“Nature Morte,” Joanna Manousis @ River House Arts

In contemporary society the argument of what is real and what is fake focuses primarily on technology. Are we talking to a real person or a computer generated bot? Is that a hologram or an actual performer on the stage? Joanna Manousis explores this classic dichotomy through sculptures made of cast glass, bronze, and mixed media.

Glass is a material that defies many assumptions and occupies dual spaces; it is both a liquid and a solid, at times hard and at other times malleable. Nature Morte presents us with dualities that range from nature versus artifice and copy versus original in order to challenge the viewer to consider whether they’re actually seeing or just merely looking.

Reflection is a recurring aspect in the work. The use of reflective surfaces that shine and images of mirrors drive home the idea of image and vanity, whether it’s a literal reflection of the viewer’s image or the idea of cultivating and manicuring an identity. Is what we see actually what’s really there? Real/Artifice consists of seemingly identical mirrors that offer two different reflections while Veil, an ornate mirrored shield form, offers a fragmented look at ourselves and the surrounding space.

There’s always a barrier between the viewer and the work. The two hand mirrors can’t be held, a taxidermy peacock is settled behind the bars of a cage, and even glass pears hang suspended in bottles. The work is beautiful, displaying a level of finish and craft that inspires a sense of awe and ethereality. These aspects bring forth a lushness that is also echoed in the objects used within the work: a peacock, glass cut and polished to resemble diamonds, and clean natural wooden stands. The high level of craftsmanship is repeated in metaphor through Reaching an Ulterior Realm, which features mirrored glass balloons that pass for the cheap mylar ones seen in every “get well” basket. The balloons appear to be deflated and are accompanied by arrows. There’s a suggestion of archery, a feat that requires precision and practice, that never actually happened but was staged. Everything is meticulously placed but succeeds in luring the viewer to believe it’s been plucked from the wild, natural world and not created by an artist’s hand.

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Reaching an Ulterior Realm, Glass, bronze

This is what makes the work interesting – it comes so close to looking like the thing it’s mimicking. In the end that doesn’t matter because it’s not about fooling the viewer into thinking they’re looking at glittering gems or actual pears and pigs’ feet, it’s about offering a chance for contemplation on what these objects mean outside of their original context: are you just looking at it or are you actually seeing what is there?

 

Nature Morte is on view at River House Arts until June 17th. For more information on the artist and their work visit www.joannamanousis.com. Please visit http://river-house-arts.com/ for more information on this and upcoming exhibitions.

 

“Whipstitch: The State of Contemporary Textiles” @ Gallery 117, Ann Arbor Art Center

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Send Katy & Valentine, Rebecca Ringquist

The convergence of technology and fiber is ingrained within the discipline’s history; Jacquard punch cards paved the way for the invention of the first computers. Whipstitch: The State of Contemporary Textiles takes a look at the many facets of fiber and its existence as an industrial, decorative, technological, and highly intimate practice.

Dreamer (Series) #1: Maitena, a multi-media piece by Reed Esslinger-Payet, taps into universal concerns through emotional intimacy. A little girl’s outline, a cyanotype, is presented on a woven hammock and accompanied by an audio component: an interview with a male immigrant. He laments that he is able to disguise his background if he stays silent but is worried about speaking to others as it would give him away. He also worries about how the current socio-political climate of the country will affect his daughter. The outline of the body on the hammock is an imprint, a memory of simpler times, but simultaneously resembles a chalk outline. The work rides a fine line between memory and memorial.

Sensory experience is often a part of fabrics and textiles: the vibrancy of the colors, the feel of the materials, and even the sounds they make. Soft Sound, a work by EJTECH, an entity consisting of artists Esteban de la Torre & Judit Eszter Karpati, explores sound within textiles through the use of a conductive material adhered to fabric and activated with neodymium magnets. It’s a performative textile that comes off as a scientific project, emitting a low hum, which can be compared to white noise. The production of sound from the sculpture is reminiscent of the Fluxus attitude towards music, one that put forth that everyday background and white noise can be considered as a “legitimate” piece of music.


A less mechanical approach of blurring boundaries within textiles can be seen in several wearable pieces in the exhibition. A marriage of interaction and activation is presented by Heidi Kuamao’s Wired Wear. The work features an audio-activated bra that lights up as sound intensifies. Video documentation of the garment being worn, on loop, plays next to the work. At one point the video shows a train speeding by, sounding its whistle causing the bra to light up. This scene brings to mind the often sexualized images of women hitchhiking throughout pop culture. The garment, and its activation, transcend that issue by evoking a curiosity when it comes to the mechanics of the piece.


Video accompanying fiber was a running theme throughout this exhibition. Varied Choreographies by Erika Lynn Hansen & Wes Kline presents a woven rug placed in front of a large screen playing an animation. This piece creates a place of meditation that exists between the physically fabricated and the digitally fabricated; a delineation between the two where the viewer can exist in an in-between space away from the everyday.

