The three artists in “Value” all make functional objects, apparently mass-produced, that critique consumer culture. Ian Bally uses store receipts in his jewelry, Hye-Young Suh includes plastic bottle caps and synthetic jewels in her colorful necklaces, and Frankie Flood makes ornate pizza cutters that borrow forms from biker culture. All three entered the graduate metals program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2001 and graduated in 2004; the program chair, Billie Jean Theide, curated the show at I Space. She says that Flood and Bally take different approaches to the value of objects: “Flood cares about the work of the hand. Bally comments more on audience.”

Bally and Flood, both raised in rural Illinois, are fascinated by machines and love working with their hands (Suh was traveling and unavailable for interviews). Bally earned an undergraduate degree in industrial design in 2000. At school, he says, “we talked a lot about how design could be a very positive thing for mankind. But I was afraid of getting a job in which I’d be forced to design injection-molded plastic disposable junk–things I don’t believe in and don’t think should be made.” After graduating he helped out on his parents’ farm and also worked as a carpenter while gradually acquiring his own woodworking tools, eventually making custom furniture before enrolling in the metals program. His two pieces here make strong conceptual statements. He used receipts to construct the fake pearls in The Consumer Collection, a group of earrings and necklaces. His faux-elegant Consumption, a set of flatware, was sparked by a Taco Bell meal. “I was eating with one of those black plastic things that aren’t forks or spoons. I thought, ‘Here’s this object trying to do the work of two things and doing both somewhat poorly.’ It hit me that this was a strong icon of our culture.” He decided to oppose the qualities of a plastic object quickly made and intended to be disposable with the same design fashioned in metal in a labor-intensive way. Using molds made from plastic utensils, including sporks, he cast 12 place settings in sterling silver. Each piece was made from a different plastic item so that some of the details inherent in injection molding–such as different mold numbers–would be present.

Flood’s father used to come home from his job running a printing press and work on projects with his son, from fixing up cars and motorcycles to forging custom knives out of old files in an oven he’d made himself; he also carved the wooden handles. Flood saw these activities as his dad’s release from a boring job, and later, while working for a tool-and-die company, Flood was disappointed he couldn’t persuade his older coworkers to put their impressive skills to creative use. Theide challenged both Flood and Bally to think about why they wanted to handcraft objects. “She taught, ‘You don’t just create to create,'” Flood says. “There’s a message or a thought process behind everything you do.” At one time Theide had made teapots, some usable and some obviously not since they were formed of wire mesh, and this got Flood thinking about his own interest in functional objects. He also wondered why artists were making anachronistic things like teapots. Seeking “a functional object for the contemporary world,” he started making pizza cutters, primarily out of aluminum and stainless steel. “Some of my fellow students didn’t understand why you would spend all this time making an object–it was almost better to spend time on an idea. I was very angry about that. I was interested in the alienation of labor, when the worker ceased to own the means of production, and had experienced that from my own work on an assembly line–you become demoralized. I thought about the idea that it was no longer cool or valid to spend time handcrafting something, and I decided to keep on making pizza cutters.”

Flood’s pizza cutters are inspired by the flamboyant designs of biker culture. One, Phatboy, is shaped like a gun. Three of the six in the show have actually been used–in some cases on the pizzas Flood made from scratch in the studio he shared with Bally.


When: Through Sat 11/26

Where: I Space, 230 W. Superior, 2nd floor

Info: 312-587-9976