Slow Stretch, work by Joseph Belknap, Sarah Belknap, and Eileen Rae Walsh Credit: Eileen Rae Walsh

With Slow Stretch, the new gallery installation from curatorial collective Third Object, interdisciplinary artists Sarah Belknap, Joseph Belknap, and Eileen Rae Walsh dissolve the boundaries that typically circumscribe artists in collaboration. The show, open through April 3 at Mana Contemporary Chicago, is a mess of visual conversation, and although there’s never any question as to which artist produced each work, the idea of “work” as a discrete visual unit is called into question by the three artists and Third Object’s curators.

Two long, elevated platforms display the results of an in-house dialogue between the Belknaps, both MFA graduates of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Walsh, currently an MFA candidate in photography at Columbia College. The Belknaps’ contributions to Slow Stretch consist of found and made objects coated in graphite dust, all one dark gray color with a slight metallic sheen. Because their small-scale sculptures are all the same shade, texture emerges as the main differentiating factor between the objects.

Rather than display her photographs as two-dimensional pieces with flat surfaces, Walsh uses sculptures to keep prints in a half-folded position, curled into a cylinder, or bunched up in the middle. Some of the prints reuse the same image, and the textures vary: some feature ink splattered across newsprint, while others include images painted on velvet matte paper. Walsh’s subjects echo the Belknaps’; all three artists fixate on the visual harmony between hands and natural objects, such as branches and rocks.

The most intriguing disruption in Slow Stretch is how the art space is transported into the viewer’s personal space. Before the installation’s opening, Third Object offered a series of mailings to potential audience members (priced at five dollars). The first was an essay by Third Object divulging the theoretical framework guiding the collaboration; the second an interview between Third Object’s curators and the presenting artists; and the third a set of three small, unique artworks created after the gallery’s main pieces had been completed. Two prints and a miniature sculpture arrived in my mailbox the day before I previewed the standing installation. One print mapped stream-of-consciousness writing across parchment paper, while the other was an abstract silver gelatin print folded into triangles enough times to give it a sculptural quality. The sculpture itself was a small, blue stone mounted on a metal pick, like a tie pin or an olive skewer.

Visitors who didn’t sign up for Third Object’s mailing series may find the same materials—including their own take-home art pieces—at the gallery itself. Few exhibitions send works home with attendees, but the show’s final mailing reinforces its fluidity, its commitment to dialogue over authority, like a concert in which audience members are invited up onstage.  v