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Exhibition: Past When Darkness FallsOct 28–Nov 08, 2003

Mathew Paul Jinks


When Darkness Falls is a curated exhibition and publication, which centers on artworks that incorporate dark imagery—a world without light and life. Much work with this sort of imagery is rooted conversely in a place that is conceptual, cool, and often based in the history of art where images of mortality (memento mori) are prominent. Classic symbols, like those of skulls and candles, are now associated in contemporary culture with rock music and Goth culture, which can overshadow the historical references and become easily dismissible. The use of techniques such as chiaroscuro has been commented on, but those comments no longer have the same intensity, shadowed by the rhetoric of art history and critique. When Darkness Falls explores these Gothic ideas in contemporary art and embellishes them in such a way as to allow the work to be looked at literally in a new light.

This exhibition, curated by Melanie Schiff and Kristen VanDeventer, explores darkness, ranging from images derived from the gothic to its operation as metaphor for issues of mortality. Fifteen artists present work in a variety of media including video, painting, photography, and sculpture in an exhibition space designed to accent the darkness.

As Annette Ferrara wrote in her essay Laughter in the Face of the Apocalypse:

Surely it ’s not a mistake that ‘avant-garde’ is a word snatched from military parlance. Artist as frontline soldier, shaking with rage and emboldened by hubris, running into certain dirty awful death. The sacrificial lamb, scapegoat, and human shield, whose death means the prolonging of some other soldier ’s life and enabling the forward march towards victory. Jackson Pollock as a cowboy/soldier astride a splatter-painted, eight-cylindered horse of the apocalypse. Even today, awash as we are in fluorescent glare of reality T.V. ’s omnipresent cameras that make us all look small and foolish, we still hold on to this conception of this larger-than-life, Romantic, noble artist. It is courageous, and somewhat foolish, to confront The Void, the nothingness of the meaning of existence, the blank canvas, blank tape, blank page, empty gallery, the vastness of outer space. We crave structure. An all-black canvas, a direct action, even a simple straight line drawn hesitantly will do—just about anything besides nothing is better. A relief.

As Darkness Falls was commissioned as part of the 2003 At the Edge: Innovative Art in Chicago


Melina Ausikaitis, John Beasley, Sean Bluechel, Slater Bradley, Olaf Breuning, Sarah Conaway, Madeline Davy and Megan Pflug, Deva Graf, Felix Gonzales-Torres, Christa Parravani, Brad Phillips, L.A. Raeven, Dawn Reed, Sterling Ruby, Kirsten Stoltmann, and Carl Warnick.


When Darkness Falls is supported by the College of Architecture and the Arts, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Special thanks to the jury that selected the 2003 At The Edge projects: Danielle Gustafson-Sundell (artist and co-director of Deluxe Projects), Paul Ha (Executive Director, Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis), Kevin Kaempf (artist), Jennifer Reeder (artist and UIC faculty member), and Lorelei Stewart (Director, Gallery 400).