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Apparently the smog has something to do it with: 3 & 5, Erika Lynna Hanson

Blurring boundaries with technology allows textiles to no longer be confined to the old conventions that they are commonly associated with it. Pushing and questioning traditions, as well as exploring the potential and the future of textile work, is invigorating. Whipstitch gives the audience a glimpse into that future and shows us the possibility of what’s to come.

 

Whipstitch: The State of Contemporary Textiles is on view at the 117 Gallery at the Ann Arbor Art Center through April 29th. For more information visit: http://www.annarborartcenter.org/exhibitions/whipstitch-state-contemporary-textiles/

“Sweeping Close… and Now,” SIEN Collective @ the Walter E. Terhune Gallery

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Left to right: “Moth Lady,” “The Hungry Witch,” “Dream of the father,” “Martha Jane,” “Crocodile Girl,” “Hummingbird,” “Learn This,” “Sigurd,” “Percival,” Cyanotypes, framed, 2015

In time things reveal themselves to those who chose to look, rather than just see. When we take the opportunity to pay attention, that’s when everything dwelling just beyond our gaze suddenly becomes visible. SIEN collective’s work gives us the chance to look past the surface and discover the underlying details that normally escape our attention.

Sweeping Close… and Now is a collection of work that is powerful in a subtle way, exploring ideas of duality that are inherent in nature, mythology, and materials. Works that, at first, seem simple and straightforward, but are actually ripe with secrets that lure the viewer to take a closer look. Multiple processes, such as cyanotype printing, encaustic assemblage, stitching, and drawing, are used to create a body of work that has an undeniably feminine undertone. Many of the sources for the work deal with issues of the natural, the feminine, and even misconceptions concerning the body.

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Left to Right: “Isadora,” “Hysterika,” “The Wanderer,” Cyanotype with drawn paper negative, 2016

Early theories concerning the female body are breached in a series of cyanotypes consisting of three pieces titled Isadora, Hysterika, and The Wanderer. The triptych is a take on the ancient Greek belief that the uterus is a wandering organ, shifting as it pleases and dictating how a woman feels and acts at any given moment. The prints each feature a uterus with legs, a literal take on the misconception, offering an underlying challenge to the fallacy by granting a sense of autonomy to the mysteries that dwell within the body.

When we’re faced with the qualities of nature, we’re made aware that they aren’t just black and white, but in fact an intricate grayscale: ranging from calm and serene to ferocious and destructive. These murkier and more intricate qualities are seen in works referencing characters such as Baba Yaga, a witch that either hinders or helps whoever seeks her out.

Baba Yaga Blind is an encaustic assemblage loaded with different types of fabric, piled and sewn together to depict the mythological character’s iconic dwelling. Susannah, another encaustic assemblage, takes from biblical source material about a woman who is threatened by two men, who claim she was betraying her husband, so that they can force her into having sexual intercourse.

Though the two works have similar imagery – a singular tree draped with fabric, which evokes a sense of isolation and mystery – there is also a curiosity that is conjured by the minimal compositions. The concept of choice is the connecting theme between these two works: the choice to aid or hinder those who are in need and the choice of whether or not to give into those who seek to exploit and inflict harm.

The choice to harm or help is also explored in a more modern sense through the reuse of materials throughout the works. Still Life, a black plastic bag that is embroidered with colorful floral imagery depicts new life being brought to something that was meant to be discarded, or conversely act as the means in which other things are discarded. By putting natural imagery on a material that is expendable and has the ability to do harm to the environment, an exploration of alternatives and the complexity of nature is once again brought to the audience’s attention.

There’s power in subtly; the mixed media works of SIEN collective come across as simple, but reveal their complexity in time and with inspection. The connection to deeper narratives concerning myth and the everyday become more apparent as one dissects the work. Once the dots start to be connected, the work opens up and changes each time it’s examined; in it’s own quiet way, it sticks around long after it’s been seen.

Sweeping Close… and Now is on view at the Walter E. Terhune gallery until March 24th. For more work from the SIEN collective visit their site: https://siencollective.com/.

“Heterogeneous: States of American,” Josh Byers, David Cuatlacuatl, and Faith Goodman @ River House Arts

What is the American identity? We are experiencing a time of intense debate when it comes to who and what is considered American. As the push against the United States’ melting pot heritage continues, three Toledo-based artists’ works are brought together to examine what it means to be American; a concept which can be encapsulated by a single word: difference.

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Works by Josh Byers, David Cuatlacuatl, and Faith Goodman.

