Tucker Rae-Grant—who devises better rituals;
dado—who is good at making problems;
Danny Volk—who is here to help you;
Jinn Bronwen Lee—who makes in order to see;
Ramyar Vala—who created a place to sit and contemplate.
As exhibition titles go, Funeral for Ortolan tugs the heartstrings, and it’s a tight metaphor. A petite bird of 21 grams, Ortolan is endangered and an opulent appetizer. Trapped in a small cage, in darkness, the Ortolan blindly overeats until it is fattened, then is drowned in brandy and baked whole and eaten whole. Omnivore Anthony Bourdain described eating the French dish thusly: “I bring my molars down and through my bird’s rib cage with a wet crunch and am rewarded with a scalding hot rush of burning fat and guts down my throat.” And then: “As I swallow, I draw in the head and beak, which, until now, have been hanging from my lips, and blithely crush the skull.” Ortolan is famously eaten beneath the secrecy of a napkin placed over one’s head. The grotesque ritual punctuates whatever a flying bird signifies.
The Ortolan makes for an incisive mascot, but the exhibition smells of another French invention: Structuralism. This sociological philosophy, turned into a practice, drives the five artists’ work in the show, packed into the U of C’s art school and the Logan’s gallery as cozy as a bird in a box that’s stimulated till it’s ready to burst. Structuralism, although many times decluttered, has been adapted as a working method by these artists. The five-artist reprise of Structuralism is characterized by their mapping of parameters, their construction of contraptions, their setting into motion of systems, and seeing how they produce, exhaust, solve, or evolve. The potent rituals of art education and group exhibitions are preparatory acts that flourish in hermetically sealed conditions in order to manufacture new symbols and symbol systems. Present are these qualities in the group work, even if each artist’s destination remains individual.
But, as much as Structuralism is a world-making procedure, artists tend to make problems. It’s why we need them—to build better problems. Indeed, a system is a perfect place for things to get rattled. Funeral for Ortolan is full of productive problems, uneasy solutions, and challenges to routine behaviors. The artists have written their recipes to grow your own paradoxes and devour them.
Jason Foumberg is Chicago Magazine’s art critic, and associate editor at Newcity. He writes about contemporary Chicago art for Frieze, Artforum.com, Photograph, Art Papers, and Art in America. Jason has a BA in the History of Art and Architecture from the University of California, Santa Barbara (2004), and an MA in Modern Art History, Theory, and Criticism from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2006).