A pink and purple tapestry was mounted on the wall of a DIY punk practice space in the West Loop on Aug. 26, covered in hand-sewn embroidery floss and rhinestones. The digitally woven piece depicted a self-portrait of artist Tali Halpern seated with their knees spread, their eyes and brows adorned with gemstones. "EAT MY DUST" was spread in the Hot Wheels font across the top.
Halpern, a multimedia artist and punk musician from Chicago, posed for photos in front of the work on at the opening reception for their second solo show, Beyond Desire, which explores themes of drag, sexuality, and nostalgia through multiple media.
Beyond Desire is a culmination of Halpern's work as a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and includes tapestries, paintings, a video performance piece, and an archival artists scrapbook.
"I didn't want to just settle with my own work," Halpern said. " I could have just shown one tapestry and my old paintings, but I wanted to push myself and do something I was really proud of."
The space, which has no name, is on the 1300 block of West Lake Street. It's in a brick warehouse near the Peoria Packing Butcher Shop. On the top floor of the warehouse, visitors follow a path cordoned off by a thick, silk ribbon and enter the gallery. DJ Inward filled the space with hyperpop, electronica, and EDM sounds that were so loud, everyone had to shout to be heard, moving their ears close to masked mouths.
Guests were dressed specifically for the event, wearing studded sneakers, black leather, chains and fishnet lace. Their tough, punk looks were broken up with flashes of color: a pink handbag, pastel barrettes, and Halpern's own hi-vis yellow bangs.
Each piece in the show includes elements of collage, which is a widely used art technique across punk and queer scenes. They also feature elements of nostalgia: cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck, references to toys, and bright, primary colors.
Heather Gabel runs the space, and curates the shows that take place every other month. They're a collage artist themselves, and the singer of Hide, a Chicago-based industrial punk band.
Gabel is about 20 years older than Halpern. Still, they're able to look back to a time when they were growing up, identifying with Halpern's own explorations of gender. Their favorite piece in the show is a painting made to look like a collage.
"Something about that one is so timeless to me," Gabel said. "I saw Who Framed Roger Rabbit in the movie theater, and to see all the stuff I grew up with, through the lens of a non-binary, queer person now [that I'm older] is amazing."
For Halpern, the work is a system of references: from pop culture, from their collaborations with other artists, from their own sketchbooks.
"Collage elements in general are so punk," they said. "It's intersectional, it's lumpy, it's crinkly, it's just so saturated. It's also like a childhood bedroom, scrapbooking. You're grabbing at anything for some semblance of self."
When Halpern presents to the world as hyper-feminine, they view this as a drag performance. Each portrait in the showin woven tapestries, in polaroid pictures pasted into the scrapbook or painted from photo referencesdepicts Halpern in feminine drag.
"It's self-portraiture, but on steroids, because it's not just me. It's me as a character."
To make an appointment to see the show, email firstname.lastname@example.org .