CHICAGO — Tricksters is a show of work by Columbia College Chicago photography students, but if you walked in off the street you would never guess that the work was produced by people who were still in grad school.

Josh Poehlein’s “Announcement” (nd)

Josh Poehlein’s “Announcement” (nd)

The quality of the exhibition is partly due to the work itself, and partly attributed to the curator, Jefferson Godard. Godard is co-founder of Aspect/Ratio gallery in Chicago, one of only a handful of galleries in the US devoted exclusively to video art. His taste seems to run towards images, moving and still, that look like one thing and then turn out to be another (the work of Gilad Ratman, who was Aspect/Ratio’s inaugural exhibitor last year, is a prime example). This tendency is explored in Tricksters, which starts with the proposition that “artists are illusionists creating visual elements to populate space and create questions.”

So, for example, Josh Poehlein’s “Announcement” shows a man in a suit standing at a succession of podiums, waiting to begin an official announcement, and then just as he speaks there is a jump cut that produces a comical effect of “verbus interruptus.” Gregg Evans’ photos and one video of men in various stages of undress and/or conflict with the viewer speak less to the theme of the show — it seems to me that they are what appear to be, unless my uncertainty about their content is the intention.

The star of the show, however, is Nick Albertson, whose video piece “Fire” (posted at the top of this review) shows a dense thicket of matches clustered together in close-up and burning down on a speeded-up time-lapse. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the exhibitions’s title: convincing us at first that we are watching a blazing forest fire, which is succeeded by the realization that we are seeing something much more mundane. Except (and here’s the trick) the final image of the charred heads of the matches, smouldering in acrid grays and blacks, really does look the aftermath of a conflagration. In another video of a roll of toilet paper unspooling to the floor, and a set of digital prints of arrangements of napkins, black tape, and zip ties, Albertson takes humdrum objects and playfully makes satisfying abstract patterns from them. Like the best magic tricks, the simple ones work best.

Tricksters continues at C33 Gallery (33 E Congress Parkway, Chicago) until March 15.

Philip Hartigan is a UK-born artist and writer who now lives, works and teaches in Chicago. He also writes occasionally for Time Out-Chicago. Personal narratives (his own, other peoples', and invented)...