In the beginning there was nothing | Art Sidebar | Chicago Reader

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In the beginning there was nothing

The eloquent silence of "Our Origins"


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People are forever talking about origins. Can you imagine a text more thoroughly chewed over than the one that starts "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth"? Or for that matter, the one by Charles Darwin that ends, "from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved"? Especially now, when America's lunatic mainstream is so fanatically devoted to ignorance as an ideology, the chatter about where we come from seems inescapable.

Which is what makes the relative silence of "Our Origins" refreshing. An omnibus show featuring work by 17 artists, "Our Origins" offers visual statements that cut nicely through the ambient verbal crap.

Not that some of the pieces here aren't argumentative in their own way. Alison Ruttan generates sly (and primatologically sound) satire with her mixed-media portraits showing bonobo chimps in human hair styles. Likewise her images of humans acting out a feud Jane Goodall observed among apes. But others are either rigorously reportorial (Mark Ruwedel's pictures of dinosaur trackways in ancient riverbeds) or glide into poetry. Patricia Piccinini's not-to-be-missed large-format photo series—in which two scientists find their parental instincts aroused by a kind of cuddly pink monster—shivers with ambiguities regarding not just the origin but the nature of the species. Aspen Mays, meanwhile, has an elegantly simple strategy for putting human existence in its cosmic context: he takes a perforator to photos of the heavens, punching holes wherever there's a star. The result? Rectangles consisting of almost nothing but absence.

Reception Thu 9/8, 5-7 PM. Continuing through 10/15: Mon-Wed and Fri-Sat 10 AM-5 PM, Thu 10 AM-8 PM, Sun noon-5 PM, Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 S. Michigan, 312-663-5554,, free.

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