Left: Charles Steffen / Right: Iris Adler

Hello everyone... Welcome to the fall art season!

Hello everyone. Let me tell you about Aron Packer Projects at the Chicago Ceramics Center in the Bridgeport Art Center. It's a mouthful but want to be accurate. It's a great place to have a show so that is what counts. The reception is on the first 3rd Friday of the season and the joint should be hopping. I am sure there are dozens of other receptions in the building and down the street a few blocks is the Zhou B. Center which also will have lively shows that night.

We are exhibiting the visually topographic drawings of Charles Steffen paired with the mysterious machines and body sculptures of Iris Adler. The show, entitled Body and Soul, Hearts and Brains, is exactly that. Steffen's soulful and obsessive drawings are often of the male or female body, and have a peculiar striated look that makes them pulse with life. Adler's heart and brain machines are electric and kinetically alive with the pairing being a natural complement.

I hope to see you there. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday and we watch the space on Saturdays from 12 to 5 PM.

Press release below...

Heart, Brain, Body and Soul / A two-person exhibition

Body and Soul / Charles Steffen / small and large scale works on paper
Hearts and Brains / Iris Adler / kinetic and electric machines / sculpture

Presented by Aron Packer Projects and the Estate of Charles Steffen
Show Location / Chicago Ceramic Center in the Bridgeport Art Center / 5th Floor
1200 W. 35th Street, Chicago, IL 60609
Opening Reception: Friday, September 21, 2018 from 7 - 10 PM

September 21–November 10 / Gallery hours: 12–5 PM Tuesday–Saturday

CCC is located in the Bridgeport Art Center
Free parking in North parking lot

Body and Soul / Charles Steffen / small and large works on paper
Charles Steffen (American, 1927 – 1995)

Charles Steffen was born into a family of eight children in Chicago. He studied drawing, art history, and photography at the Illinois Institute of Technology in the late 1940s. Around 1950, while still in school, he suffered a mental breakdown and spent the next fifteen years at Elgin State Hospital undergoing treatments and electroshock therapy for schizophrenia. He continued to make art while institutionalized.

After leaving the hospital, unable to take a job, Steffen went to live with his mother, his sister, Rita, and his brother, George, in their childhood home. Steffen spent most of his time drawing, mainly on brown wrapping paper, with graphite and colored-pencils, often finishing between one and three pieces a day. His drawings derive mostly from memory, as well as, from within his limited sphere of existence (when not drawing, Steffen spent his time pacing the house while smoking or drinking, making trips to the bank or the bar, or working in the yard). His personal, more quotidian subject matter included: the bank teller who would cash his social security checks; neighbors; plants from the yard, etc. Beyond this immediate sphere, Steffen's subject matter extended to the past and the general: his mother, her wheelchair and bed; self portraits and studies of his hands and feet; showgirls from the bar he frequented during his school days; scenes from Elgin; a classmate he had loved before his hospitalization; then, female nudes and crucifixions. Steffen experimented with his repeated subject matter; he began to merge the human form with plants, or with tobacco stains, or with the abstract tar splotches he saw on neighborhood sidewalks. His human figures began to merge as well, encompassing both male and female characteristics. In his later years, Steffen wrote notes in the margins of the drawings. His notes varied from thanks to God, to recollections and observations, to the mundane (what he had just eaten, how much he paid for art supplies, etc.).

Steffen's lifestyle and habits changed little after he left Elgin State Hospital. When the family house was sold upon his mother's death in 1994, Steffen moved into a small room in a men's retirement home in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. He was prepared to throw away a vast body of drawings, but instead, placed pieces with his nephew, Christophe Preissing, who had shown interest in his work.

Forty years of drawing and smoking had gnarled his body and given his voice a gravelly quality. Before he died, this voice was captured in a recording was made of him reading "Jabberwocky" from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1872), a book both dear and inspirational to him.

Hearts and Brains / Iris Adler / kinetic and electric machines / sculpture
Iris Adler (1932 – 2004)

Iris Adler's art is beyond description. Adler creates table-top open dioramas, made from unusual materials: colored resins and plastics-- doll parts, found objects, various fake grasses, stones, and model trees, etc.. These works stand on their own as static sculpture though Adler takes them to the next level by making certain aspects kinetic and inserts simple sound and light effects. Usually they are no larger than 24" square. All low tech. Pretty eccentric and obscurely charming. For this body related show, the featured pieces are heart or brain machines, along with body sized sculpture made from laminated wood or cast resin.

Jeff Huebner Article from The Reader about Iris Adler

Iris Adler says it takes her about four months, on and off, to build a human-looking heart or brain. She makes them out of found objects, electrical devices from mail-order catalogs, and parts from boom boxes, tape recorders, speakers, and clocks.

"The heart is a real pretty and tender thing, yet it's also so gory and frightening," she says. "The brain is a really sexy-looking, sensuous organ."

Adler isn't a mad scientist. She's an artist who builds hearts and brains for her kinetic sculptures, which are often adorned with religious symbols. When they're plugged in "blood" flows through tubes, lids open and close, figures move, colored lights blink, brains glow, hearts throb, and machines buzz, beep, and rumble, often to the accompaniment of tinkling music box tunes.

Adler, who says she's "more than half a century old," is a reclusive but cheerful iconoclast who lives in Highland Park and likens her creations to the tingly feeling you get in the back of your mouth when you eat a grapefruit. She received a graduate degree from the School of the Art Institute 15 years ago, her heart set on inventing eccentric mechanical devices.

To make her hearts look realistic, Adler says she studied still photos of heart operations and hooked up with hospitals that gave her broken or discarded equipment, like respiratory tubing and valves. "I'd take them home and play with them," she says. "I was always trying to figure out what went where, so if a doctor looked at a heart it would look right. After you know what tubes go where, then you can fool around and make [the organ] look odd."

She provides the viewer (and potential buyer) with a detailed drawing of each circuit's schematics as well as written instructions on how to repair or replace the motors, transformers, lights, and switches. "Everything has to be in a certain pattern, I have to color code all the wires. Still, I get shocked sometimes crossing wires. People are afraid to buy these things, afraid of the electricity. But they're no more dangerous than a lamp, they're not going to hurt you."

Adler hopes that her art gives viewers "sensations they haven't had before, strange and disturbing feelings. These organs make you realize how you're so vulnerable--that if one little cell doesn't get in the right place, your eyes are crossed or you can't read. You think they make sense, but they don't make sense. God and electricity, that's what makes them run. But I still don't know how electricity works, and I don't know how nature puts things together. When you think about it, it's magic. When you plug in something and it works, it's amazing."

– Jeff Huebner / The Chicago Reader , February 22, 1996

Aron Packer Projects

Contact Aron Packer at aronpacker@gmail.com     Phone: 773.458.3150