too. Raveling is an exhibition that serves as record, altar, and story; it cherishes those that came before, cares for those who are here, and remembers for those not yet arrived.

Through 6/8: Wed-Fri 11 AM-5 PM, Sat noon-4 PM, Chicago Artists Coalition, 2130 W. Fulton,  chicagoartistscoalition.org

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