Milwaukee artist Santiago Cucullu paint bombs the Green Gallery East
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Earlier this week, internationally celebrated artist Santiago Cucullu found himself in the main space of the Green Gallery East, staring at blank walls, preparing to create his latest exhibition, The Outhouse. Armed with a preliminary plan, contact paper, and a box full of paint bombs, he began to transform the space. Using a smash-up of altered photographs, accumulated relics, video loops, and other collected ephemera, the artist eventually created a distinct environment borrowed from real life, but filtered through his acute imagination.
Those familiar with Cucullu’s work know it’s largely influenced by everyday absurdities—The Outhouse will be no exception. Inspired by Cucullu’s Milwaukee surroundings, the exhibition proposes that there are mysteries within the conventions of the everyday: a non-descript building that houses a women’s jail; an off-the-grid punk venue; or a three-second video loop that creates a never-ending reoccurrence. Cucullu uses banal imagery of spaces he sees as ignored, but which are, in fact, important spaces of transition. Because of that, these lost spaces can be presented in a way that creates interest in them.
The focal point of the show is a mural that can be seen by passersby on the street blocks away. Cucullu recreates a fence line he’s passed many times on the way to his studio in Harambee, which he recently discovered was the unassuming location of a women’s jail. He was further inspired by the Irish song “The Auld Triangle”—covered by The Pogues—in which the lyrics proclaim: “In the women’s prison / There are 70 women / And I wish it was with them / That I did dwell.”
Cucullu creates a romanticized reflection of the scenario unfolding behind the fence, and uses the powerful imagery of restriction that it represents. The mural itself, however, won’t give many clues to its origin, but instead will provoke viewers with the high energy created by splattered red paint and the negative space of the fence line.
Abstraction within a built environment has always been a part of Cucullu’s work—his installations are both a source of ambiguity and stark formalism, and compel viewers to dig deeper. This investigation is the message Cucullu wishes to share with his audience. “The thing about art is not a question of whether it’s good or bad; it’s more of a question of how accessible it is, or if a person can read it,” explains the artist. “If they get it, it’s supposed to be a good thing, but in my estimation, I’m not so sure this is necessarily true.”
Although Cucullu lives and works in Milwaukee, the last time his installations were seen locally was three years ago at the Milwaukee Art Museum, as part of the On Site series. Not to be missed, the opening reception for The Outhouse will be Saturday night at the Green Gallery East, along with Excuse Me, Your Necklace Is Leaking by Anicka Yi.