Of This Place, Or Thereabouts: Robert Chase Heishman & Megan Schvaneveldt at Roots & Culture

When entering Of This Place, Or Thereabouts: New Work by Robert Chase Heishman & Megan Schvaneveldt at Roots & Culture Contemporary Art Center in Chicago, one is immediately reminded of an immortal quandary; where’s the party? For Heishman & Schvaneveldt; there is indeed a party and all viewers are in attendance. Heishman and Schvaneveldt attended school together; effectively forming the basis of a comfortable kinship which is most apparent in their collaborative videos but permeates all aspects of the exhibition.

Taken as a whole, Of This Place reads as an event, a game, that thrived on subverting the act of observation into one of participation. Schvaneveldt’s kisses anonymous treasure (2012), an emphatic X formed out of acrylic paint and routed in plywood, recalls childhood hunts for treasure and rounds of tic-tac-toe. In the first alcove, a dulcet falcetto Justin Timberlake croons his recent single, Mirrors, in Heishman & Schvaneveldt’s collaborative video piece Ibid for Chris Naka (2013). The screen first depicts an antiseptic setting, empty except for a child’s whirly-gig and gently undulating streamers. The scene ends when Heishman exits and an assemblage of flowers, pearls, one shoe and a skull take his place. While a small mirror positioned across from an untitled piece composed of an inflatable saxophone amidst a field of aqua blue paint initially conjured a Kenny G-esque music video of my own design, I soon realized that its presence also served to heighten my own awareness of my actions and interactions within confines of the exhibition.

These musings on the nature of the spectator turn concrete with Heishman’s IMG #12 and Schvaneveldt’s Breezeway. Comparable to a well choreographed ballet, Heishman delves into the contours and contrast of physicality while Schvaneveldt provides a tactile response to Heishman’s call for movement and oscillation. Heishman’s IMGs utilize arresting digital images of still lifes and layer them with rippling lines of colored tape. The latent dichotomy between the stillness of the objects and the linear movement of the tape gives the works an air of rupture and change. Such qualities of transformation provide the continuity needed to view Schvaneveldt’s Fringe, Golden and torso. Schvaneveldt plays with the same concepts of movement and construction as Heishman but does so within the self-imposed boundaries of various tactile materials. Fringe related a figure composed of string, akin to a chandelier, against the solid foreground of plywood. In turn, Golden reaffirmed the thrill of seeking and discovery through the small sliver of gold that protrudes from a complex menagerie of sources shaped into forms resembling puzzle pieces.

The concepts of puzzles and riddles intensifies in Heishman and Schvaneveldt’s second collaborative video, entitled Ibid, which begins with two pairs of hands on a black screen that begin swinging a flood light back and forth as twinkling lights slowly illuminated the frame. As the room lightens in seeming anticipation of an impending instance, a horde of balloons descend from the ceiling in a burst of color, deconstructed and then reset by the ever-present hands. Near the video was an immense message, Untitled, composed entirely of emojis including images of two men, pursed lips, a credit card, the earth, a magic eight ball, a shocked face, a cat and a single martini. This message’s inventive pursuit of the re-contextualization of sign within a gallery setting also functioned as a unique means by which Heishman and Schvaneveldt introduced a narrative thread into the exhibition. While viewers may differ on the accessibility or pertinence of a tale of chance, love, money, bad luck and alcohol constructed by the ideograms of text messaging, it is a story everyone to some extent has once experienced – and because this shared experience is built on the reflections and reverberations of a dialogue built from the act of viewing, such an insight allows one to appreciate the subtlety of Of This Place.

The final two pieces in the exhibition are only visible from outside. The first piece I happened across was by both Heishman and Schvaneveldt and consisted of several spinning white pom-poms kept aloft by fans positioned on the ground. Interestingly, the second piece was an untitled work created by the artist Mathew Joynt with the same skull, flower, pearl and shoe assemblage that recurred throughout the exhibition and bound the expansive package of sight and sound Of This Place provided. The return of these signs served to emphasize the fact that the games of the artists and viewer had come full circle, furnishing this place with the potency of life curiously lived.



Of This Place, Or Thereabouts: New Work by Robert Chase Heishman & Megan Schvaneveldt was on view at Roots & Culture Contemporary Art Center in Chicago, IL September 13 – October 12, 2013. 

Images courtesy of Roots & Culture.

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