Not long ago, visual art was mostly seen but not heard, while performances were much louder and occurred on a stage. Now visual art often includes performances, although two current shows take different approaches to that end. Karoline Schleh and Christopher Deris' expo looks very domestic, with a dining room table set for dinner and Chippendale cabinets bristling with curiosities including Schleh's drawings and modified Victorian graphics and such. All are very quiet until a crank or switch is flipped, and then they whirl and pirouette like a mechanical version of the Mad Hatter's tea party, all of which is aptly described by the title Bobbery — a Victorian synonym for "hubbub." Deris' gear-and-pulley mechanisms also look Victorian, animated perhaps by the ghost of Rube Goldberg, as they compel even the most quiescent of media to perform for us.
Quiet is far from the case at Parse, where Wesley Stokes' Caligula paintings and videos appear on the walls, while a floor scattered with little broken busts and concrete shards suggests a mini-imperial ruin. A series of sound performances by Philip Kruse, Philippe Andre Landry, Justin Benoit and Michael Jeffrey Lee, as well as a performance by Chicago artist Elijah Burgher about occult symbolism, rounded out the schedule. Using the crazy and cruelly decadent legacy of Roman emperor Caligula as a foil, Stokes suggests multiple connections between the classical world and the present in stark abstract canvases rendered in asphalt that suggest scorched earth while harkening back to Robert Rauschenberg's black paintings and George Brassai's graffiti photographs. Dark and dusky videos of dive bars and sinister figures with eerie soundtracks round out an intermingling of the raw and the refined in an installation that slowly reveals its Plutonic essence while suggesting both the power of decadence and the decadence of power. — D. Eric Bookhardt