A touching display

A touching display
Images from “Touching” by Eli Craven on display at DEMO Project through Feb. 4.
DEMO Project may be the best-kept secret in the Springfield art scene, even after four years of presenting thoughtfully programmed monthly exhibitions by innovative artists from a variety of locations. The small house located on the Springfield Art Association campus was formerly living quarters for caretakers of the historic Edwards Place and is slated for demolition at an undetermined future time (hence the DEMO name). In the meantime it has been functioning as a miniature gallery, concentrating on often conceptual, contemporary work.

Eli Craven’s “Touching,” the first DEMO show of 2017, opened Jan. 20 and it is a near-perfect demonstration of an artist responding to and utilizing this unique space. The first thing that catches one’s eye upon entering the exhibit is the moving image projected on the wall – familiar but obscured. It doesn’t take long to recognize the source material as an episode of the NBC sitcom “The Golden Girls” (1985-1992) but with some significant alterations, including an eerily slowed-down playback speed (and soundtrack) as well as significant portions of the original images blocked out, leaving, for one example, only Blanche’s disembodied hands and some drapes visible.

Similarly a towel hanging from a rack is not an unfamiliar sight in a home environment. However, a succession of towels, each with images (including more disembodied hands) printed on them, is somewhat more rare and, it turns out in this case, disconcerting. The inclusion of crumpled magazine pages, taking on as much a tactile as visual quality, increases the sense of a domestic past evocatively refracted and distorted by memory.

Craven is an adjunct lecturer at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the chance to present “Touching” at DEMO was his prize as the 2016 winner of a yearly competition hosted by long-running Chicago-based art podcast “Studio Break.” He was born in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and, according to an interview on Studio Break, started making collages of celebrity photos and screenshots culled from film and television. Later work became more personal, including self-portraits and family photos, while later work became more whimsical and humorous, including a fixation on deceased screen-icon Patrick Swayze.

As for the intentions behind his work, Craven displays a certain amount of ambivalence. “I don’t necessarily need the viewer to feel the feelings I feel,” he said during the same interview, “but I think that might be exactly what it’s about. I have difficulty connecting to these images because of my history and I think the disfigurement of the portrait is the important part.” The fact that DEMO project will be demolished sooner rather than later also influenced the work. “It makes me think about impermanence, destruction and the temporary nature of these images and objects.”

“Touching” will remain on display through Saturday, Feb. 4, at DEMO Project on the Springfield Art Association campus, 732. N. Fourth St. DEMO will be open for the duration of the exhibit on Saturday afternoons from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. or by appointment.

Scott Faingold can be reached at sfaingold@illinoistimes.com.