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The Warehouse of Disbelief

Tuesday, August 23, 2005–Saturday, September 17, 2005

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In The Warehouse of Disbelief, Chicago artist David Wolf transforms Gallery 400 into a space that alludes to a storeroom, a construction site, and a backstage. Wolf alters the walls, ceiling, and lighting of the gallery, while stockpiling the space with such objects as scaffolding, ladders, crates, boxes, barrels, cable, and rope. This project challenges visitors to address a situation that is simultaneously fictional and true, artifice and reality—one that implicates visitors in a narrative, yet resists fantasy. Incorporating themes of re-use, adaptation, and appropriation of space, this project harkens back to the gallery’s origins as a grocery store, re-imagining its utility as a warehouse for material that slides between quotidian and artistic states.

As Chloe Johnston writes in her essay on the exhibit:

But are we to understand that there is an actual theatrical stage, somewhere beyond the walls that contain this warehouse? Yes, there is a performance space, but no, it is not a theater. This confusion is in evidence particularly in the use of sound. Throughout the space we hear noises, which seem to be the sounds of the rest of the building, the “onstage.” Yet we can see that they are actually coming from CD players in the warehouse. As an artist who goes back and forth between the institutions of theatrical performance and the institutions of visual art, David is asking us to look at the objects of stagecraft as though they were objects in a gallery, to study their materiality, as opposed to their manipulation. He turns a visual arts experience into a performing arts experience, only to turn those conventions on their collective head. The installation asks us to read it as a whole, as opposed to analyzing each detail. We are to think about the mise en scène as opposed to the formal realities of the assemblage.

David Wolf is a 2005 MFA graduate from the University of Chicago, where he received a Festival of the Arts Project Grant, a Summer Fine Arts Fellowship, and a Committee on Visual Arts Graduate Fellowship. His work has been exhibited locally at 4Art Inc. (2004) and The Franke Institute for the Humanities (2004). He has worked extensively providing technical direction and creating scenic design for Chicago theaters since 1998. The exhibition will be accompanied by an artist talk.

The Warehouse of Disbelief was commissioned as one of the projects in the 2005 At the Edge: Innovative Art in Chicago
series.

EXHIBITION CHECKLIST

David Wolf

The Warehouse of Disbelief, 2005
Mixed media installation

EXHIBITION SUPPORT

The Warehouse of Disbelief is supported by the College of Architecture and the Arts, University of Illinois at Chicago, and a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.

Special thanks to the jury that selected the 2005 At the Edge projects: Tricia Van Eck (Associate Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago), Marc Fischer (artist), Julia Fish (artist and University of Illinois at Chicago faculty member), and Lorelei Stewart (Director, Gallery 400), and Barb Wiesen (Director, Gahlberg Gallery at College of DuPage).

PRINT COLLATERAL

Postcard: Untitled Project: Dumpster, The Warehouse of Disbelief – Opening Reception, Gallery Talk

PRESS RELEASE

David Wolf
The Warehouse of Disbelief

Gallery 400
Chicago, IL
An At the Edge: Innovative Art in Chicago project
August 23–September 17, 2005

Opening Reception: Wednesday, August 24, 2005, 5–8 pm
Artist Talk: Wednesday, August 31, 2005, 4 pm

In The Warehouse of Disbelief, Chicago artist David Wolf transforms Gallery 400 into a space that alludes to a storeroom, a construction site, and a backstage. Altering the walls, ceiling, and lighting of the gallery while stockpiling the space with such objects as scaffolding, ladders, crates, boxes, barrels, and rope, Wolf pushes visitors to address a situation that is simultaneously fictional and true, artifice and reality; one that implicates visitors in a narrative, yet resists fantasy. Incorporating themes of re-use, adaptation, and appropriation of space, this project harkens back to the gallery’s origins as a grocery store, re-imagining its utility as a warehouse for material that slides between quotidian and artistic states.

ARTIST BIOGRAPHY

Place Holder Image Square 225x225David Wolf has received a Festival of the Arts Project Grant, a Summer Fine Arts Fellowship, and a Committee on Visual Arts Graduate Fellowship. His work has been exhibited in Chicago at 4Art Inc. and Franke Institute for the Humanities. He has worked extensively providing technical direction and creating scenic design for Chicago theaters since 1998. Currently, Wolf lives and works in Chicago as both a musician and and artist. He works on art projects with Material Exchange and makes tunes with Daylight Robbery. David Wolf received an MFA in 2005 from University of Chicago.

EXHIBITION ESSAY

David Wolf’s The Warehouse of Disbelief

Chloe Johnston

“Just to copy reality isn ’t enough; reality needs not only to be recognized but also be understood. The scenery accordingly must have artistic merit and give evidence of an individual handwriting. Wit and imagination on the stage designer ’s part are specifically welcome in comedy” (1).
–Bertolt Brecht, from Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic, edited and translated by John Willett, New York: Hill and Wang, 1957, 233.

