Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Shadow knows

Real Art Ways
56 Arbor St., Hartford, (860) 232-1006
Shadow Show
Oct. 28—Feb. 3, 2007

Shadows are the indication of a presence, not the presence itself. In Real Art Ways' Shadow Show, curated by Rhode Island artist Elizabeth Keithline (who has a large installation work in the exhibit) and RAW's Director of visual Arts Kristina Newman-Scott, the various works in various media trade on the presence of absence as well as other associations with the concept of "shadow."

Olu Oguibe's brother died of complications of measles and dehydration in the late 1970's at the age of four. It was a death that didn't have to happen. While the proximate cause was physical factors, the real reason was social, economic and political factors. Oguibe's brother, like so many millions of others and not only in Africa (Oguibe is originally from Nigeria), didn't have access to the necessary basic health care. The centerpiece of Oguibe's "Buggy Memorial to the Unknown Child" installation is a large blow-up photo of a young African child (actually Oguibe himself). The old film-based image is marked with dust motes and light scratches. It is mounted on the wall, memorial-style, and framed by heavy somber drapes. Set before it on a pedestal is a worn old baby buggy. Relating to the theme of the show, the shadow here is one of personal loss. But an even larger shadow is cast—the moral shadow over a humanity that has the wealth and knowledge to prevent avoidable deaths like that of Oguibe's brother but squanders those resources in war, waste and obscene concentrations of wealth.

What could be more symbolic of inertness and silence than a stone? Yet it is a chunk of rough granite from the shores of Jamestown, Rhode Island that collaborators Duncan Laurie and Gordon Salisbury used to create the computer animation "Rockstar" (get the pun?). Laurie is an artist and Salisbury is an electronic engineer. For another project, Laurie had developed a "rate of change detector," a device for monitoring "the state of the electrical charge on the surface of plant leaves and stems," according to the work's title card. That varying electrical charge was keyed to an audio track. In the course of that project, he found that some stones possess an internal electrical signal. Capturing the electronic impulses from this nondescript chunk of rock, they used them as the basis for creating a computer animation with electronic music soundtrack. It appears that even rocks may have a vibrant inner life.

Richard Goulis works with found objects. The appeal is not only in the physicality of the objects but also in the suggested presence of the lives connected to the objects. With "High Definition," Goulis employs antique wood and cloth trays used in the sorting of pieces of jewelry for manufacture. In these trays—stained rectangles of cloth of different colors stretched between rickety wood frames—the presence of the past is evident in the wear. More to the point, the workers who used the trays are present in the doodles on them—flowers, faces, a martini glass. There is an element of desire to two that are inscribed with hearts with arrows through them. At work but dreaming of love. While the desire for play—in the midst of what was likely monotonous, tedious work—is inscribed in the trays, Goulis also uses DVD projection to overlay the array of trays with scenes of the hands of his wife and children playing in the yard. This projection interacts with the mottled panels to create a subtle moving abstraction. The freedom of play invades the servitude of work, a daydream outlet of escape. And the presence of work, and particularly exploitative and repetitive work, casts its shadow over the carefree play of those who unreflectively consume the fruits of others' harsh labors.

Reflections and shadows of the intersection between commerce and the home are at the heart of Samuel Ekwurtzel's playful and revealing "Living Spaces of People Who Are Selling Their Television." The work consists of two video loops, showing on two separate televisions, culled from images scavenged from Ebay, the online auction site. Ekwurtzel had noticed that sellers photographing their TVs for sale often inadvertently captured reflections of their location. These are mostly interior spaces, often with the seller in the image. Ekwurtzel downloaded the images and isolated the screens, some of which are surprisingly clear. Isn't it one of the dystopic fears about television that as we watch it, it watches us back? Ekwurtzel presents evidence from Ebay that this eventuality has come to pass.

A further commentary on the dystopia of omni-present surveillance is offered by Erik Gould's "In Plain Sight." Gould presents 77 grainy black and white images of people taken on the streets of Boston and Providence in the summer of 2007. He apparently made no effort to conceal his actions. These random "surveillance photos" capture people talking on their cellphones, slugging coffee, hurrying somewhere. It's a commentary on the loss of privacy or, more accurately, the loss of the expectation of privacy. It's a fact that while we take little or no notice there are images like these being captured of most of us several times a day. It would be interesting to combine this idea somehow with imagery derived from Google Earth.

With "Instances in the Field," Rupert Nesbitt showcases 3-D Studio Max animation. These are hyperreal virtual environments created by Nesbitt wholly in the computer. They look like our world but something's off. The sense of realism is challenged in part by the clinical chilliness of the digital imagery. But there also the odd occurrences, like nightmares made real: the rolling upheaval of the land in one animation, the appearance in another of explosions out of nowhere with a subsequent billowing and dissipation of thick black smoke. This virtual world is a shadow of our analog environment, disturbing both for the virtuosity of the simulation and the sense of cataclysmic instability. We live in a time in which the conceptual ground is shifting beneath us.

Tim Doherty's "I am an impotent necromancer. I know this but I keep trying," besides having one of the longest titles I have ever encountered, uses old-fashioned mechanical rather than digital technology. Doherty has made a machine to reanimate dead birds. The bird carcasses are connected to a machine. When the machine is cranked, the operator can make the birds' wings move up and down in a simulacra of flying although there is no forward motion. In the gallery, the contraption is set on a pedestal. A light is projected from the floor up through it to cast looming shadows on the wall. When the machine is operated, which it wasn't while I was there, the shadows of the birds seem even more realistically to be taking wing.

I don't know whether Bert Crenca was ever an underground comix artist. But if not, he surely missed (one of) his calling(s). Crenca's "You Can't Call Your Own Baby Ugly" is a series of doodles sketched over three years at conferences, school board meetings and at his desk at (supposedly) work. It's an amazing collection of surrealistic, psychedelic and grotesque imagery. Wild misshapen figures twist in upon themselves or merge with their landscapes, all rendered with virtuoso cross-hatching and shading.

One whole room in the main gallery is devoted to co-curator Elizabeth Keithline's "The Lost House Project." An installation, it consists of a set of sculptures Keithline creates by wrapping combustible objects in wire and then burning the object. What is left is the wire mesh form. These forms are suspended from the ceiling. A light is shone through them, projecting shadows. The wire forms are arranged to suggest the outer contours of a house or other building with a peaked roof. The visitor is contained within this "house" that isn't really there, just as the separate wire components contain the presence of the pre-existing form. The projected shadows further feed this notion of presence/absence, substance/shadow.


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