“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.

 

“Trans Human,” K.A. Letts @ River House Arts

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9 Muses, Vinyl applique

The future is an uncertain condition that continues to be the subject of speculation: what will become of our planet, of our species, of our own personal futures? K.A. Letts’ new body of work mines tales and styles from the past to present an interpretation of what the future could hold.

With the integration of the internet, smartphones, and social media into our everyday lives, our culture has shifted itself to align with technology. Our attempts to enhance ourselves physically, intellectually, and technologically is explored by Letts through the revisitation of ancient tales and myths that have largely shaped many cultures. The urge to overcome our (human) limitations – to get more, make more, and feed a sort of hunger that never seems to be satiated – is fueled by ambition. Throughout the work themes of inspiration and ambition are present in subject matter and even technique. The stylish and meticulously rendered paintings visually hearken back to Cubism and Abstraction, while the subject matter references the Bible and Greek mythology.

9 Muses, a large cut-out wall piece, catches the eye with its liveliness and movement, setting the tone for the rest of the show. The muses were female figures that granted inspiration to people in several different artistic areas. Throughout the exhibition there seems to be an exploration of women as shapers of culture – whether it’s through inspiration or through their actions. The tales presented traditionally have been seen as matters of good and bad, black or white, but are presented outside of those binaries within these works. Humans are complex creatures after all.

Tree of Knowledge 1 & 2 read like topographical maps of a confusing terrain. Based on the biblical tale of Lucifer’s offering of infinite knowledge to Eve, the two works can be compared to mapping, building, and infrastructure – some of the many marks we have as humans on this world. A muted color palette of black, white, and gold is visible throughout most of the work, along with the morphing images of human bodies. The shifting and evolution from what we know now as human and what the shape of things to come can be is presented in a subtle manner. There are no cyborgs, no machines, no artificial intelligence, just human tales interpreted and rendered by the human hand.

Does looking back to the past allow us to imagine the future? Whether universal or personal is the future even fathomable? Through looking back to tales that have shaped culture for centuries Trans Human gives a personal interpretation, both intimate and culturally specific, at what the future may hold. Even with speculation the future is an out-of-focus, close-but-far-away prospect that is tricky to concretely imagine. Despite that Letts’ proposition throughout this collection of work is both beautiful and mysterious.

 

For more information on the artist and their work visit http://www.kalettsart.com/. Please visit http://river-house-arts.com/ for more on this and upcoming exhibitions.

“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/.