Isabelle Frances McGuire’s P**** B**** ARENA (asterisks the artist’s own), which opened in Et al.’s Chinatown location on May 30, is shrouded in sickness.
The work itself was made under Chicago’s stay-at-home order, during which McGuire created a diaristic set of embroidered textile works, the date of each piece’s making stitched into its fabric. The show marks time: 50 days of making, 50 days of anxiety, loneliness, boredom and steady production. It’s a state McGuire sums up in an accompanying text as “Stressful Leisure Limbo.”
Viewed now, with the world still in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, but within the context of a nationwide and urgent movement for racial justice, P**** B**** ARENA functions as a highly specific and already dated time capsule, documenting one artist’s experience of working alone in physical stasis, fashioning plush proxies for friends and garments for absent audiences.
To see the show, presented by the itinerant gallery Good Weather (originally a single-car garage in Little Rock, Arkansas) and hosted by Et al., viewers make an appointment for a 20-minute private viewing window. Gallery representatives wait outside while visitors have the run of the place—in this case, both Et al.’s regular basement space and an additional two rooms above Union Cleaners.
Just one item in P**** B**** ARENA preexisted the pandemic, but it too, speaks of sickness. Digesting Duck Entry Level Position is a figurative sculpture on all fours, its human body replaced by a cardboard box. Periodically, the sculpture vomits red wine out of its mouth and into a waiting aluminum bowl, resulting in a tang of tannins wafting through the air. This piece is encountered upstairs, on a stained red carpet, in a series of rooms with mysterious signs of activity and storage options. (A mirrored wall with shelf mounts but no shelves being the most mysterious.)