The Chicago Project IV: Bill O’Donnell

This is the last week for The Chicago Project IV exhibition [it ends on Friday, September 2], so get in here and see the show! In the meantime, enjoy three images by Chicago Project artist, Bill O’Donnell, along with his artist statement. If you’d like to learn more about his work, visit the show page and click on the film clapper next to his images.

Sphere, 2009

These pictures are shot in a rusting tin dollhouse. This home functions as a metaphor for an afterlife, the dwelling place of human ideals. The scenes are inspired by three themes of the Western philosophical tradition: Knowledge, Conduct and Governance. The work treats these essential questions: What is the nature of reality? How does one live a virtuous life? How is one related to one’s society? While inspired by the formal, particular structure of Western philosophical inquiry, these are undeniably haunting uncertainties that have been pondered throughout human history.

The cyclical acquisition, loss and regaining of a culture’s knowledge can be seen in events ranging from the maturation and death of a wise individual to the building and destruction of a great library. In my pictures, piles of dust, ash and books suggest the frailty of both the human body and any ephemeral treasury of insights. The indispensable utility of wisdom is represented in Greek mythology as a golden thread; the one that leads Theseus safely back from the depths of the Minotaur’s labyrinth is repeated as Plato’s golden cord, a path of Reason that guides us safely through the maze of appetite and emotion. A golden cord weaves its way throughout the dollhouse in this work.

The ideal world of geometric forms has been used for centuries to suggest the existence of immutable truths. Apparently transcendent geometric forms appear in a number of these pictures.

The tension between individual liberty and societal responsibility is often viewed as a threshold to be honored or crossed. In many images, I use windows and doors, the liminal membranes between public and private domains, to address questions of tension between society and the individual.

—Bill O’Donnell

Escape, 2008
Books, 2007