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The State Journal-Register


The State Journal-Register

Art from the discarded: Exhibit open at state museum

By Tamara Browning / Staff Writer

Posted May 31 2014


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) 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.


"The cities are kind of random in a way, how I end up there," said Nuez, whose exhibit in "Fragile Relations" includes photography from Los Angeles and Detroit. "I look for little pockets in run-down areas where people don't go."


Little glorified


In his "Glam Bugs Series," Nuez also turns his lens to another aspect of life that he calls "the least among us": bugs.


"The bugs are really anthropomorphized," Nuez said. "What I'm doing is really just creating little dioramas for them. They're really dramatic stages similar to the 'Alleys and Ruins' when I bring lights to these places at night and I light them up. I try to light them in a very theatrical way."


The bugs in the Glam Bugs Series are put on sets and lit in a theatrical, dramatic way to glorify them.


"I give them a name and a legacy, and they're all sort of larger-than- life figures," Nuez said. "Some are war heroes. Some are tragic heroes some are movie stars they're all kind of heroic figures within this imaginary bug world."


Nuez said his art is a reflection of a lot of the complications he's had in the past.


"It's kind of a wonderful twist that the things that I thought might ruin my life in the end have actually created a nice career for myself," Nuez said.


Creating art that reflects their perceptions of the world is what artists in "Fragile Relations" have done, Stevens said.


In "Strata" (2011 ) , Toby Zallman addresses the impact that discarded computers will have on our environment, he wrote. Zallman's installation includes several grayish, metal computer towers with tar paper stacked within them that look like circles of bark.


In Jean Sousa's "Nora's Roses" (2012), she shows photographs of dying roses from a bouquet that her friend, Nora, gave her on her birthday.


"I was intrigued by their process of decay, and found that in many ways they are becoming more beautiful with age," Sousa wrote in an accompanying statement.

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