Narrative exhibition imagines a future struggle for the preservation of freedom

When Grant Gilsdorf started assembling the art that would come to make up his “Chapter 1” exhibition, it seemed, he said, like the work, which he described as “speculative fiction,” was far more “speculative” and “fiction” than it appears now.

The narrative exhibition features work — all acrylic painting, some adapted from photography and Photoshop work also done by the artist — that tells a story of a future in which our political system has failed, a government has been usurped, not from the outside but from within, and of a silent war waged against the American people by those in power.

“I generally believe that inside people is a sense of humanity, that people will do the right thing,” Gilsdorf said in an interview at a North Side coffee shop. “But I was starting to have this lingering cynicism.”

“I started working on a piece of speculative fiction, not a dystopia, but a sort of, ‘If we're not careful this is what could happen,'” continued Gilsdorf, adding that these concepts began to fester with the re-election of President George W. Bush. “And as the rug was starting to get pulled out from under me, [President Donald] Trump was elected, and the series of pieces I was making started blending in with reality more and more.

“It wasn't political when I started it, but…”

Rooted in Gilsdorf's love of storytelling and filmmaking, “Chapter 1” is an exhibition in three parts: portraiture of characters from the story, each with a detailed backstory; massive setting pieces made in the aspect ratio of a movie screen; and plot as depicted in imagined news stories that chronicle the repression and resistance.

“I've always loved movies, and thought that stories were important,” Gilsdorf said. “I wanted, as a visual artist, to take the image back from cinema. In many ways, this is my movie.”

The exhibition will also feature QR codes, scannable to access companion material, including music, literature and other content that has either served to inspire the artist or that he felt “mirrors or supplements mine.”

“I wanted to make an event, to create an experience,” Gilsdorf said.

“Chapter 1” will remain on view at X Space through January 2018.