Knowing he’d be having a show in Flatfile’s basement space, Jason Peot began monthly visits there more than a year ago. “I would wander around, look at blueprints, stare at the walls,” he says. “I really tried to get the site inside my head.” All his recent exhibits have included a site-specific installation that required regular visits beforehand, as he looks for something to bring out that’s “either invisible or taken for granted.” For a show at Northern Illinois University six years ago, he saw from an alley next to the building that the gallery had bricked-over windows he could cut through. At Flatfile he realized that the wall dividing the two basement rooms was “probably pretty light duty, so maybe I could go through it and not have too big a mess on my hands restoring it.” Peering into a little space above a duct, he discovered a 14-inch-thick vertical structural beam inside the wall. “That was like winning the lottery,” he says. It took four long days to construct Intersect (Sublucent)–cutting a rectangular hole to expose the beam, removing studs, building a frame of slats around the opening, and installing lightbulbs behind the slats. “People experience spaces in a pretty blind way. I like creating a new experience within a space they’ve been in before. Buildings like Flatfile’s are fortresses–you don’t see anything like it built today.”

Growing up in Green Bay, Peot was the only kid he knew interested in art; he made drawings on birch bark and was fascinated by the structure of the Sears Tower. In 1990 he came to Chicago, where he lives today, to attend DePaul, where he grew more interested in architecture, eventually working as an architectural model builder and making sculptures. Though he’d been interested in light his whole life, watching for the northern lights or shooting stars at his parents’ cabin in northern Wisconsin and later observing the Chicago skyline, it was as an undergrad that he began to understand what effect it could have on his work. One of his sculptures, placed in a hallway as part of a student show, didn’t come across the way he intended because the fluorescent lighting was different from the lighting where he’d made it. “My next piece had its own light source that cast some dynamic shadows,” he says.

As a grad student at NIU, inspired by a course in installation and earth art, Peot began placing rocks, sponges, and leaves on his studio floor, burying lightbulbs in the piles. “I was experimenting with the interaction of light and materials,” he says. “I sought an equalizing effect, where the light becomes a material equal to the others.” But the danger of fire meant he could barely leave his leaf installations “on” long enough to photograph them.

The four wall-mounted sculptures at Flatfile use the gallery’s own lighting. “They’re one notch under site specific,” Peot says. “I call them site oriented.” But he uses the available light purposefully to create interesting perceptual ambiguities. The shadows cast on the wall by Conductor #6 (Parallel)–an alluring mix of rectilinear lines and jagged shapes–at first seem discordant with the piece’s horizontal bars holding small pieces of landscaping stone. And in Confluence #3 (White) thin bent birch sticks, painted white to emphasize the shadows, reach from a wooden wall-mounted frame to the adjacent wall, casting curved shadows around the corner. “It was interesting how many people at the opening asked me, ‘Are the sticks going into the wall or coming out of it?'” Peot says. “It’s both.”

Jason Peot

When: Through Fri 2/24

Where: Flatfile, 217 N. Carpenter

Info: 312-491-1190

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Carlos J. Ortiz.