By and large, “This Heat,” featuring Cheryl Pope, Garland Martin Taylor and Krista Wortendyke, is an effective mingling of art and activism. Through poetics and understated calls to action, the artists create works that differ from and add to the already proliferous commentary on Chicago’s pervading and devastating problem: gun violence. For years, Cheryl Pope has collaborated with local kids from areas affected by gun violence, and her video, One of Many, One, is especially potent. Almost three hours long, One of Many, One features teens from Phoenix Military Academy, in Chicago’s Near West Side. Dressed in a t-shirt airbrushed with the face of a slain youth, a student pulls the shirt over her head, allowing the next student to put his arms through the sleeves, peeling it off of her body and onto his at the same time. Each student adds his or her own shirt to the process, with the final children engulfed in innumerable layers of shirts and faces. The sheer number of mourned lives depicted imbues the work with (fully appropriate) grief, though the fact that each murdered life is worn upon a living, willing child counters that sadness with camaraderie and strength.
Like Pope, Garland Martin Taylor takes on the subject matter through metaphor. The artist’s Pflight installation is composed of “yard birds:” Taylor’s name for fired bullet casings adorned with feathers, bobbing at the ends of coiled guitar strings hung from the ceiling. The “yard birds” are positioned as to suggest that they’re flying out of a gumball machine in the corner. While Pflight begins to prompt questions about easy access to weapons, and the sensation of being surrounded by bullets, the whimsical aesthetic keeps the piece from being as emotionally intense and somber as other two artists’ more serious takes. The directness of Krista Wortendyke’s approach is ultimately the most successful in compelling the viewer to engage. In her Killing Season in Chicago, a timeline of photographs documents the site of each day’s murders between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Neighborhood Conflict juxtaposes a recording of a young narrator’s childhood story with live police radio. But the simplicity of Bloodspot, 700 takeaway prints of a bloodstained sidewalk, resonates. It’s one thing to turn on the TV, or come to the gallery, to get informed of the dark reality of Chicago’s homicide rate, it’s another to make a decision to bring even the slightest reminder of it back home with you.