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Artist finds beauty in desperate Craigslist postings

On Craigslist, you've probably found dubious employment opportunities, skeezey personal ads  and various collections of second, third and nth-hand property.

In a way, that's all Liz Maugans of Zygote Press found, too, while browsing through the search results on the site containing the word "desperate."

"[Craigslist] has a sort of sketchy, creepy idea to it anyway, especially after what's in the News," Maugans said, alluding to Richard Beasley, the "Craigslist Killer" of Summit County whose trial is just now getting underway.

However, instead of gliding past all the depreciation and creepiness like a highway rubbernecker, she lingers over the listings and considers them as texts of human desire. After trawling the Internet's thrift shop, Maugans transcribed the most intriguing posts onto pictures of black picket signs printed on handmade paper. The end results of the project are displayed in Gordon Square's 1point618 gallery.

In her interpretations of anonymous requests to buy a fanny pack or sell a leather jacket, Maugans finds grit and resourcefulness. In others, there is the sadness of the downtrodden with nowhere else to turn.

In a piece titled "Moving South," the poster starts with the Golden Rule of the real estate sales pitch: "Location, Location, Location." That location (location location) turns out to be a burial plot by a tree in The Gardens of Everlasting Life, which we are told "the most sought-after cemetery in the area."

The anonymous author switches back and forth between cold showmanship and flashes of personal tragedy.

We hear the pitch: "Have you lost a loved one and need to make arrangements quickly? Save that part of the grief..."

And then we hear the confession: "We don't need [the plot] because mother requested cremation. We are moving South and are desperate to sell."

Another, "Selling a Few Things," introduces us to a woman in a "maternity situation" looking to support herself and her boyfriend by peddling some possessions: "A working Nintendo 64, two Hugga Bunch Dolls, anime drawing books, beads, homemade rosaries, [and] darker, morbid-type paintings."

Text is the star of Maugans' printed works. Visually, all the prints can be given the same generic description: A black square is overlaid with white text. A vertical line runs from the bottom of the rectangle, and all this is against a white background. The repetition of form downplays Maugans' artistic contributions, and lets the posters' comments stand by themselves with little commentary. Whether the original Craigslist posters were self-effacing, self-pitying or genuinely affecting, their original tone seems faithfully preserved.

1point618, usually a showcase for traditional shows of art objects hung orderly on walls, has accommodated Maugans' unusual show. Instead of being hung on the wall, most of Maugans' prints are propped up against it. Maugans intended the works to be displayed at knee-level, casually tilting like a yard sale sign lain against a porch. Maugans also sets up installation pieces made with objects rescued from the curb, and decorated with neon phrases and imagined one-paragraph backstories on printed cards.

A long and fruitful discussion could be had about the ethics of appropriating for the purposes of fine art the solicitations for help of the clearly down-on-their luck. However, Maugans insists her project is meant to cultivate empathy. She invites viewers to meditate in front of something we would scroll past had we happened across it online, and try to reconstruct the person and the circumstance behind it. No matter what else is thought of the show, this practice is worthwhile.

Desperate Signs will run through April 12 at 1point618 at 6421 Detroit Ave. For more information, call 216-281-1618 or go to 1point618gallery.com.

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