‘The Cabinet of Ordinary Affairs’

New work by Schlaifer and Wassenaar at Des Lee Gallery Sept. 7-22

Detail from "The Cabinet of Ordinary Affairs" by Cheryl Wassenaar and Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer. (Photo: Liam Otten)

All the colors of the rainbow mixed together produce not black nor white but flat, bureaucratic gray: the color of cubicles, of office furniture, of storm clouds and choppy seas.

God gave you fire
but told you to be careful
when you used it
— The Minister of the Cabinet of Admonition

In “The Cabinet of Ordinary Affairs,” Cheryl Wassenaar, associate professor of art in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis, and poet and 1999 alumna Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer explore the ways our distinct inner voices layer and blur and overrule one another, creating what the artists describe as a “bureaucracy of the mind.”

“The Cabinet of Ordinary Affairs” is based on Schlaifer’s ongoing series of poems, which filter personal and political events through an idiosyncratic group of bureaus and governing bodies. The Minister of Self-Preservation “dreams of landing upright.” The Cabinet of Lesser Offenses “speaks in horns and trumpets.” The Minister of the Cabinet of Talismans and Amulets “counts her lucky stars.”

But the immersive, multimedia installation does not simply illustrate these manuscripts. Instead, Wassenaar and Schlaifer combine sculpture, sound, video, text and design to create visual metaphors exploring the function and possibilities of language itself. Words and phrases are extracted from the page and scrawled onto paper scraps, scrolled across monitors and embedded within cast objects. Vinyl letters accumulate and scatter about the walls, their meanings jostled and competing but growing most legible as they spool away to the gallery’s edges.

Detail from “The Cabinet of Ordinary Affairs” by Cheryl Wassenaar and Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer. (Photo courtesy of the artists)

About the exhibition

“The Cabinet of Ordinary Affairs” will open with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7, at the Sam Fox School’s Des Lee Gallery, 1627 Washington Ave. The exhibition is Schlaifer and Wassenaar’s third collaboration, following “Re/Collect” at the Sheldon Art Gallery and “Cleavemark Drive” at the fort gondo compound for the arts.

The Des Lee Gallery is open from 1-6 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and by appointment. In addition, Schlaifer and Wassenaar will present an artists’ talk at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20. The exhibition remains on view through Sept. 22.

The exhibition, reception and artists’ talk are all free and open to the public. The project is generously funded by Mid-America Arts Alliance, the National Endowment for the Arts and the state arts agencies of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.

For more information, call 314-621-8735, email anschultz@wustl.edu or visit desleegallery.com.

Detail from “The Cabinet of Ordinary Affairs” by Cheryl Wassenaar and Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer. (Photo: Liam Otten)
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