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ABCD 83 makes visual breakthrough with More or Less

Using a combination of sculptural installation, music and video projection the Chicago-based ABCD 83 pushes the boundaries of conceptual art.
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The Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA) is playing host to a variety of intriguing and innovative pieces for ArtPrize this year, but none of them caught and held my attention as completely as ABCD 83’s piece, "More or Less." During my visit I almost missed it completely because I had already seen all the pieces I’d heard about beforehand. So, knowing we had to get back to our parking meter, I almost left the building without going downstairs at all, but my counterpart insisted we head down just in case.

Once we were on the lower level we were drawn toward the back of the space by a giant, cartoon-like bird made out of found objects that had been mounted on the wall. The bird is surrounded by dozens of other objects, some of which are also on the walls  while some hang from the ceiling. All of them have price tags dangling from them in what is meant to be a  “simultaneously obscene and brutally honest” illustration of the commodification of art.

“The price tags on parts of the installation are very much a part of the theme,” ABCD 83’s Chris Silva says. “But they are also playing off of the ArtPrize scenario.The price we have for the whole installation is just 5 cents short of what the first prize for the public vote of ArtPrize is.”

As we wandered through the hallway, surrounded by these art products, we became aware of a crowd that had gathered at the end of the hall, facing the emergency exit. The crowd was too dense for us to see what they were looking at, but after a minute or so of waiting my partner looked at me and asked, “Why aren’t any of them leaving?”

From what little I could see I knew there were moving lights and what might have been projections involved, but couldn’t form a coherent idea of what was happening. After another minute or so the crowd began to disperse and move back toward the hallway’s entrance, allowing us to move up to a barrier situated about eight or nine feet from the exit that we had previously been unable to see.

Beyond the barrier, filling the space between us and the emergency exit, was a cityscape. In keeping with the rest of the piece it’s constructed out of found objects and frames the emergency exit. The cityscape leaves the width of the emergency exit blank for the entire space between the door and the barrier, forming almost a trench between both sides of the city.

After a couple seconds I became aware of a projection of an orb bouncing around the base of the emergency exit. Music started playing and the piece began.

“Our piece seems both whimsical and childlike,” Silva says. “But there is a darker, more manic side to it. For me the work is a reflection of the tensions we witness and experience in the city, with its varied dysfunctions, and incessant barrage of the advertising world’s manipulations.”

Playing with the physical components of the cityscape, lights and movement prompted by projection, and a fluid, perfectly catered soundtrack, “More or Less” is what I would call the most compelling short film/installation hybrid I’ve ever seen. The reason I can’t say that is because it’s redundant. “More or Less” is the only piece of its kind I’ve ever seen.

“We aren’t aware of anyone else doing what we are doing with projection mapping on art installations, which are already complex sculptural compositions in their own right,” says Silva. “We really just wanted to see what we could accomplish with this interesting new combination of media.”

The piece’s range of emotion is astounding, and the movement and fluidity of its progression keeps viewers rooted to the spot, often through multiple loops.

“For me the piece is a soothing tragi-comedy,” Silva explains. “A funny, dreamy, psychedelic, and very visual blues song, but a hopeful one. The only lyric in the soundtrack says ‘If I had a little love I believe I could make it.’ I believe that if we could learn to widen our circles of compassion we would be able to accomplish a lot. I am pushing for that, but I see how far we are from it, so I’m also just trying to enjoy my life while I’m here.”

The piece’s location within the UICA creates a feeling of separation from the rest of the institute. It lends to the other-worldly feeling the piece’s movement and music creates.

“It’s very important to achieve a harmonious relationship to the space,” continues Silva. “We wouldn’t have been satisfied if we didn’t tailor it specifically.”

Silva also says the piece’s feeling of separation from reality isn’t an accident.

“We’ve created this “laugh to keep from crying” kind of artwork which can provide people some comic and escapist relief as well,” Silva says. “I’ll be honest... I’m very worried about the future, but I’m not giving up on it.”

“More or Less” will be at the UICA as part of its “Somewhere Else” exhibit until November 18, 2012. However, the chance to vote for it ends tomorrow as round one of voting for ArtPrize ends tomorrow (Sept 29) night at 11:59 p.m., and this is one piece that should be viewed as much as possible before then.

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