When you hear the word “bread,” what do you imagine? A bakery? A sandwich? The beginning of a meal? Isabelle Frances McGuire, who rejects gender binaries and doesn’t seem to approach anything in a straightforward way, thinks of the artist’s own body.
“I use bread and yeast and sugar . . . so that it will transform [my art] into something else,” McGuire says. “It’s about being constantly placed into roles that I feel are violent, especially a lot of things about having a woman’s body is extremely violent and oppressive.”
McGuire, 23, holds a BFA in film, video, and new media from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, but “Isabelle Frances McGuire: I’m a Cliché,” on view at Prairie Gallery in Pilsen through January 8, doesn’t exhibit much in the way of video or new media. The show instead features two kinds of works: bottles mutated by yeast and sugar, and tiny photographs, distorted by sugar-coated glass or plastic and framed with stale pieces of bread and insects.
“I’m obsessed with bread, but the part of bread that I’m obsessed with is the science behind it: how yeast and bacteria can assist our lives,” McGuire says. “I use bread and yeast and sugar on the glass so that it will transform the piece into something else.”
The title “I’m a Cliché” comes from the song “I Am a Cliché” by 70s British punk band X-Ray Spex, whose lyrics often dealt with feminism and anti-consumerism. Relatedly, the setup at Prairie Gallery is somewhat spartan—a small, windowless room whose walls and floor are painted white. Prairie is a new gallery operated by Tim Mann and Jack Schneider. They hope to draw attention to local artists who aren’t being covered or shown much around town, in particular those who address ecology and identity in their work.
Both those subjects are covered one mixed-media piece. McGuire prints “There will always be someone working harder than you” in small text, jammed into a frame made out of thin loaves of bread. The message seems to allude to capitalist culture’s relentless demand to always work harder, but at the bottom of the frame is a line written in the same font, “I am that someone,” an indication that McGuire’s frustrations are directed as much inward as at the culture in general.
McGuire doesn’t want “I’m a Cliché” to be a conventional art show, so plans to add performance and musical elements to the exhibit. (McGuire describes “I’m a Cliché” as “an event in three acts.”) This Friday, McGuire will serve bread, butter, and fermented ginger ale. There will be a block of butter about the size of two laptops stacked on top of each other, and underneath the butter will be images, which people can see once they swipe the butter with their bread. What are these images? McGuire says you’ll have to come and eat some bread and butter to find out. v