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The Illinois State Museum, Southern Illinois Gallery

Updated: Jun 27, 2020

NOW. One of my pieces that will be in the exhibition at the museum

The Illinois State Museum, Southern Illinois Gallery.

November 23, 2014 – March 15, 2015 14967 Gun Creek Trail, Whittington, IL

Opening Reception, Nov 23, 2-4pm. Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend.

“Fragile Relations” is a touring exhibit that began at the museum’s Chicago gallery in Oct 2012. It has been touring the Museum’s network of galleries since then. The Springfield gallery exhibit closed Aug 31st. It has now moved to the Southern Illinois Art & Artisans Center

Fragile Relations highlights the work of fourteen Illinois artists who are inspired by nature and the environment and show diverse ways of perceiving and experiencing the world.

I’m exhibiting two 32X40 Alleys & Ruins, three 32X40 Glam Bug pieces, and an 8×10 foot print of Alley 134, Dub Stop. Unfortunately I can’t attend the opening reception.

The Fragile Relations show was featured on ABC-TV in Oct 2012, and was the Chicago Tribune’s A&E Pick of the Week in Dec 2012.

From the State Journal Register

Art from the discarded: Exhibit open at state museum

By Tamara Browning Staff Writer

The non-recycled plastic waste material Chicago artist Mary Ellen Croteau used to fashion a self-portrait could have come from anyone's medicine cabinet, refrigerator or trash can.

Croteau's artwork "CLOSE" is an 8- by 7-foot piece made in 2011 with more than 7,000 colorful plastic bottle caps.

White plastic caps frame Croteau's face. Black caps make up her eyeglass frames, and pink, orange and yellow caps are the flesh of her face. Some caps come with pieces of writing: "PUSH DOWN and TURN," "USDA ORGANIC," "vitaminwater ZERO zero calories per serving."

Croteau has been working with non-recycled plastic waste -- "A Measure of Consumption ..." uses braided plastic bags, while "Bag Coral" is made from crocheted plastic bags -- to demonstrate the amounts of trash consumed and sent into the environment.

Croteau's work is among several Illinois artists' pieces inspired by environment and nature displayed in the contemporary art exhibition "Fragile Relations: Art, Nature & Environment" through Aug. 31 at the Illinois State Museum, 502 S. Spring St.

Many of the artists in the exhibition recycle no-longer-used materials such as old computers to make art, the exhibition's curator Jane Stevens said in a statement. In others, artists try to glorify aspects of life that may not be considered beautiful -- or may have been discarded.

"In their work, we can see another use and value in these pieces," wrote Stevens, who is associate curator of art at the Illinois State Museum Chicago Gallery. "How we treat and take care of our personal spaces affects the public spaces we live in. Our landscapes need to nurture our lives and we need to find a balance between human and natural environments."

Think environment

Croteau said people should think before they buy.

"Stop buying excess plastic packaging. Bring your own bags when you shop. Do not buy single-serve drink bottles. Stop buying useless stuff," Croteau said in an email.

Croteau helped people quantify the amount of plastic trash they are putting into the environment by asking friends and family to collect the plastic bags and plastic bottle caps she needed to create "A Measure of Consumption ... ," "Bag Coral" and "CLOSE."

"CLOSE" began as a conception of an "Endless Column" of plastic bottle caps, after Constantin Brancusi's iconic modernist sculpture, Croteau wrote on her website

"One became two, and two became many. While making these columns, I noticed the smaller caps tended to nest inside one another, and the color combinations reminded me of Chuck Close's painted portraits," wrote Croteau, who retrieved most of the plastic bottle caps for the self-portrait from large trash receptacles at a resource recycling center.

"So I got sidetracked and started on a large self-portrait ... made entirely of bottle caps ... . No paint is used, except to delineate a few shadows where white board was showing through."

Croteau said the plastic in her work will hold together for many years if kept out of the sun and not abused.

"If our culture lasts long enough to see this work into the future, that will be a problem for conservators and restorers," Croteau said.

Bleak, blighted, dignified

Bleak urban settings, captured after dark, make up Chicago photographer Xavier Nuez's "Alleys and Ruins" series.

Among the pieces in the "Alleys and Ruins" series is "Dub Stop" (2010 Chicago, 11 p.m.) that shows an environment of peeling, bubbling paint on columns, a stop sign with graffiti and amber lighting.

The Alleys and Ruins Series is a project that has been 23 years in the making, said Nuez, 49. It was driven by a period in his life when he feared homelessness.

"One of the big reasons that this series started was that I was going through kind of a crisis, and I was kind of afraid that I was going to end up homeless. There's been some homelessness in the family, so it was not an outrageous fear," said Nuez, who said his father once spent time on the street.

"It was kind of a way of kind of confronting the fear by going into these areas and trying to find kind of a magical quality in them, in a way sort of disarming the fear that I had."

Confronting his fear by going into urban blight after dark led him into dangerous neighborhoods, at times resulting in trouble. He's run from street gangs, been accosted by crazed drug addicts and had guns pointed at him. If the police saw him lurking in a dark alley, he was often questioned and searched.

But wherever he traveled, Nuez took his photography gear to help capture dignity in what was rejected, he said.

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