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18 Apr 2013

The Presence of Absence at Hairpin Arts Center, Chicago

The Presence of Absence
Hairpin Arts Center


May 6th - June 2nd
Opening: Friday, May 10th, 5-7 p.m. Curators+Artists Talk:
Saturday, May 18, 2-3 p.m.

Jane Michalski

Hairpin Arts Center
2800 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60618

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Curated by Dave Tolchinsky and Debra Tolchinsky

Awakening from a deep sleep and the dream begins to fade. Trying to hang onto a particular image, an evaporating face. A face that belonged to a person whom the dreamer loved. The person has passed. What remains? Dust and bone and something even less tangible . . . absence.

The initial concept for our exhibition came about from such a dream and the ensuing awareness that an absence of anything—a person, an action, an idea—often affects us more acutely than that which may be concretely present.

Gathering work for the show, we found ourselves attracted to artists who explore the tension between that which is and that which is not in a variety of media and from a multitude of perspectives.

For example, with Robert Chase Heishman and Brendan Meara's video, we consider what it means to confront an endless fuse. How keenly we await an explosion that will never come. And the longer the fuse is lit, the more palpable the ghostly ka-boom.

In contrast, Christopher P. Baker's immersive video installation bombards us with thousands of YouTube users simultaneously introducing themselves to the world. We ask: What does it mean to announce oneself if no one can hear because of the cacophony of announcements?

Meanwhile, Melika Bass uses film and installation to transport us to odd cult-like communities, cut off and hermetically sealed, where the abnormal becomes the normal and where we slowly become attuned to all that is wanting.

Similarly, Laurie Palmer fills our minds with the elements that have been removed through her construction of a large-scale hole. Like the image of the sun burned into the retina of someone who stared too long, Palmer's work prompts us to reflect on the meaning of a space that is at once monumental and nonexistent.

And speaking of the sun, what if even the sunlight is . . . just an illusory wish. With Paola Cabal's painted wall, we perceive something that isn't there even while appreciating the cold beauty that is. We long for the warmth, which we might even mistakenly feel.

Across the room, Katarina Weslien offers us spiritual waters transported from afar, inviting us to imagine the missing location. And as time passes, we witness these waters transform. They become mystically suspended between two worlds, neither here nor there, not what they were nor what they will be.

Finally, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle bathes us in crimson light while an instrument for measuring the wind flutters outside a red-tinted window. We think about the effect of that which we see and believe but can't feel or confirm, and as we continue to contemplate, it dawns on us—Manglano-Ovalle's artwork occupies no physical space inside the gallery.

In fact, like the remnants of our original dream, his artwork and all the artworks in our exhibition embody the presence of absence.

Dave Tolchinsky and Deb Tolchinsky


Dave Tolchinsky is a feature screenwriter, sound designer, and curator whose work has been seen internationally. He is a professor and chairman of the Department of Radio-TV-Film at Northwestern University and Director of Northwestern University's MFA Program in Writing for Screen+Stage. He has a BA from Yale University and an MFA from USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Debra Tolchinsky is a documentary filmmaker, a multi-media installation artist, and curator whose work has been seen internationally. She teaches media production in the Department of Radio-TV-Film at Northwestern University where she is an associate professor. Debra received an AB from USC School of Cinematic Arts, and a BFA and MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Information on her most recent documentary can be seen at

The Tolchinskys previously curated The Neighbor Next Door: Shimon Attie at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum in Evanston, IL and The Horror Show at the Chicago City Arts Gallery which then traveled to Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs in New York City. Debra Tolchinsky also previously co-curated Crossing Wires; Technology and Play at the Evanston Art Center.

Exhibited work by:
Christopher Baker
Melika Bass
Paola Cabal
Robert Chase Heishman + Brendan Meara
Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle
Laurie Palmer
Katarina Weslien

Gallery Hours:

Wed 12-3
fri 5-9:30
sat 2-9:30
sun 2-5

Sponsored by the Contemporary Arts Council