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UICA's "Utopia/Dystopia" tries to see into the future

Though the UICA's latest exhibit has fewer pieces on display, it's still well worth a visit.

"Glimmer" /Laurel Green

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UICA hours of operation

Tuesday–Thursday | 5–9 p.m.
Friday–Saturday | 12–9 p.m.
Sunday | 12–7 p.m.
Monday Closed

"Relics: Morals of Utopia"

"Relics: Morals of Utopia" /Laurel Green

"Complete Pilgrimage"

"Complete Pilgrimage" /Laurel Green

I’m usually blown away by the shows at the UICA, but compared with the strengths of some of their past shows, their current exhibit “Utopia/Dystopia” falls a little flat.

Comprised of 13 pieces spread throughout four floors, this exhibit gives way to significantly more negative space within the museum itself. Much of the display space, which in the past has been put to use in remarkably innovative and unusual ways, has been left empty or blank.

Additionally, I found that some of the work less effectively communicates the utopic/dystopic theme. What is effectively communicated is a more general futuristic sense throughout the show.

“The artists whose work is included in "Utopia/Dystopia" seem to recognize that, in a very real sense, the future is always here,” says the UICA’s description of “Utopia/Dystopia. ”The form it will take is visible in our present day world.”

This statement more generally encompasses the mood of the show than the exhibit’s title. Even if it’s in a less literal sense, all the work exudes a sense of passing time or a projection of what might come to pass in some future world.

And the work within the exhibit really is exceptional. As usual, the UICA has managed to bring in great talent to put on a show. Most of the work is both well executed and engaging. I just continually wished there was more of it.

Part of what leant itself to that recurring feeling was the separation of the exhibit into two sections. On the one hand we have the ground floor and the lower level, while the rest of the show was found on the fourth and fifth floors.

I understand there’s not much to be done about that separation since it’s just the nature of the building’s distribution of space, but in past exhibits like “Urbanity”, excellent use has been made of the stairwell. I feel like utilizing that space and height could have served as a binding agent between the show’s two separate areas.

It is worth mentioning that there were two pieces in the show that did successfully implement the title into the work itself. Gerard di Falco’s “Relics: Morals of Utopia” lines the ramp leading to the movie theater’s exit. The piece is comprised of dozens of mini altars that appear to have been made with found objects and scraps. The more natural elements some of them utilize (bones, talons, teeth) project a sort of survivalist, “return to a simpler time” future.

I found myself reading the piece in a more dystopic vein, but the fact that it brought the title in at all became gratifying for me. I will also say that I think it’s a very strong piece to have at the beginning of the show. If the viewer spends enough time with it, it sets an immersive tone for the whole exhibit. It leads the viewer seamlessly to Erik Waterkotte’s pieces “Chimera” and “Inverse Incandescence,” which are just around the corner.

Soo Shin is another artist whose work embodies the show’s title. “Complete Pilgrimage” is a very large sheet of unstretched canvas. Right in the middle is a small, traditional arched rainbow. Right below it is its direct reflection, painted entirely in black.

It’s such a simplistic interpretation of “Utopia/Dystopia” that I couldn’t help but love it. It’s a very clean piece, and its lack of complication not only has a certain charm to it, but makes it compelling to look at.

The most notable piece outside of those two is Scott Andrew and Jonathan Armistead’s collaboration “Glimmer” on the fourth floor. This piece was particularly striking at night. They’ve constructed a large crystal, made out of reflective glass. The crystal rotates in the middle of the floor (right under where “Song of Lift” was during ArtPrize) while lights from the ceiling systematically shine on it. This creates a mesmerizing effect on the walls as shards of light drift across them.

I probably sat and watched this piece for a solid 20 minutes. Seeing it at night was particularly hypnotic. I liked how abstract it was. It felt like a piece that would allow any viewer to just sit and contemplate what it brings up for each of them personally.

While sitting with the piece, I interpreted the chaos of an unknown future as I watched the random specks of light moving around the room.

Other interesting pieces include Erik Waterkott’s work, which I mentioned before. His installations become more about the relationship of light to images, and remains all the more interesting for it. Michael Kozien’s “Neon Promise,” which is visible from the street, is great. And Chris McGinnis’ installation “Greenhouse II: Stalagmites” is one of the few interactive pieces, and could potentially keep a viewer occupied for hours.

Overall, despite the few gripes I have, “Utopia/Dystopia” is still very much worth seeing. As with everything the UICA does, it’s clear a lot of care and creativity went into this exhibit. It’s probably telling about the quality of the show when the root of my biggest criticism is that I wish there was more work in the show.

“Utopia/Dystopia” runs at the UICA until February 10.

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