Reference Rot at Chicago Artists Coalition

May 29 - June 16, 2015

featuring Maya Mackrandilal, Rachel E. Foster, and Ryan Thompson

essays and bios below

The Internet is by design a fluid, mutable space where one can surf and hyperlink at will, become inundated with images and information, and communicate with like-minded sub-groups across the planet.  And yet it remains, for all intents and purposes, a present-minded affair, with links from the past increasingly found to be missing, misleading, corroded, or obsolete.  This problem affects not just the casual consumer; it afflicts over half of Supreme Court files and over a quarter of scholarly articles.  “Reference rot”, as this predicament has been designated, occurs when a cited link exists but content on that page has changed or the information referenced is no longer present.  This situation is endemic to the ever-shifting, deteriorating nature of the Internet, to a Universe prone to entropy and disorder, and to artistic practices that engage history and attribution.

Rachel E. Foster has bounced and bobbled across the interweb to locate and capture thousands of artifacts that attest to our shared attempts at disseminating knowledge. She has catalogued these ghostly traces into a highly personal, idiosyncratic database that she draws from to create her artwork. For this show, Foster presents a suite of archival prints arranged archetypically to compromise a treatise on the difficulties of communication. The work’s title, Constellation, clues us into the considered relationship between the individual prints. But in the same way that stars are recruited and retrofitted to represent a mythological creature, we know that the connections offered are highly suspect, the result of one viewer’s imaginings. To assuage our skepticism, Foster also provides extra-textual information that may serve as a key to understanding each work but which operates as a unique cipher or cryptogram. So even with the Decoder Ring in hand, we are left somewhat in the dark looking for pinpricks of light to illuminate the references on view. The artist seems to be suggesting that knowing a subject requires more than just knowing the constituent thesis, and at the same time inviting us to create our own relationships and meanings with the dots provided.     

Belief is a key issue for Ryan Thompson, who investigates the curious character of Marcel Vogel. Once a highly successful research scientist at IBM with expertise in a luminescence and magnetics, Vogel went on to garner a cult following for his esoteric teachings on quartz crystals and plant consciousness. Vogel designed an iconic cut crystal form (the “Vogel-Cut”) and proselytized the healing powers of his nascent, occult science. Thompson undertakes to final evidentiary information and physical proof for Vogel’s claims by means of recreating the Vogel-Cut in various materials, scrutinizing eyewitness accounts, and restaging the mysteries surrounding the strange scientist-cum-supernaturalist’s proclamations. Thompson’s apt use of the courtroom sketch form provides tertiary evidence for those occurrences – twice removed from the actual events, they offer no more stable ground for examination than does his appropriated text that winds its way across the top of the gallery’s walls. For his part, Thompson remains resolute, refusing to give us a knowing wink or ironic shrug that would let us off the hook. Instead, we must contend with the odd scientist-occultist and draw our own conclusions.

For her part, Maya Mackrandilal seizes onto the centuries-old tension between East and West, drawing inspiration from Partha Mitter’s study of early Western reactions to Indian Art. He notes that European travelers encountering South Asian sculptures for the first time oftentimes described them as “monstrous” and projected a “demonic” iconography onto the work that was, in fact, absent from Hindu tradition. Mackrandilal draws on that history to enter into and inhabit the space of the Western imagination, enacting its nightmares by performing as incarnations of Hindu goddesses in a dominating, demonic relationship with cis-het-white men. She has performed for the camera to inhabit these fantasies and then worked back into the large prints with paint and collage elements. The resulting images are a pastiche of the past and present, a collision of “Western” and “Non-Western” artistic traditions, visual culture, and signifiers. By queering these conventional nightmares, updating them, decolonizing them, and entering into a dialogue with them, she asks us to broaden our imaginations to develop greater understanding and empathy, but also to accept debased, mongrelized imagery as necessary forms of critical engagement. 



Rachel E. Foster is an artist, writer, and printmaker living in Chicago. She has an MFA from the California College of the Arts and a BFA from Columbia College Chicago. Her work has been shown at the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Southern Exposure, and Western Exhibitions, amongst others.

Maya Mackrandilal creates trans-disciplinary work that reclaims and retells history, that treats storytelling (whether as a narrative or visual form) as a radical political action, one that embraces ambiguity, and imagines a more empathetic culture. She received her BA in Studio Art with a concentration in sculpture from the University of Virginia and her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is the recipient of an Aunspaugh Fellowship from the University of Virginia and a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship from the US Department of Education.

Ryan Thompson lives and works in Chicago, IL where he is an artist and Associate Professor of Art & Design at Trinity Christian College. His ongoing 'Department of Natural History’ engages a series of complex and often strange relationships produced when human forces collide with natural phenomena. Recent projects have been featured in Cabinet Magazine, ’Making the Geologic Now’ (Punctum Books, 2013), Format P Magazine, 'Reframing Photography' (Routledge, 2010), Esquire Magazine (Russia), and his recently published book, 'Bad Luck, Hot Rocks’ (The Ice Plant, 2014). His work has been exhibited at places such as: EYEBEAM (New York), Gallery Analix Forever (Geneva), Links Hall (Chicago), Evanston Art Center (Chicago), Root Division (San Francisco), Mila Kunstgalerie (Berlin), and Lease Agreement (Baltimore, MD).


Jaxon Pallas is an artist, archivist, curator, and educator primarily concerned with projects at the intersection of the personal, the popular, and the political. He organizes shows as curator for the City Colleges of Chicago under the name Pedestrian Project. His other projects include the Teen Creative Agency at MCA Chicago and the Institute for Encyclopedic Amalgamation. He earned a MFA from the University of Chicago and BA degrees from Rice University.