Smile Politely

ARTE 475 students explore the art of obsession

The end of a year, may seem like an odd time to talk about obsessions. But naughty or nice, nothing reveals as much about us as what we can’t get enough of. Though the nature of our obsessions may evolve over time, or shift with trends, they are surprisingly unifying. Despite our adult facades of discipline and efficiency, we are all susceptible. Call them guilty pleasures, or frame them as aspirations, obsessions make us human. They make us unique, or gain us entrance into a chosen tribe.

So from the moment I learned that the students of ARTE 475, Art Exhibition Practices, at the University of Illinois were curating a showing of local artists’ obsessions, either in terms of subject, media, or materials, I knew I’d want to share it with you. And though the show officially opened last moment, my schedule found me experiencing it on a cold grey afternoon in early December. As I walked around the 40 point one art space, which also serves as the Consolidated Communications lobby, I realized that I had serendipitously stumbled into a collection of work, into a vision, that would perfectly wrap up so many of the notions about local art and art spaces I’ve shared with you this year.

“Obsession” is an outstanding example of town/gown collaboration. University of Illinois art students reached out to local artists with a call for submissions around the theme. The space in which they designed and installed the final work is itself an exceptional example of the purposeful and thoughtful integration of art into a public or business space. It is not just another case of passing prints and paintings on the way to pick up your latte. The art commands the space and the viewer’s attention.

The exhibition has a freshness and an open acceptance of wildly diverse media and material that is, I’m sure, reflective of the ARTE 475 students’ vision. 

In their exhibition statement, the curators indicate their vision, their scope, and the deeply personal ways in which obsession can be manifested.  

Obsession encompasses a vast realm of objects, ideas, and even groups of people. People develop interests throughout their lives, but when that interest becomes precious, special, fanatic or consuming, it becomes an obsession are manifested and documented through collecting and creating. The exhibition itself allows us to sneak a peek into the ways people express, process, and experience obsession.

The range in subject, tone, and material is surprisingly diverse. There is work that will make you laugh. And work that will likely make you cry.  Walking among these manifestations of artists’ particular passions feels like being invited into an intimate conversation, a sharing of secrets at the beginning of a new friendship or romance. There is vulnerability and bravery and a defiant owning of one’s own self, quirks and all. This makes “Obsession” a deeply compelling experience. It invites empathy. It invites understanding. And it invites self-inquiry.

From the careful curation of common place collection to highly constructed works in various media, “Obsession” truly has something for everyone. And there are hedge hogs.The question of which works I was drawn to as a viewer speaks as much to my own obsessions as to the works themselves. With this caveat safely in place, I share, in no particular order, some of my favorite moments from the exhibition. 

(Charles Wisseman’s Alphabet Evolution Collective, Mixed Media, 2014)

This is obsession with a capital O.  I was floored by the artist’s commitment, scope, and depth of exploration. Seeing each letter reframed and transformed by a different media was thought-provoking and inspiring. It made me want to break out of my own artist comfort zone and explore new materials. It made me want to commit to a significant, long-term work that has both breadth and depth. 

Rachel Connell’s Harley Davidson (IMACONSUMER), 2017-2018, and ToysRUs (IMACONSUMER), 2017-2018, Acrylic on Panel

These two works brilliantly illustrate that old notion of “the medium is the message.” I found it particularly impactful to consider the notion of consumer identity during the biggest spending spree of the year. Thoughts like “We are only as good as our credit” and “the best rewards are rewards points” raced through my head as I stood before this collection of plastic and the socio-economic baggage baked into it. 

Lara Mann’s Your Dearest Wish Will Come True, Found Objects, 2007-2019

Like many of the visual and performing arts experiences I’ve discussed here throughout the year, “Obsession,” creates an interactive environment in concrete and subliminal ways. One is hard pressed to leave the experience without considering one’s own passions, interests, weaknesses and longings. Like the alphabet collection above, Mann’s curated collection required time and commitment. In some ways it serves as a time capsule of thoughts and tropes from the last twelve years. 

Eunsung Choi’s Untitled, Intaglio on Paper, 2018

Perhaps one of the darkest and most profound of the works included, Choi’s triptych confronts us with our preconceived notions about mental illness and offers a surprising reframing of the idea of suffering. The choice of media and material, particularly the use of handwriting” is pefectly suited to the subject. 

Michelle Lorenz’ Built Obession, Digital Print, 2019

Our experience of art is impacted by context cues like exhibition statement. While I would enjoy these breathtaking photos in any context, seeing them here in a world of obsessions, made me take more time, examine the photographer’s perspective, and allow myself to feel awed by the scale of these architectural gems. 


Conor Murphy’s Untitled (Corduroy), Ceiling Tile, Wood, Collected Hats, 2019

Another wonderful example of the power of context. You need to see this work in its full shape and scale to truly appreciate its construction, as well as the qualities of each individual caps in the collection. Baseball caps are more than hats, they are mementos, uniforms, and signfiers of our chosen tribue or team. They communicate powerful here in Murphy’s installation. 

Derek W. Clem’s Alternate Oscars: Class of 1992 Red Ink on IMDB Page Printout, 2019. Seed of grudges planted on February 17, 1993. 

As a movie fan and recovering holder of grudges, this work will always hold a special place in my heart. It is deeply personal, yet highly relatable. Its seemingly pedestrian materials choice is disarmingly powerful and immediate. I would love to see this in a time capsule. 

So as you prepare to embark on a new year and a new decade, consider stopping by the 40 point one art space and contemplating your passions, rather than your resolutions.  And before I sign off from this final article of the year, I thank you for your readership, and encourage you to support this and other local exhibits. This space, and others like it, will only continue to show art if we come see it. So there you have it—my obsession—supporting our local artists with words, deeds, and when we can, dollars.  Wishing you an artful holiday season. 

Obsession: Media + Material
40 point one | art space
1300 S Neil St., Chamapign
Through January 21st
Hours: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cover image from Facebook event page. Additional photos by Debra Domal 


Arts Editor

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