Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Darkness visible: "War Making" at A-Space Gallery

A-Space Gallery at West Cove Studios
30 Elm St., West Haven, (203) 966-9700
War Making: An Exhibition of This Time
June 21—July 2, 2011.

The wars go on and on but are mostly invisible. The media hides the carnage, covers for the criminality. A tiny percentage of the population bears the burden—some reluctantly, some with relish—of carrying out the orders to kill and of sacrificing their bodies and psyches to our rulers' bloodlust and greed. The televisual screens chatter in a fog of mindless clichés like "They fight for our freedom." Meanwhile, freedom evaporates like a splash of water on summer's sidewalk.

War Making, an exhibition gathered by art critic and peace activist Stephen Vincent Kobasa and now showing at A-Space Gallery in West Haven, is one effort to resist the invisibility of the wars. This is war as maiming—of the physical body, the landscape and the human spirit.

The maiming of the body is manifest in works like Fethi Meghelli's (Web) "War Series," a collage and manipulated Xerox. Among the dark claustrophobic imagery are representations of brawny men—one wearing an "Army" t-shirt—with their prosthetic legs. Chris Alexiades' (Web) "Jar and Bones" accumulates stoneware bones in a large glass jar, the rawness of mass death as collective depersonalization. The individual is reduced to component parts.

Gerald Saladyga's (Web) "Playground in Rwanda," dating back to 1994, is a raw expressionist image of a child trying to jump rope with just bloody stumps where his hands and feet were. In modern warfare, it's not only the active combatants who suffer. Far from it. In fact, in drone warfare, the combatants slaughter civilians and purported "militants" while enjoying air-conditioned, videogame comfort. Point-and-click snuff film moviemaking.

The attacks on the landscape, including the built landscape, is referenced in Bradley Wollman's photographs, Nathan Lewis' painting "Orange Was the Sky" and in Nomi Silverman's drawing "Elysian Fields." Wollman uses models and toys to create diorama-like representations of war. In "Bunker Busters," the blinding sky shines through a hole blown in a building, illuminating the inner darkness to reveal the rubble. "UAV" shows a drone—"unmanned aerial vehicle"—high over a mottled desert landscape. Silverman's "Elysian Fields" from the "Mud Flat Drawings" is an abstract drawing that evokes a rending of the earth, a furious disturbance. A procession of haggard refugees trudge through a winter's landscape in Lewis' painting, the sky the color fire and elevated threat levels.
Joseph Smolinski (Web) brings together the themes of body and landscape mutilation in his spooky "Trepanned Skull—Civilian Casualties" (ink, watercolor, charcoal and graphite on paper). An upended blown-out skull births the skeletal remains of a bomb-eviscerated bus. This drawing suggests that the thought of war consumes both the individual who puts it into effect as well as war—or terrorism's—victims.

This conflagration is a maiming of the human spirit. The distortion of what it means to be human may be the ostensible subject of Brian Kavanagh's "For they have sowed the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind," Steven DiGiovanni's "Desert Sketch: Drone Pilots" and John Bent's "KYEO (Keep Your Eyes Open)."

Bent's painting presents the physical maiming of a soldier, in particular the mutilation of his face, as a metaphor for the spiritual mutilation of war. In DiGiovanni's oil on masonite sketch, war is almost play. Shirtless soldiers in the desert next to a trailer fitted with a satellite dish sit bored or act out gestures like they are flying, disconnected from the fact that their mission is technologically-inflicted, long distance death.

Kavanagh's ink drawing, which has the feel of a woodcut or block print, depicts generals and business-suited civilians plucking bombs, bombers and submarines out of a goody bag and dropping them willy-nilly into a churning sea. These are humans turned monsters, playing deadly power games devoid of compassion.

There is much more. Susan Nichols' (Web) two etchings hint at the disruption of the sanctity of the home by soldiers. Two artists riff on the plastic toy soldiers of childhood. Margaret Roleke's (Web) "White Men" features painted toy army men mounted on a large circular slab of wood. Mark Williams' (Web)three painted floor sculptures depict cutouts of posed military figures topped by contrasting playful forms—a bunch of bananas, a rooster, an elephant—derived from Play-Doh molds. The use of toys as a touchstone for both artists critiques the indoctrination in war that begins in childhood.

Considerations of the causes of war animate the works of Greg Haberny and Ronnie Rysz. Haberny's miniature assemblage "Gulf War Syndrome (with gold screw)" includes the word "Gulf" depicted in the oil company's logo. Ronnie Rysz's two linoleum cut prints, "Paper Economy" and "Shadow Banking," allude to the role of economic interest and greed in fomenting war.

Some of the artists represent the implements of war. Elizabeth White's sculpture is a disquieting visual pun: "Stickershock and Awe" encloses a hollow grenade in a cloak of burrs. Phil Lique's (Web) wall drawing "Out of Stock" employs cut vinyl to depict the silhouettes of three automatic rifles and the apology "Sorry…This item is temporarily out of stock." Jonathan Waters and Martha Lewis offer two very different takes on tanks. Waters' "Tank," dating back to 1980, is a small wedge carved out of ebony wood on a squat white pedestal. Martha Lewis' untitled pencil and watercolor drawing envisions the tank as intricate design of mechanical engineering. This raises a deeply uncomfortable truth: War, like art, is also a product of human imagination and creative ingenuity albeit turned to sulfurous, destructive ends.

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