Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Diverse shows at Artspace

50 Orange St, New Haven, (203) 772-2709
Mark Mulroney: Wet with Glee
Gail Biederman: 2800/16/65/4100/35/1073/84B
Kwadwo Adae: Kwadrilaterals
David Borawski: Goes Around Comes Around
Steven Millar: Discovering Home
Jeremy Bell: Vestige: Genesis
Geoffrey Detrani: Break & Heap
Through Mar. 28, 2009
Opening Reception: Thurs., Feb. 19, 6-8 p.m.

Wet with Glee, Mark Mulroney's installation in Artspace's Gallery 1, consists of two distinct but related elements. The sculptural portion of the installation is an architectural construction, which wends is way diagonally across the gallery floor. A dark, low-ceilinged passageway, it's built of box cardboard and packaging tape. The entrance and various "rooms" are set off not by door but by long streamers of colored paper. (They reminded me of the bolts of fabric one drives through in a car wash.)

This construction evokes childhood on two levels. First, there is scale. Even for a height-challenged adult such as myself, it is necessary to crawl (painfully) through its constricted hallway. More importantly, in its improvisatory layout and use of throwaway materials like cardboard boxes, it is informed by the architectural endeavors of childhood: forts in the woods, hiding places built of chairs and draped sheets. It is dark inside but light leaks in through the "roof" and seams; the eye adjusts. And, reaching the end, the visitor's gaze is directed by a spray-painted arrow toward a blunt visual joke—graffiti of a full-busted woman, naked from the waist up (with text that reads, "Next time you should stay for dinner. We'll have drinks and I'll make my casserole"). It is symbolic, perhaps, of childhood's end and the onset of (male) adolescence and adulthood. There is poignancy here. The signaling of life's next phase is not the door to another passageway but rather a dead end.

The graffiti inside connects to the graffiti outside, a seemingly random wall mural. With a painting style reminiscent of that of punk artist Raymond Pettibon, Mulroney has rendered a couple of sleepy-eyed mules, twigs and a couple of large hands grasping at or clutching them, lengths of rope, washes of water and squiggles and lines of spray paint. Here again, there is a sense of play at work, ADD artistic energy, harnessed to complete some imagery, distracted in the making of other imagery. The mules might represent work. But who knows? It made me think of a kids' secret universe that one might stumble upon in the woods or at an abandoned industrial site. It is suggestive of freedom, creativity and adventure. It is also a dead end.

David Borawski also makes use of large squares of corrugated cardboard as part of his Goes Around Comes Around installation. The circle has symbolic resonance in all these works—an enclosure, a target, as a reference to cycles of violence. For "Watching You Watching Me," Borawski partially stripped away the surface of cardboard panels to create a series of target-like concentric circles. Borawski abutted nine square cardboard panels to create "Black Out." Cutting away the smooth surface on the four corners, he left a large inner circle, which he painted black. Borawski's installation—which addresses issues of surveillance and corporate control, although a viewer would only know that from reading the posted information—also includes video and "Black Sea," a sculptural installation comprised of a ring of orange traffic cones enclosing a sheet of black plastic. "Black Sea' is intended as a commentary on corporate control of oil but as such, it lacks bite.

As a body of work with intended social critique, Steven Millar's series Discovering Home is far more successful. It is a wry bit of well-executed social commentary. These ink on paper drawings riff off the American fetish for home ownership, and the marketing that feeds that fetish. Millar pairs stark black and white ink drawings of dwellings with a combination of found text, overheard conversation and his own writing. Some of these drawings feature homes one might see on any cruise through the suburbs: a split-level, an A-frame, raised ranch, a contemporary. But more often than not, there is an air of surrealism or dislocation, alienation amid the prefab lifestyle. A giant jet takes off over one house; the text reads, "Even silver has a cloudy lining." Many of the structures are caught in the process of morphing into something else, symbolic of the way one's dreams of life and place are upended by time and circumstance.

Geoffrey Detrani's layered drawings in his Break and Heap exhibit pair natural forms with geometric and architectural shapes. In a work like "Souvenirs and Barricade"—pencil, colored pencil and ink on paper—leaves, twigs and branches spar compositionally with rectangular slots seen in perspective, like looking through open Venetian blinds from the side. If this is a commentary on attempts to subdue and enclose nature, then nature appears to be getting the upper hand (or branch). It reminds me of the way in which weeds force their way through cracks in pavement. Detrani's use of slashing diagonals suggests the design conceits of the Soviet avant-garde. In his drawings, the representational (organic) and abstract/geometric (inorganic) are in dialectical conflict with compositional integrity as the mode of synthesis.

Does the universe have a design, intelligent or otherwise? Jeremy Bell's drawings-using blueprints, a medium almost exclusively associated with technical and architectural plans-suggests that such design may be outside our capacity to fully comprehend it. "Apple" may render the iconic fruit in technical form, as a transparent graphed double ovoid form with visible seeds and stem. But it leaves outside it's design the mysteries of taste, procreation and metaphysics.

One of the most commonly used diagrams in daily life is the map. Gail Biederman meditates on place and memory in her 2800/16/65/4100/35/1073/84B installation. The numbers refer to seven different addresses at which Biederman has lived (in the Connecticut municipalities of Bridgeport, Shelton, Cromwell, Granby and Fairfield as well as Minnetonka, Minnesota and Croton, New York). Biederman has hung from the ceiling seven large "maps" of each of these locations cut out of a long roll of thick, black felt. There is a contrast between the grid-like order of some and the more meandering curves of others. In addition, the way the hanging cutouts of felt sag and twist suggest both the rolling of landscape but also the warping of memory. Biederman has also created a couple of wall collages using the cutouts from the maps, raising interesting questions about which are there real representations of these places, the vehicular circulatory system as represented by the road maps or the locations that they connect.

Kawdwo Adae's eye candy canvases—the four-panel "Kwadrilateral Iterations I" and "Kwadrilateral Iterations II"—approach oil paint not just as a painting medium but also as a sculptural medium. Adae covers the base of his canvas with brash color designs; these are really eye-popping works. With some—"XXIV," "XXIII," "XVII"—he uses broad brush strokes that circle, swerve and roll. The bristles create grooves like a vinyl record. Other panels are notable for more precise design attention. In "XXIX," pink forms evoke a kind of sci-fi architecture. Adae adorns this base with tufts and dots and worms of paint that add three-dimensional character. They suggest Hershey's kisses, paisleys, centipedes, dragons, microscopic life forms, or miniature mountainous landscapes. Adae takes an evident joy in both the color and the materiality of the paint and his pleasure is contagious.


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