Tessa Siddle’s Hexenhaus at No Coast Gallery in Pilsen

Carrie McGath

Tessa Siddle, Hexenhaus

“Hexenhaus” can be translated as “enchanted house”. This is also the title of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago graduate student, Tessa Siddle’s installation and performance that took place on Friday, March 12, 2010 at No Coast Gallery in Pilsen. Her hanging artwork occupies the space as textile wall hangings and a video that plays continuously in the gallery. This show is Siddle’s meditation on the domestic life and coexistence where the themes of domestic decoration and physical comforts exist alongside her cherished plants, and cooking that she says “has become my only hobby.

The performance possessed a readymade domestic area for Siddle to be within with an upholstered chair, a table draped with a white tablecloth, her two plants (a Staghorn Fern and a Aeonium), a bottle of red wine, a wine glass, and bread that she had made and passed around the audience because she “wanted to give (us) a gift.” The domesticity was heightened by the casual wandering of a small dog that did not belong to Siddle, but to Young Joon Kwak who is a No Coast artist. The dog fit the domestic scene very well. The performance also included a flowerpot of dirt that became another character in this short narrative performance while Siddle read musings and meditations on domesticity and other art projects. During the performance, she turned the table three times and it bespoke to me an idea of perspective not only for her, but for us. In this deduction, I decided to remain where I was originally standing and took my photos of the performance from the unintentional space of my own, the place I stood out of immediate comfort.

Tessa Siddle, Hexenhaus

Crowds make me anxious, so I am always aware of where I am in a crowd and when I am in it. This was a crowded space, but a kindly crowded space whose mood was  set by Siddle’s intense awareness not only of domesticity, but environments in general whether social, exciting, inane, or solitary. She discusses our domestic coexistence with organisms and things as something that is perhaps “a part of our everyday magic.” In this statement, she seemed to be discussing the plants, other characters in the performance that brought to a head the idea of the organic objects coexisting with the inorganic objects.

The consumption not only of the oxygen given off by the plants, of the bread she created and served, and the artist’s consumption of the red wine, further illustrates the ideas of living organisms coexisting by creating new life within one another. The ending of the performance was cinched with the inclusion of the dirt from the pot and Siddle returning the plants to the gallery installation. The resulting piece was aesthetically pleasing and deeply meditative in its conjuring of shared space and the temporality of growth. The dirt surrounding the objects on the table even reminded me of many spiritual traditions. I thought of myself using sage in the way that Siddle used dirt, and I am speculating her use is like mine in our belief of the cleansing properties of such organic matter to our domestic spaces. She did this to the tune of The Four Tops’ song, “Seven Rooms of Gloom” furthering the juxtaposition of comfort and discomfort of the solitary in domestic space.

Tessa Siddle, Hexenhaus

The show surrounding the performance space was textile work that intertwined domestically-charged artworks of textiles that for me mimicked the hanging of quilts in a domestic space, added with a witty play of paper words upon some of the textile wall hangings. The hangings with the words along with the looped video that constantly intermingles the existences of humans and houseplants to a fantastical degree, are the aspects of the show that deal also with the psychological notions of this coexistence. The video brings to a light what was said during her performance, that the plants are often jealous of one another since she confesses to treating one more precisely to its needs than the other.

One of the wall hangings testament to “Every Action to Capture Eyes” continues the very mystical yet psychological mediations of Hexenhaus. This speaks to the video that plays nearby, but also of the slow but very real growth of the houseplants. That growth, too, can be captured and meditated upon, giving the viewer an opportunity for a psychological growth, and possibly even a spiritual growth.

The closing performance is taking place at No Coast at 1500 West 17th Street in Pilsen on Friday, April 2nd promptly at 6:00, with the show’s closing reception being on April 2 from 5:00-7:00. It is a show worth checking out, but I would encourage also a trip to see the closing performance of the show. I for one will be curious to see how Siddle deals with the symbolic closure of the domestic space.