You sit very still, and think about all the words you ’re about to say. You try to imagine what ’s waiting for you out there, based on what you think you can hear, coming from the space just beyond what you can see. You need to stay hidden, to preserve the illusion—if you can see them, they can see you. How many people will be looking at you? Will they like you? Will their attention wander? Will they stay awake? Will tonight be a night when you succeed? That relationship you are about to enter, the relationship between audience and performer, is born and reborn each time you leave backstage. Each performance is a reinvention, each relationship renegotiated. As with all relationships, there ’s no guarantee. It is exciting, because here among the refuse is possibility. The moment before an entrance, life consists of potential.

Always, the backstage is less beautiful than the onstage. You are leaning against the poles that hold up the set, wading through the sawdust no one has had the time to clean up. And why would they? No one will see it from the audience. There are clues, words painted on the sides of boxes: “Amsterdam,” “witch,” “werther,” “opera: medium and beer,” “one hour.” There are objects with obvious uses (a container labeled “black scrim”) and objects with meaning only for the initiated (a box embossed with “OTIS”). There are as many different backstages as there are sets. Such scenes invite and resist their own narrative, as they are wholly the function of an unseen narrative. The green saran wrap might remain a mystery.

David Wolf has worked not only as a sculptor and visual artist but also as a theatrical designer and builder. I know him primarily in that capacity. Over the years, through various projects, I have seen him develop a body of work in which each endeavor in one field borrows heavily from the other—both philosophically and literally. The Warehouse of Disbelief exists between the two, situated in an art gallery, but full of visual jokes and references for those of us familiar with life backstage. Some of these references are obvious to anyone (a basket of curtains) and some are more specialized (the shapes of various hand props, outlined in masking tape on a table.) Like a stagehand, you find yourself surrounded by things that seem to be a function of what you don ’t see. Objects burst through walls, but with no explanation or obvious use. Other walls are covered—but it is unclear what they are being protected from. It raises the question: is there an onstage? What is this the back of?

During a recent rehearsal process, David and I were talking about oranges. They were being used in this performance as a metaphor for love, as instruments of nursing, as representatives of wounded bodies. They were tossed from actor to actor, rolled across the stage, stomped on, and peeled lovingly. “If you ’re going to use an orange onstage, at some point someone needs to eat it,” David finally said. And I think he ’s right. As a theatrical designer, David is always concerned with the materials of stagecraft. So many designers understand the materials they are working with only in terms of how they can manipulate them into representing other forms. David wants you to acknowledge the orange. His theatrical designs exist with the performance, not in service of it. His choices call attention to themselves, without calling attention to the artist who created them. In this way, he de-emphasizes the utilitarian nature of the sets he designs, and thus blurs the lines between onstage and offstage.

This questioning of such distinctions is jokingly addressed even in the title of the installation, The Warehouse of Disbelief. In traditional theater, people often speak of the concept of the “suspension of disbelief.” In the most literal interpretation, the audience is asked to enter the world of the performance by accepting that the actor before them IS Hamlet, at least for the next three hours. More generally, one might understand the concept the way we understand imagery in any art form—as metaphoric and representative within the terms of the art we are experiencing. Either way, there is something striking about the phrasing, “suspension of disbelief.” You could think of it as though disbelief was an activity, something we engage in until asked to suspend our activities. Or even better, you could think of it as an object that we carry around with us in our daily lives, a protective amulet that we hang on a hook outside the entrance to a theater, to hang limply, unused during the time the performers are onstage, to be picked up only after the curtain falls. It is the thing that keeps us from believing what we see onstage is real. David ’s warehouse is an assemblage of all the things that would give lie to the reality of what ’s onstage. The evidence of its fakeness. This warehouse contains the disbelief and the remnants of the activities and objects that render that disbelief suspendable.

But are we to understand that there is an actual theatrical stage, somewhere beyond the walls that contain this warehouse? Yes, there is a performance space, but no, it is not a theater. This confusion is in evidence particularly in the use of sound. Throughout the space, we hear noises which seem to be the sounds of the rest of the building, the “onstage.” Yet we can see that they are actually coming from CD players in the warehouse. As an artist who goes back and forth between the institutions of theatrical performance and the institutions of visual art, David is asking us to look at the objects of stagecraft as though they were objects in a gallery, to study their materiality, as opposed to their manipulation. He turns a visual arts experience into a performing arts experience, only to turn those conventions on their collective head. The installation asks us to read it as a whole, as opposed to analyzing each detail. We are to think about the mise en scène as opposed to the formal realities of the assemblage.

When I first visited The Warehouse of Disbelief, someone said to me, “the actors are missing.” The obvious response to this observation is that you, the viewer, are the actor. Certainly you might feel that way if you walked into the one empty corner in the room, with bright lights trained on you and a clean backdrop as frame. Indeed, you must stand there if you want to take in the entire sight at once—as long as you can see past the bright light in your eyes. But I would argue that in this warehouse, the viewer is merely an interloper, an audience member who accidentally took a wrong turn and wandered backstage. Nothing has been put here for their viewing benefit, they are merely getting a peak at the flip side of the performance.

1. Bertolt Brecht, Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic, edited and translated by John Willett, New York: Hill and Wang, 1957, 233.

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Chloe Johnston, David Wolf’s The Warehouse of Disbelief, August, 2005.

This essay was distributed in the gallery during the run of the exhibition.