Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


I approached City-Wide Open Studios differently this year. I wanted to make as many visits to disparate locations as possible so I didn't spend as much time as I like talking with artists. For example, where in the past two years I spent part of both Saturday and Sunday at visiting studios on the Erector Square weekend, this year I had to squeeze Erector Square into two or so hours on Sunday before I went to work.

I started on Friday with the Hamden AIRS, following that with a visit to Westville. There I took in the AIRS as well as other attractions at ArLOW, and the Kehler Liddell Gallery. Saturday started with Westville-a return to the AIRS and over to West Rock Gallery to savor Gar Waterman's sculpture. From there I headed to Gilbert Street in West Haven, checking out the AIRS exhibitions and the sculpture in Susan Clinard's studio. I ended up downtown, visiting the AIRS and Roberto's restaurant, dropping in on Jerry Saladyga, Steve Grossman, Silas Finch and Jo Kremer at 39 Church and detouring down near Cafe Nine to observe the works in progress of "aerosol art," organized (at least, in part) by artist Robert Greenberg. Sunday started with the Fair Haven AIRS and concluded at Erector Square. Whew!

(Before continuing, I want to note a caveat. I couldn't take notes on and write about everybody. The fact that some artists aren't discussed in this post is not because they weren't worthy of attention.)

The Hamden AIRS focused on photography. I spoke about their art and process with Michelle Reynard, Regan Avery, Cara Vickers-Kane and installation artist Greg Garvey. (I spent more time talking with artists at the Hamden AIRS than anywhere else. I quickly realized that would be a recipe for not getting very far in my explorations.)

Reynard was showing medium format color prints, night photography. The series evolved over the last couple of years, she told me. Her images, several of which were shot at the Shoreline Trolley Museum, featured long exposures, rich colors and sharp focus. Reynard is working with film, not digital, and she appreciates the various ways that different emulsions respond to different light situations. Particularly with night photography, she said, there is a large element of the unknown. The end result is a combination of choosing certain materials, estimating exposure time and "alchemy."

"The film does its own magic. You can sort of but never quite predict it," said Reynard. "The wonderful thing about film is that delayed gratification—not looking at the back of the camera to see what you got."

A lot of the scenes, said Reynard, were shot several different times with different kinds of emulsions, some of which have been discontinued in the last several years. Different emulsions work better in different situations. She noted that Kodak Portra is "more buttery." She used it for three of the images from the Trolley Museum. Working with tungsten light, it yielded images bathed in a nostalgic gold glow. I particularly liked an image of one of the libraries at Yale. Shot through big glass windows at night when the first floor was empty, it has a hint if melancholy. But that note is leavened by the appearance on the floor of a paper airplane.

Regan Avery also still uses film and, like Reynard, her images were primarily shot at dusk or in the night. For this "Mirrors" series, Avery planted a 12x12-inch mirror in the sand on the shoreline, facing away from the water. She shoots with a 6x7 medium format but crops the images square to evoke the mirror itself.

"I like perspective changes. It's one of the fun things about this project," said Avery. "It is actually disorienting to see two things at once."

Avery takes time to set up her tableaux, positioning the mirror both so as to catch an interesting reflection behind her and to have that reflection appear out of synch with the rest of the image. Especially compelling is a picture taken on the shore in Rye, New York. The water and sky are a dark night blue and in the upper quarter of the photo there is a double black horizon line (a jetty with a land mass behind it?). The mirror is planted in the sand in the foreground, angled slightly up toward the left of the image. In strong, almost surreal, contrast to the night darkness, it's an image of the nearby amusement park with lights and a ferris wheel.

One print, shot at a beach in Greenwich—Avery said the placidity of Long Island Sound is more conducive to this concept than the more turbulent ocean—features dark sand and the mirror reflecting an overcast light sky and what appears to be a castle in the distance. It is a well-made illusion, a sand castle small and close. Avery told me she had to spend time building it and getting the perspective right.

Cara Vickers-Kane was raised Mormon and taught that human bodies in general—and the female body, in particular—were one's temple and should always be covered up. She left the faith but the fascination with the body has remained. It has been accentuated by a personal history of gaining and losing weight. For her series "Self-Portraits of Your Mother," Vickers-Kane shot nude self-portraits of herself over a 14-month period during which she was losing weight. In all the images, she is posed on a plush couch, often accompanied by her German Shepherd. The dog is a "symbol of domesticity," she told me.

The self-portraits were shot with a medium format film camera. Vickers-Kane also received permission from the University of Connecticut to use a medium format digital camera to shoot 18 daguerreotype frames from the university's special collection. Using a computer, she replaced the antique daguerreotype images with her own portraits. The reference to the past is bolstered by several of the poses, which echo nudes in paintings by Manet, Courbet, Rubens and others. Vickers-Kane told me she "like[s] the point in history where painting split off" from an emphasis on faithful representation, displaced by photography's superior capabilities in that regard.

Greg Garvey's installation was titled "Don't Push Me 'coz I'm close to the edge/I'm trying not to lose my head..." (derived from lyrics of Grandmaster Flash's 1980's rap hit "The Message"). Garvey's forte is creating installations using modern technology that are both thought-provoking and accessible (see here for a post on his 2006 CWOS installation and here for a post on his 2007 installation). For "Don't Push Me," Garvey erected a mini-theater where viewers can look through security peepholes at video loops playing on iMac computers. The loops could be changed by pressing a button mounted on the wall near the peephole. There were 20 loops. Some were nature scenes shot by Garvey with a digital camera on a walk at Hammonassett State Park. The other videos, found on the Internet, consisted of scenes of military mayhem, both real and made in Hollywood. These included the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, footage from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Trinity nuclear test.

Although Garvey's video compilation was non-narrative in nature, he was influenced by Soviet avant garde filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein's theories of montage. It shares with Eisenstein "the principle of juxtaposing two different perspectives or threads of action." Juxtaposition can create new meanings. Here, contemplation of nature is juxtaposed with the existence—in the same temporal plane if different location—of war. At the heart of "Don't Push Me" is a critique of 21st century fragmentation and alienation.

"The shots of nature and contemplation suggests a way of looking that is literally about being in a Zen-like state, about experiencing where there is simply a sense of a continuum," explained Garvey. "And then suddenly you see something that is all about the action and arrow of time and irreversibility of time and implication of death."

The use of the peephole reinforces the metaphor. It is a security mechanism employed, Garvey said, "in the cocoon of the household through which we peer out from behind the safety of the door." The peephole creates a kind of distancing from the parade of alternately peaceful and disturbing scenes. The video, while created with contemporary technology, is playing on slower computers (by about 5-8 years!). This causes the imagery to stream in kind of a slow, herky-jerky way, adding another element of edginess.

Speaking of edginess, Bradley Wollman's The Little War photographs, which previously were shown in Real Art Ways' Real Room, were even stronger in this setting. The eight photographs—recreations by Wollman with toys of scenes from the Iraq War—were hung in two horizontal rows of four each. The gritty nature of the images resonated in the semi-industrial garage space.

Photographer Keith Johnson's (web) images explored elements of texture, shape and color. There were also some visual puns. One triptych, entitled "CMY," depicted a succession of rundown bungalows. One was painted in a soft blue, a second was colored a washed-out yellow and the bungalow on the right was a stark pink.

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Anonymous Michelle said...

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us and review our work, Hank.

Also, if anyone reading this was one of the people who asked me about that sandcastle photo by Regan, I'm sorry I said I was pretty sure it was a castle in Scotland. :)

4:06 PM


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