Laura Shill's "Future Self-Storage" celebrates end of COVID — The Know
Laura Shill wants to give you a place to come together, a space to be in the same room with others after so much distance and isolation, to look each other in the eyes and mouth, to breathe, maybe to hug an old friend.
Her “Future Self-Storage” is a comfort chamber of an exhibition, full of softness and ease, but also raw recognition of how the global coronavirus pandemic — finally fading, if only in this part of the world — challenged us to stay human.
What do we need now as whatever new normal emerges? Shill answers with thousands of long, fleshy, fiber-filled tubes that hang from ceilings and bunch up on floors, that ooze over desks and out of cabinetry, that curl and wind and intertwine.
What are they? In one sense, plush toys for the weary that visitors are permitted to squeeze, reminding them of the human need for touch.
If you go
“Future Self Storage” continues through June 19 at Leon Gallery, 1112 E. 17th Ave. It’s free. Info at 303-832-1599 or leongallery.org.
In another sense, they are almost human themselves. Sometimes they look like intestines. Other times they are 20-foot-long phallic symbols. Like a lot of objects in this show, they are the same shades of pink as the intimate places where the insides of our bodies open to the outside world. Shill’s investigations of the corporal world fully acknowledge sexuality.
A prominent Denver artist for a decade now, Shill has used these tubes in other exhibitions over the years. They have become a trademark of sorts that she keeps in storage and brings out when they can be configured with new meanings. Friends often help her make them, sewing any pink-ish fabric they can find into cylinders and snaking foam inside.
They will go back into where ever she stores them after this exhibition at Leon Gallery, and that’s one reason for the exhibit’s odd name.
But the show also addresses the larger self and where we head after the trauma we’ve all been through since the world shut down in March 2020, beginning a year-plus period when we stopped physically connecting with each other as much as possible.
With “Future Self-Storage,” Shill reveals aspects of her own journey during that time. It’s a hyper-personal tale that has her using, among other things, plaster casts of her own hand, again and again, as a prop.
Sometimes the hands are poised and controlled. Other times they appear to be reaching for something. One piece, titled “Divergent Goals,” is simply two disembodied arms, connected at the shoulder, that stretch, achingly, in opposite directions. It’s a strikingly beautiful object that is also painful to look at — the self, struggling to get away from itself.
That, in a sense, emerges as the theme of this show, the juggling of internal conflicts we all faced during a time when the world itself was so conflicted. We were all, in a sense, in storage during the pandemic and dealing with conflict in our own ways.
Shill manifests this journey of the human vessel with actual vessels: clay vases, urns, jars and pots in various sizes and shapes. On several of them, she has placed actual faces — eyes, lips, noses and eyebrows. Make no mistake, they are stand-ins for actual human beings.
For the most part, they are under duress, sweating or crying or oozing droplets of some fluid or other. There’s a sense of things trying to escape from confinement — even from themselves. In some pieces, that goes beyond symbolic as actual arms and hands reach out of or around the vessels. It’s an easy idea to relate to in a time when the feeling of pandemic imprisonment remains so fresh.
To me, Shill has always been something of a surrealist in her object-making, and she exhibits that side fully with this show. The pieces are full of imagination and delusion and unbounded concepts of time and space.
On two of the gallery walls, she arranges those fleshy tubes into arches, architectural elements that invite people to navigate from one space into the next. But behind the arches, she has painted brick walls blocking off the ability to pass through. These pieces are titled “Path to the Future,” but it’s clear there is nowhere to go.
Another piece, titled “Clown’s Day Off,” appears to be a clown swimming in a brick pattern painted on the gallery floor. The only body parts visible are the back of a red-haired head, a pair of feet and a bare behind. It’s illogical and uncomfortable, but it’s also funny.
Little bits of humor like this pop up throughout “Future Self-Storage” and, emotionally speaking, they save the day.
Sometimes they come in the form of broad comedy: little feet pop out at the bottom of pots; vases hug themselves. Other times, they are sophomoric: a stuffed teddy bear pukes pink tubes into a messy pile; one of the phallic pieces, with a hand wrapped around it, explodes in ecstasy.
These are crucial moments that add levity to a show that can feel quite emotional. Without a few chuckles, “Future Self-Storage” would be a difficult journey.
As much as Shill wants it to be therapeutic and celebratory, she realizes that catharsis has to come with an acknowledgment of the damage done over the past year. Hurt, frustration and helplessness are part of this show. So is mental anguish. Anyone who felt their grasp on reality fading during deep isolation will relate to this display.
Ultimately, though, those things are only part of “Future Self-Storage.” They don’t define it as much as they complete a picture that captures the troubles and triumphs of our recent shared experiences. This exhibit of bits and pieces, new and old, manages astonishing depth.
And, it ends, gratefully, with hope. If you are still standing in May 2021, still breathing, here is a place to pat yourself on the back for making it through, and a space to congratulate your fellow earthlings for doing the same. Gather some friends, take off your masks, and go see it.
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