Thick beige-and-brown colored fabrics pad the walls of Ukrainian Village storefront space Fernwey. They’re not decorative—these four six-foot-tall quilts, which look more like topographic maps than bed coverings, are the abstract textile works featured in local artist Christalena Hughmanick‘s exhibition “The Fish Don’t Talk About the Water.”
Hughmanick seeks inspiration from ancient sites that archeologists cannot fully explain, such as Stonehenge, Turkey’s Göbekli Tepe, and Bolivia’s Pumapunku. With her minimalist installation of quilts, sculptures, and display units, Hughmanick attempts to channel these physical relics of humanity’s past, leaving her own craft-based artifacts as stand-ins for an ancient society’s remains.
To map these sites archaeologists use a strategic grid system to help remind them where they excavated specific artifacts, a strategy similar to the way one uses a grid to build the base pattern of a traditional quilt. Hughmanick’s own quilted compositions, however, are neither repetitive nor pattern based—they’re haphazardly plotted, as seen in the four works titled Variation on Projection (2-5) (2016). Although the patterns in Variation on Projection 2, 4, and 5 resemble Tetris games, Variation on Projection 3 seems pyramidlike, with 4×4-inch diamonds half forming the top of a triangle at the center of the work. The handmade quality of the quilts, combined with the industrial topstitching techniques involved, make Hughmanick’s artworks exist in the present as well as the past, much like the architectural sites to which her two-toned pieces allude.
Also on display in the gallery are two untitled pieces in which several small plaster-casted sculptures of human hand bones and sewing scissors are placed on top of two untitled armatures built from plastic and soundproof foam. These works conflate Hughmanick’s artistic practice with archaeological discovery. “I have been looking at the way that bones are preserved once they are taken out of the earth,” said Hughmanick. “Archaeologists will cut out specific shapes in the foam to lay the bones out in the way they would have been placed in the body. This is how they are moved around, this is their new earth.”
Ikebana artist Yuko Inoue Darcy’s floral arrangement in the far right corner of the gallery is a direct response to the metaphorical earth found in Hughmanick’s quilts and foam displays. Darcy designed the piece, titled Spring Symphony, on the day of the opening without previously speaking to Hughmanick. The primarily yellow arrangement, with pops of pink and purple, is composed with daffodils and hyacinths—the flowers’ chaotic lines contrast with the precisely stitched ones found on the surrounding quilts. “I felt like already she [Hughmanick] had created the ground and atmosphere to prepare for the colorful spring expression,” said Darcy. “Her work doesn’t have much color, but I could feel the temperature change.”
In addition to reinforcing the notion that Hughmanick’s pieces are the earth, Darcy’s contribution bolsters the exhibition’s play on domesticity and craft. Appearing on a shelf that Hughmanick designed, the arrangement looks like it’s in a domestic space, leaving the audience to wonder if the flowers had simply been left as a congratulatory gift.
“The Fish Don’t Talk About the Water,” Through 2/28, 11 AM-4 PM weekends or by appointment, Fernwey, 916 N. Damen, (312) 971-6773, fernwey.com, free.