Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Stray observations from 2011 CWOS Weekend 3, the Alternative Space(s)

City-Wide Open Studios
50 Orange St, New Haven, (203) 772-2709
City-Wide Open Studios
Through Oct. 30, 2011.

I had to miss the first day of the Alternative Space to attend a funeral (not because of the snow) but I did check out the Alt Space on Sunday.

First stop was the room where my former New Haven Advocate colleague Craig Gilbert was displaying his "Flow" series, minutely detiled drawings of pebble-like shapes of various sizes. He orchestrates the composition by creating clusters of bubble-like shapes, proceeding from large shapes to small to tiny.

In his Artist Statement posted on the wall, Gilbert wrote that "perception is solely within the mind of the individual." The drawings invite individual interpretation: are they foam, pebbles and rocks, views of the Earth from the sky?

Gilbert told me that he had a chaos theorist visit.

"He told me that what he did was based on chaos theory and it bore a strong similarity to my work," said Gilbert. "I said 'Okay, that wasn't what I was thinking about it but I see where you're coming from.'"

"It's meditative. You really have no connection to time. You just do it and do it, then two hours have gone by and it's time to eat and then you go back to it," Gilbert said when I asked how long it took to complete one of the drawings.


Artist Ellen Hackl Fagan, according to her Web site, "uses synesthesia, digital media and interactive performance as tools for developing a corresponding language between color and sound in her paintings." During Open Studios and at other venues, Fagan often conducts a game with willing visitors, inviting them to correlate color swatches with musical notes.

"I really want to let people begin to talk to me about color" in a simple, non-threatening way, Fagan told me. She looks for mathematical averages of color-sound correlations and bases paintings on that data. "I call it pseudo-science. But it motivates painting." The palette for a particular abstract painting may be based on the selections from her gathered data, giving her work a seemingly science-based randomness.

One of the works resulting from this process—"ColorSoundGrammar_Figment"—was on display, a beautiful abstract work (see image). Next to it, Fagan displayed a poster printed from a scan of the painting so viewers could contemplate the distance between the original and the reproduction.

Fagan also displayed some results of her experiments with the pseudo-science by which commercial Web sites use algorithms to determine what additional products they can peddle to consumers based on the choices already made. Fagan scanned some of her paintings and uploaded them at to find out what the algorithmic response would be to the question, "What is similar?" Up popped imagery of tire treads and wood grain among others, imagery that Fagan printed out and posted on the wall.


A detail from Insook Hwang's "All You Need Is Love":


Across the street at 195 College Street, artist and architect Mohamad Hafez, a native of Syria, had created an installation dealing with torture. The white walls of the two darkened rooms were splattered with red paint and streaked with red handprints. A half-dozen boxes were mounted on the walls in the semi-darkness. There were small, discreet openings in each of the boxes for viewers to peer inside at convincingly realistic miniature tableaux created by Hafez depicting the harsh bleakness of the torture chamber.

In some there are figures—one features several photos of the U.S. crimes at Abu Ghraib—but most convey the inhuman threat of torture without overt human presence. The form was intrinsic to the content of this installation. Viewers have to voyeuristically make the effort to glean glimpses into the illuminated boxes, into this hidden world of repression and violence.

Hafez, originally from Damascus, Syria, said the work "started with homesickness." He had started making facades with plaster that mimicked those of places he remembered from home. As a full-time architect, model-making is part of his professional skill set.

"I took that expertise and brought it into political work," Hafez told me. "The way they're cracking down on peaceful demonstrations make it a very good time to show this work."

Hafez had been stuck in the United States for eight years with working visa issues but finally was able to return to Syria for a visit this past spring. "Through these eight years, I've been longing to be part of that fabric," he said.

"Some of this work is geared toward raising consciousness about what's going on," said Hafez. "I want it to be a bit spicy but I want it to leave a mark."

"I've been following very closely the revolution in Syria and seeing the footage coming back on YouTube and it's even more horrible than this," declared Hafez. "We as humans have to stand up to fight these regimes not because these countries have oil" but because it is the right and moral thing to do, argued Hafez.

The boxes, Hafez said, "are something that raises your curiosity to get you to look into it and gets your imagination to put yourself in that space. Every day in my country, Syria, this happens every day."


Karleen Loughlan, who teaches at Cheshire academy, was showing paintings and prints. Many of the paintings were created with oil and clay on canvas or paper. Loughlan coats her surface with a ¼"-thickness of clay then works it with a palette knife, scraping the clay away to create lines and abstract shapes. When the cay is dry, Loughlan paints using translucent colors to define the shapes created by the scraped clay.

One untitled work—this one painted with oil on paper—had a rich, lively surface. It looked almost like an old wall of a sun-bleached Mediterranean ruin, pitted and mottled with layers of translucent colors, the composition like a hybrid of Cubism and Russian Constructivism.

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