Stills | Art Institute of Chicago | Museums | Chicago Reader

Stills Recommended Image Closing (Theater and Galleries)

When: Oct. 16-Jan. 4 2015

On January 23, 1964, a 27-year-old laborer named Jerry Hollins, recently released from jail on a disorderly conduct charge, leaped from a 92-foot-high decorative ledge inside the rotunda of Chicago's old Federal Building. News photographers documented the suicide attempt, which was thwarted by firefighters who managed to catch the jumper in a net. One of those shots—a warped image in which Hollins, falling feet first toward the ground while holding his topcoat over his head like a parachute, is barely perceptible—became source material for Sarah Charlesworth's superbly unsettling series featuring excerpted photos of people hurtling through the air after leaping from buildings. Initially shown in abbreviated form in 1980 at the New York apartment/gallery of Tony Shafrazi, "Stills" now includes 14 images, six of which are never-before-exhibited pieces that Charlesworth created before her death last year. As an analysis of mass-media imagery, one with added impact given incidental associations with 9/11 photographs such as The Falling Man, "Stills" seems less interested in the jumpers pictured as in the pictures themselves—Charlesworth's prints are, after all, photos of photos that she found at the library or pulled from news wires, greatly enlarged, and mounted (in most cases) with the torn, ragged edges of a clipping. The person's name and the location are the most context given; some don't offer even that much info. And while cropping and enlargement has made the original shots more abstract—for the most part the subjects are either blurry or appear in silhouette—the human scale lends each work a universal resonance. Taking in the individual jumpers suspended between a ledge and the ground, it's scary how easy it is to relate. Gravity pulls all of us toward the inevitable end. —Jake Malooley

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