LVL3, a contemporary art gallery in Wicker Park, unveiled its latest group exhibition April 5 called “Tropical Depression,” which features the work of Chicago-based artists Kate Ruggeri, Nicholas Rummler, Laura Hart Newlon and Kate O’Neill.
Gallery director Vincent Uribe said in selecting the artists, the gallery partnered with Chicago’s ACRE Residency, a non-profit organization with a residency in Steuben, Wis. As part of the program, each resident is offered an opportunity to exhibit his or her work in a Chicago gallery.
“We do a partnership with [ACRE Residency] every year,” Uribe said. “After selecting four out of their hundreds of residents from the previous year, we then curate a show based off the artist statements we receive.”
The show’s concept derived from the work of collaborative duo O’Neill and Hart Newlon. Uribe said the two had already begun exploring the idea of a tropical depression, which is the first stage in the development of a hurricane.
Marked by heavy winds and rain, a tropical depression is similar to the calm and cluttered nature of an artist, Uribe said. This is the relationship he wanted to convey in the show.
O’Neill and Hart Newlon said they have collaborated since graduating from the School of the Art Institute, where they now teach a class together on exploratory research practices. They began creating work inspired by tropical depressions after both attended the ACRE Residency last summer, O’Neill said.
In order to expand upon this theme, O’Neill said she looked back on her childhood in the subtropics of Florida, while Hart Newlon revisited her anthropological background of researching tourism and imagery from exotic places.
“The idea of tropical depression began as a creative prompt, but eventually transformed into a more focused project, including the pieces we have on display at LVL3,” Hart Newlon said. “The idea of malaise that comes with hot regions, and the fraught and violent history behind the tropical zone all felt very compelling, like fertile territory for us to explore.”
Much of their displayed work at LVL3 highlights the Papasan chair, which Hart Newlon said not only visually resembles the circular swirling of a tropical depression, but also has a rich history in tourism within tropical regions. This manifested into the form of an inkjet poster that features a white Papasan chair placed over a vintage-looking tropical jungle print and a neon pink urethane rubber sculpture that looks like a warped adaptation of the traditional Papasan structure.
“The project was a combination of research and experimenting with different materials through a traditional collaborative process,” O’Neill said. “We both worked on the same piece together, rather than in separate studios.”
Ruggeri, a School of the Art Institute alumnus and recently accepted into Yale’s MFA Painting Program, said she approached the show’s concept by analyzing the words, “tropical,” and, “depression,” when placed side-by-side. Her sculptures’ bright colors and grungy use of discarded materials suggest a similar juxtaposition of something optimistic such as the tropics with something dark like depression, she said.
“Lately I’ve been creating my work very intuitively,” Ruggeri said. “These unusual materials have really been a driving force for me. I like to use things I can react to and rework like an exercise ball or recycled futon.”
Uribe said “Tropical Depression” represents how different artists approach the same theme. Although all four of the exhibitors had participated in the ACRE Residency, he said they hadn’t met or seen each other’s work prior to the gallery opening.
“All of our shows at LVL3 are group shows, so we try to establish connections between artists who don’t know each other,” Uribe said. “Our mission is to spark collaborative work and use this gallery as a starting point for networking between artists.”