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"Joseph Conlon's Series 101 Talismans for a Happy Death"
2006-07-14 until 2006-08-19
Aron Packer Gallery
Chicago, IL, USA United States of America

The late Chicago Artist Joseph Conlon’s series 101 Talismans for a Happy Death will be on display at Aron Packer Gallery in celebration of his life and timed with the Gay Games in Chicago.  Conlon, who was HIV positive for over 20 years, created the work in the last five years of his life and passed away in 2005. The word talisman is defined as an amulet or charm; anything with almost magical power.  With this idea in mind, 101 Talismans for a Happy Death can be viewed as the artists attempt to confront mortality using the talisman of his art. The 101 references in the Talismans project was inspired by the Japanese story of 1000 cranes and the girl in Hiroshima, Japan who thought if she could fold 1000 paper cranes it would free her from the suffering brought to her by the Atomic Bomb.  

In the Talismans exhibition, dream-like photography and video depict scenes such as murders, accidents, suicides and sexual escapades gone fatally wrong.  Many of the images are self consciously campy and beautiful, diffusing the atmosphere of tragedy, which leads the viewer into acceptance of death and recognizes the universality of death – that everyone dies or is dying. The video vignettes fade in and out on the monitors.  The installation’s doubled images, multiple monitors, and large scale wall works split and bounce the viewers’ attention from scene to scene. Each image is concentrated for maximum psychological impact, then tossed out and repeated as if the artist were compulsively playing out trauma.

Sound also plays into Conlon’s representation of death. The video images are accompanied by an abstract sound-scape by Sally Station. The soundtrack compels you to breathe deeply and rhythmically.  The measured soundtrack and repeated visuals suggest something more than the distancing of trauma - they suggest an acceptance of meditation on the cycle of life and death.  

Although the images may be shocking they remind us of growing old, getting sick or meeting death suddenly: they also lead the viewer into multiple worlds where anything can happen. Whether it is amusement, shock or surprise, the images force a response while also affecting the viewer’s possible fears of death, reminding everyone of the cycle of life.


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