Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Throwaway culture

The Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism's Gallery
1 Constitution Plaza, 2nd floor, Hartford, (860) 256-2800
Lost and Found: A Selection of Fellowship Artists

The Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism hosts a small welcoming gallery in their Constitution Plaza offices. Unlike some galleries in office locations, you don't have to invade employees' cubicles to spend time with the art. In my first visit there I took in Lost and Found, a show featuring works created by artists who have received Commission fellowships. According to the statement about the show, these are pieces created by artist "who sift through their cultural, visual and physical surroundings to create new moments and objects from the fragments they collected." This is art as a process of taking the varied materials of everyday life and investing in them creative energy and personal spirit.

We live in a recycling culture, on a constant quest to make it new. There is a drive to find the personal and individual in that which appears old and worn out, whether that means physical objects or artistic practices. With many of these artists, that process begins with the need to look intently.

In her artist statement, photographer Linda Lindroth writes that "I have spent an awful lot of time head down when I walk." Among the things she has seen—because she is looking—are small bits of metal detritus. Twisted fragments of steel and aluminum, once functional parts of larger objects, are now merely curious abstract shapes. Or, as Lindroth labels them, "runes." Lindroth uses the "runes" as masks to make Ray-o-graphs on 4x5 film negatives (a technique pioneered by surrealist Man Ray). She then scans the negative, creating a digital image. These digital images constitute her "Urban Genome Project."

Lindroth is not alone in finding beauty—or at least value—in what most people would view as trash. Pam Erickson offers several mixed media works that employ laundry lint as a primary element. It's a remarkably versatile artistic material, having the virtues of interesting texture, malleability and color variations. Erickson's "Chronicles of Shambhala" incorporates a mostly monochromatic mat of lint in shades of gray with bone white fired strands of clay. It has the appearance of ancient writing on fibrous handmade paper. "Laundry Shed," an assemblage in the shape of a long, thin structure, has panels packed with tightly compacted kittens of lint. Erickson has arranged the different colors together to form what looks like abstract sand paintings. (Her affection for sloughed-off substances extends to the use of molted iguana skins in making her "lizard sheds.")

Like Lindroth, Susan Schultz is attentive to the flotsam and jetsam she encounters. Schultz gathers stones, shells, driftwood and trash at beaches. She lovingly recreates what she finds in porcelain and stoneware. The tableau "New Bedford Massachusetts" is composed of porcelain replicas of not only shells and some fish bones but also a length of chain, kelp, a glove, a few little alcohol bottles as well as a big scrunched plastic one, a fragment of brick and a segment of cable. Schultz adds to the pile a weathered square of a wooden board and a rusted and bent metal pole. Her arrangements appear haphazard—that is, they look like they were just stumbled upon—but actually are arranged with a keen eye for composition.

I've written about the work of Rashmi Talpade before (see here and here). Indian-born, Talpade creates wonderful sensory overload photo-collages (and also here one collage of her drawings of household objects titled "Daily Life Mosaic"). As the other artists have collected physical objects, Taplade has amassed images. The photo-collages "Houses in Bombay" and "Traffic of Bombay" are dizzying urban landscapes, piling information on top of visual information. They spur perception of a metropolis packed to overflowing with humanity, its dwellings and devices. "Traffic of Bombay" is particularly effective. Talpade manages a simulation of depth, an evocation of a kind of claustrophobic exuberance.

Occasional Connecticut Art Scene contributor Sharon Butler's multimedia work approaches these ideas from a different angle. "The Search for Moby Dicks," a PowerPoint presentation and accompanying digital photographs on paper, document her quest for the great white whale. But rather than riding the high seas to slay the mythical mammal—which, at any rate, would violate international treaties and inflame good environmentalists everywhere—Butler is searching for the way the name of Herman Melville's novelistic creation has migrated from high culture into a more prosaic, often commercial, use. The project consists of finding and documenting businesses named "Moby Dick" throughout North America and Europe and then telling the story of the search. Butler photographed the establishments and interviewed owners and managers as to why the chose the name. If Lindroth, Schultz and Erickson are turning detritus into culture, Butler (in a sense) is in search of the way culture turns into detritus. (That she then reinvests in her discovery on the cultural plane could make one's head swim.)

Finally, Cynthia Beth Rubin (with the assistance of Robert Gluck on one multimedia work) views the past through the filter of the technological present. For over 20 years, Rubin has been using computers to manipulate her photographs. She specializes in photographing locations steeped in history, particularly relating to Eastern European Jewish culture. But her images aren't documents in the formal sense. By playing with the hue and saturation and filters, Rubin reveals mystical, magical qualities in weathered and often crumbling edifices of brick, mortar and stone.

Poet Claire Zoghb's work was also part of this show but poetry is outside the purview of this blog.

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Anonymous Cynthia Beth Rubin said...

Thanks for the thoughtful insights into the concepts behind my work. I appreciate the sensitivity to the artistic intent. The description of my artistic processes is inaccurate, as the images evolve from both photographic sources and other sources, including bits of my old paintings, and not from Photoshop filters.

1:31 AM


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