Noyes art show brings body-inspired works

Chris Kirk

The contributing artists of Evanston’s latest art exhibition, “Somatic,” color the walls of the Noyes Cultural Art Center with a variety of inspirations. Among them: blood cells, viruses, skin, cosmetic surgery and orange fungus.

The exhibition, which started on Nov. 18 at the art center, 927 Noyes St., is all about cells and the human body.

One piece, “Orange Jelly” by Renee Prisble Una, 33, has pieces of orange sweaters spread out in clusters across one wall of the exhibition, sometimes spreading to the ceiling and floor, or, as Una said, “violating the space.”

Una, a Chicago resident, said she took the inspiration from bright orange fungus she saw by an El stop near her house two years ago.

“I think that fungus is really interesting,” she said. “When you’re sort of in the forest and you come across a really interesting specimen, it’s always sort of this delight – ‘Oh, look at this crazy thing I found.'”

She took the material from sweaters collected from thrift stores, formed it into little stuffed balls and stuck them to the wall in clusters.

“I like the notion that it’s recycled, much like the fungus recycles organic materials,” she said.

In nearby displays, Lindsay Obermeyer’s bead embroideries of virus, blood and cancer cells glint in the hallway light.

Obermeyer, 43, said her artwork reflects her struggles with cancer. She was first diagnosed with the disease when she was seven years old, and later battled thyroid cancer at age 25.

“A lot of my work revolves around the concept of medicine, medical ethics, how the body is imaged,” she said.

She said her virus embroideries often evoke conflicting impressions.

“When you look at them, they’re really beautiful, you know?” she said. “They have this kind of double-edged feeling to them.”

Obermeyer said she used beads for metaphorical reasons. “Bead” means “prayer” or “hope” in Old English, she said. Further, tiny beads coated with radiation are increasingly used to administer chemotherapy directly to cancer cells as a non-invasive therapy, she said.

Similarly, Una offers a beeswax molding of bones she calls “Scoliosis” – an expression of her struggles with the disease.

“I’m always amazed at how people can take a material and turn it into something, you know, that has a meaning,” said Evanston resident Barbara Blades, 71, examining Una’s piece.

Finally, artist Loni Diep presents paper kimonos representing cosmetic surgeries like facelifts, acne treatments and eyelash tinting.

For example, one kimono representing waxing is full of steel wool “hair,” with strips of it missing, Curator Chie Curley said.

For Curley, who has been curating exhibitions at the arts center with Barbara Goldsmith since 1983, part of the fun of art is getting inside the artist’s head and seeing how that translates into artwork.

“That’s what’s so interesting for me – to get to know what’s going on in their mind and what led up to the work that they do, which is quite extraordinary,” Curley said.

The exhibition is open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The exhibit ends Jan. 10, 2010.[email protected]