Message in a Bottle Cork

Circular Reasoning
1-5pm Sat and by
Through Mar 2
Closing reception: 7-10pm Mar 2
Unit B Gallery
500 Stieren Street
(312) 375-1871
Have you ever considered the astonishing variety of bottle corks that are out there? Most people haven’t really given it much thought. A throwaway cork is just too mundane. But Jason Hedges has.

“I had been saving corks for a while,” Hedges said at the January 26 opening for Unit B’s current exhibition, Circular Reasoning. To him, each cork represented a memorable event — a birthday, a wedding, maybe just a casual get-together with friends — and some not-so-happy memories as well. When he had enough corks, he put them together randomly and glued them on a wooden panel measuring about 2 feet by 2 feet. The collected memories on that small wooden panel are as personal as a diary, so that piece isn’t for sale. But Hedges liked the concept, and wanted to blow it up.

Proving you can find anything for sale on the internet, he located a guy who was selling thousands of used wine and champagne bottle corks on eBay — enough for a wooden panel measuring 6 feet square.

“These corks are from everything from very cheap wines, costing less than $5, to wines costing $1,000,” Hedges said.

The 6,500 corks carpet the surface of the wood, dazzling the eye with their random array of colors, materials, sizes, and insignias. They also have a direct connection with the lives of thousands of people. This literal connection reminded me of one of the most haunting images I’ve seen of the Jewish Holocaust: waist-high crates filled with victims’ wedding bands. Each ring represented a lost life, a lost love, a small twig in a forest of living dreams and aspirations that were burned, crushed, and snuffed by the combined forces of stupidity, cowardice, and evil.

This exhibition, by contrast, is all about the art of the mundane. But if the corks are loaded with far less meaning and drama than a wedding ring, “Corks #1” still works on literal and aesthetic levels.

At the opening, Hedges fired up his glass and metal sculpture, “Double Still.” Its twin rounded flasks of red and white wine were heated to boiling with propane torches, slowly producing distilled grappa in smaller glass chambers.

He also set up twin grills in Unit B’s front yard for an equally symmetrical (and vaguely political) conceptual piece called “Left Wing, Right Wing, Chicken Wing.”

Visitors eating the chicken and drinking the grappa could reflect on Hedges’ pen-and-ink “Yeast #4,” which traces living yeast cells at a cellular level. Oenophiles like Hedges are very familiar with the magic that all those yeast cells perform during the fermentation process, and their kamikaze life mission: to produce ethanol from glucose.

“Pure ethanol is poisonous to any and all living things,” says Hedges. As soon as the yeast succeed in producing enough ethanol — about 14 percent or so — “they all die,” but, presumably, in a very pleasant way.

Natalia Benedetti also invites visitors to gaze at scarcely noticed everyday phenomena with her video “Love Dust.” Her camera captures sunlit dust particles passing through a beam of sunshine coming through a crack in a red velvet curtain.

The particles swirl and sway, free from the bonds of gravity, like semi-buoyant particles in a fluid. They are strangely beautiful, and it’s easy to get mesmerized watching them.

Tao Rey brings our attention to another oft-seen but rarely contemplated element of our daily experience: the street sign.

His sign, anchored with sand bags by the curb in front of the gallery, instructs the viewer to “Know You Know,” and reminds the viewer on the opposite side that “Life is Full of Signs.”

Michael Vasquez’s two oil paintings, “Over Time I Fit Right In” and “Two Times for 29th & Tha Cayne,” are impressive — gangsta scenes captured in classically powerful brushstrokes. Neither, however, fits right in with this exhibition’s celebration of the mundane.


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