A mix of painting, collage, and ceramic sculpture from Josh Byers takes a trip down memory lane by presenting a nostalgic, yet sharp, look at formative years. Sketches and doodles of pop-cultural icons and consumables litter the work: Hustler, Penthouse, and Playboy covers, Etch A Sketches, and Trapper Keepers. Images of buxom celebrities, and manly heroes of the seventies and eighties exude a distinct masculinity that was a hallmark of the their time, as well as echo the male anxiety that was a defining feature of Reagan’s America. Byers’ work speaks of the quintessential American infatuation with pop-culture and its fads, trends, and advertising that, to this day, is still growing strong.

American identity can’t be boiled down to consumption alone, there’s also aspects of rejection inherent within it. Faith Goodman’s work deals with a rejection of identity due to not meeting the expectations of one’s culture. Goodman processes this struggle through use of stereotypes and foods commonly associated with Black culture, appropriating typically racist caricatures to subvert expectations built from decades of ignorance. Mixed media and paintings confront the viewer with issues that many would rather just ignore or erase: imagery of watermelons with seeds in formation of how slaves were packed into ships as they were abducted, sculptures created from weaves, hair and tar, and depictions of voluptuous and vicious feminine forms. The confrontational work is timely, echoing the struggles – historically and contemporarily – that Black Americans are facing in this time of intense opposition.

The instability of existence, whether it’s due to social, economical, or political circumstances, is dealt with through issues of boundaries and mobility in David Cuatlacuatl’s work. Paintings and mixed media collage feature figures from pop-culture and found objects, giving them new meaning and life in disjointed compositions. The work is simplistic, an intentional move that takes a jab at the idea of value and hierarchies, which seem to constantly shift. Concepts of conquest – of nature, body, and consumption – are depicted on flat, matte surfaces, never following a linear path. The elements in Cuatlacuatl’s work come together to form snippets of a story, never presenting the full version, though we really don’t need it.

We’re currently in a time where the idea of what’s American is a polarizing issue. These three artists’ works meld together to show that the American identity is more complex, complicated, and varied than most would care to admit. This exhibition serves as a timely reminder that identity, American or otherwise, is always in flux and comprised of so many elements that the only constant factor is difference.

Heterogeneous: States of American is on view until March 4th. For more information visit http://www.river-house-arts.com/

“The Conceit of Memory,” Brittany Ann Campbell & Zachariah Szabo @ Walter E. Tehrune Gallery

Memory is a tricky thing; we put so much faith in something so malleable. We are always so confident of our memories, of their authority and our ownership of them. The Conceit of Memory, features the works of Brittany Ann Campbell and Zachariah Szabo. These two artists challenge our conception of memories and put into question their perceived truth.

The exhibition is comprised of photographic work and sculpture. Brittany Ann Campbell’s installation of found gloves hanging from tree branches is a memorial, reminiscent of disregarded pairs of shoes found hanging on telephone lines or in trees. The act of gathering the forgotten gloves is a tender gesture, the result of a year’s worth of collecting. The series of portraits next to the installation, featuring the gloves interacting with a disembodied hand, gives the objects life and presents an intimate moment. The prints are created from scanning the interaction between glove and hand, flattening the image and allowing us to witness a simulacrum of a moment we’ve all experienced at one time or another.

 

Whereas Campbell’s work confronts us with tenderness and the collection of disregarded or lost memories, Zachariah Szabo’s work acts as a chameleon, taking on other people’s memories and making them his own.

Szabo creates still lifes through arranging objects that mimic ones he encountered throughout his childhood in other peoples’ homes. The photographs, printed on adhesive paper and mounted directly to the wall, are loaded with patterns, pastel colors, and floral imagery. The tchotchkes featured in the work evoke nostalgia. They seem like the same ones that lined the shelves and dressers of your grandparent’s house. These compositions and their parts are familiar without ever actually existing – an implantation of memory.

On the floor of the gallery is a collection of glass blocks with a strip of white paint on the sides, resembling thick books. Perched on top of the neat pile is a pink ceramic figurine, a kitschy foil to the clear architectural glass. This sculpture acts as a physical manifestation of the content presented in the photographic prints.


Szabo’s works seems to span from childhood to death with no in-between. Slabs of granite, each with its own vinyl epitaph mounted on the surface, are lined up on the floor. Statements such as “I don’t understand you, you’re a cold person,” “Throw away your family tree books, it’s just paper to you,” and “You attended a mass for me under duress,” are words that seem like many we’ve often thought but would never say, rendered in a material that isn’t meant to last. The series of slabs present a sardonic eulogy to someone we’ve never met, and at the same time, all the people we’ve ever known.

There are moments of tenderness in this exhibition but upon closer inspection many of these moments are fabrications with a certain edge to them. It’s moments like this within the exhibition where the artists’ challenge of the idea of memory is apparent, revealing that it isn’t all that we thought it was. None of these memories are the artists’ own, but rather moments and mementos collected and displayed for us to reflect on the idea of memories and their value. And ultimately, their fallacies.

The Conceit of Memory is on view until February 17th. More of the artists’ works can be found at their websites: http://brittanyanncampbell.com/ and http://zachariahszabo.com/