Contemporary Art Exhibition Series at IMSS

Developed in 1998 as a means of accentuating the mission of the International Museum of Surgical Science, this exhibition series was restructured under Collin’s tenure at IMSS to address topics of embodiment, pathology, and healthcare in broad, intersecting terms, as well as the Museum’s architecturally significant and historically landmarked property on the Chicago lakefront.

This exhibition series was partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.

-Affinity in the Tall Grasses of California

Featuring work by Whit Forrester.

November 15, 2016 – February 26, 2017.

about the exhibition

California Proposition 215, alternatively known as the Compassionate Care Act of 1996, is a California State Law which allows the medical use of the psychoactive plant cannabis, or marijuana, despite Federal prohibitions on its consumption. Prop 215 was spearheaded by Marijuana Activist Dennis Peron in memory of his late partner Jonathan West, who like many had used cannabis to relieve symptoms of HIV/AIDS infection, as well as the debilitating side effects of existing treatments for the disease. Conceived in the crucible of the AIDS Crisis, and alongside emerging studies regarding the efficacy of cannabis in relieving symptoms of cancer treatment, the Compassionate Care Act has remained a central piece of legislation in what is now the vast architecture of cannabis production and consumption in the state of California. Artist Whit Forrester has been photographing life and work on California’s medical cannabis farms since 2011. A number of the photographs presented in this exhibition were shot at an LGBTQ owned and operated farm upstate – an assertion that despite its increasingly industrialized and commercialized place in the California economy, the plant remains cultivated by the community that had fought to make its therapeutic use protected by law. The photographs intentionally obscure the identity of any subjects that might appear in frame to protect those who participate in cannabis cultivation while it is still illegal under Federal Law.

-Haunted House: Artists Respond to Site

Featuring work by Ramsey Alderson, Lindsey french (sic), Stevie Hanley, Willy SmartRyan M Pfeiffer + Rebecca Walz, and Valentina Zamfirescu.

March 20, 2016 – July 31, 2016.

about the exhibition

1524 N. Lake Shore Drive has been the home of the International Museum of Surgical Science since the early 1950s; though in the decades prior, this stately limestone mansion on the shores of Lake Michigan was the private residence of Chicago socialite Eleanor Robinson Countiss Whiting and her small family. In the early 1900s, Eleanor commissioned the celebrated Chicago architect Howard Van Doren Shaw to produce for her a near-replica of la Petit Trianon, the palatial playhouse of Marie Antoinette on the grounds of Versailles. Eleanor’s father JK Robinson – an executive of the Diamond Match Company – put up the funds for 1524 as a gift to Eleanor on the occasion of her first marriage. The mansion opened onto an unspoiled lakefront in the Spring of 1917, and was supervised by its singular matron until her death in the early morning of March 20, 1931. The age and stature of 1524 have long drawn speculation that the house is haunted; though, the real ghosts of 1524 are in its details – the ornamental moulding, window seats, oriental rugs, or fragments of fossils in the lush limestone floors – each eccentric traces of the house’s early inhabitants. This exhibition paired rarely exhibited artifacts and ephemera from the history of the Museum’s architecturally significant and historically landmarked property with work by contemporary artists who engage the building as site, as well as its varied architectural and historical details.


Featuring work by Stevie Hanley.

August 15, 2015 – November 15, 2015.

about the exhibition

Synaesthesia is a neurological phenomenon in which one sense perception elicits the response of another. For example, a “synesthete” might hear a color or taste a smell. For Duke Ellington, a notable synesthete, a “D” note looked like dark blue burlap while a “G” was pale satin. Other notable synaesthetes include Vladimir Nabokov, infamous author of “Lolita” (1955), and the painter Wassily Kandinsky – whose painting practice and mystical artistic philosophy were informed by his unique condition. It is speculated that synaesthesia may emerge in children engaged with abstraction for the first time. As a young brain is tasked with assigning complex ideas to words, letters of the alphabet or numbers, such characters may become “tinged” or “shaded” by a color or tone. This particular form of the condition, called “Grapheme-Color Synaesthesia,” is the most common. Some studies have suggested that in fact most of us are born synesthetes and lose the sensation around eight months old as the senses are trained and refined with experience; and while pronounced forms of the condition are rare, it is not uncommon to experience some feeling of intermingled or blurred sensory perception at some point in life. For Chicago-based artist Stevie Hanley, it is these moments of “everyday synaesthesia” that inform the body of work presented in this exhibition the International Museum of Surgical Science. Hanley’s practice resists the tidy compartmentalization of experiences, and presents the viewer with objects and installations that have the effect of being a number of things at once. Hanley’s visual field is fractured and reconstituted in dizzying order –  to the effect of a beautifully quilted pastel expanse or compound insect’s eye. As a theme, Hanley’s work is ambivalent – titillating and repellant. A spider crawls across a spongy, neon landscape – a bed of earplugs. While walking his viewer through the alien topography of a bizarre, brightly colored dreamscape, Hanley also manages to evoke the visceral anxiety of violation and invasion: repeated in urban legends of crickets or cockroaches burrowed deep inside the human ear.  In the same hand, an orchestra plays a quilt instead of a score. Musicians may be drawn to the texture of a note, as writers may speak to the color of a word. In “Synaesthetica,” Stevie Hanley compiles these crossed experiences as an intricate web of metonymy and double entendres.