“Matter, Matter, Object, Wall” @ Ann Arbor Art Center

Concerns and concepts of space are compelling topics in art, especially with the advent of social practice and activism as forms of expression. Taking art outside of institutions isn’t anything new, the interrogation of the “white cube” gallery space became popular in the 1960’s with the rise of Minimalism. Works were no longer restricted to the wall, they migrated to new spaces and demanded a deeper interaction with the audience. The curatorial foundation of Matter, Matter, Object, Wall is inspired by this decades old premise, presenting works that deal with these familiar concerns that are just as relevant now as they were when they were first explored.

The Minimalist idea of stripping away expressive excess and letting the materials and space evoke a moving experience for the audience is recapitulated in this body of work by various artists — all Cranbrook alumni. The pieces are highly formal and consist primarily of industrial materials, some having an intimate feel to them that plays well off the more impersonal pieces. Investigations of space span from architectural to personal with works that reference domestic space, designed space, and furniture.

Shelly McMahon’s grouping of various pieces takes inspiration from the Design Museum’s 1993 exhibition, Ideal Home. The concept of “good design” is explored through sculptures that come together to mimic a maquette, creating a space where the viewer can enter but never really find a sense of comfort. McMahon’s interest in one’s emotional dependence or bond with a space is evident through hand-constructed items found throughout the staging: an ashtray, sleeping bag, necklace, and a lamp. All the makings of home are present, though that notion is subverted through an alienation of the viewer and even the objects themselves.

While McMahon’s works explore connection with a space, Ruth Koelewyn does the opposite by referencing objects and places that create a feeling of disconnect. Blue Triangles consists of repeating prints of windows that are bathed in the neon blue light of Sky Shape, an accompanying neon sculpture. The prints are aligned in a grid formation, a favored tactic of Sol Lewitt. The repetition of the work is calming and familiar – like home – while at the same time giving off the cold, lonely feel of a cityscape enveloped in the light of signage.

Nadege Roscoe-Rumjahn’s work uses a dialed-down grid structure while retaining a personal, softer edge. Materials and processes often used in fiber are paramount in Roscoe-Rumjahn’s work. They evoke the idea of craft and the human hand, referencing Post-minimalism and its rebellion against the machismo that was inherent in most Minimalist works. North American Wildflowers emphasizes nature and tenderness through imagery of botanicals and techniques of hand-cutting and sewing.

The works of Sophie Eisner also carry on this sentiment. Soft and Heavy (Vignette #5) acts as a hybrid between sculpture and furniture, constructed of fiberboard and fleshy silicone. The modular formation of the silicone component harkens to the works of Eva Hesse, who was known for her material studies. The choice of materials and techniques throughout the show bring to mind ideas of craft and its position in the realm of fine art (which is always a hot, and at this point, worn out debate).

Victoria Bulgakova’s база (baza) elegantly rides the line between craft and fine art with a series of emotionally evocative works. база, translated means “base,” which leads the conversation to ideas of foundation and where one comes from. The objects appear to be manipulated thoroughly by hand, giving them a fragility that isn’t typically attributed to copper. This series encapsulates an idea of what it means to belong, concisely summarizing an overarching concept of the exhibition: what are the roots of creating and viewing art works and how have they, as well as their space, evolved throughout time?


Ideas of privileged space within art are being challenged with happenings such as coalitions rallying against galleries gentrifying neighborhoods (https://hyperallergic.com/314086/anti-gentrification-coalition-calls-for-galleries-to-leave-las-boyle-heights/ ) and museums being called to own up to their exclusionary histories (https://hyperallergic.com/446082/museum-protests-attacks-op-ed/). Is it enough to safely reference past concerns and interrogate them in a safe space? Perhaps it’s time to move beyond the dilemma of the “white cube,” or at least figure out what that has evolved to be in contemporary art.

Artistic engagement can always be more and there’s demand for it to be more (however you wish to interpret that). Matter, Matter, Object, Wall is a fantastic introduction to these ideas of the politics of space and interaction, but in the contemporary artistic climate, it becomes just an echo of the concerns of the 1960’s, which comes off as an overdone, but beautiful gesture.

Visit https://www.annarborartcenter.org/exhibitions/matter-matter-object-wall/ for more information about the curator and artists.

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Nancy Mitchnick & Ryan Debolski @ the Center for Visual Arts

Painting and photography are two different (and at one point competing) media with the same objective: to capture a moment. Nancy Mitchnick and Ryan Debolski, who both have work on display at the Center for Visual Art’s galleries, capture moments of disruption, decay, and formation.

Mitchnick depicts images of domestic structures in various states, showing landscapes both constructed and natural. Debolski uses the camera to capture images of isolation and vulnerability that are unmistakably masculine, though they embody the opposite of what we’ve been conditioned to consider as such. These separate shows share a connection through the histories of their chosen methods and also through ideas of transition.

Mitchnick’s large scale paintings focus on houses, using muted tones that are extremely pleasing and evoke feelings that are reminiscent of David Lynch’s signature unsettling 1950’s aesthetic. That nagging feeling that something lies beneath even though all appears fine on the surface. Large swatches of pinks, blues, and expressive brush strokes only add to this eerily calm aura.

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Triptych of paintings, Nancy Mitchnick

The paintings as a whole can be seen as linear, there is a before, during, and after. Starting with a scene of nature and ending with a house in a state of irreversible wreckage. The triptych of trees, abundant with brush-y marks and greens gives us a scene that nature regularly intervenes on – think of the change of the seasons. We don’t give this a second thought because it’s expected. This acts as a contrast to the disruptions occurring in the other paintings where the changes don’t seem all that predictable.

Flux is a constant state in life and both Mitchnick and Debolski confront us with this truth in their work. While Mitchnick shows us a break down in structures, Ryan Debolski’s series of photographs present us with the formation and construction of relationships, both personal and environmental.

Construction sites and building materials, rendered in black and white, give a sense of potential and also a sense of static; the disruption of construction zones is well known to many commuters. Compositions in several of the works are arranged so that attention is on the giant pieces of machinery, the extensions of the workers hands that form the sites as they dig, lift, and roll. Raw materials and machinery carry baggage, but at the same time also carry a universal meaning due to the people who control them and the structures they end up erecting.

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Set of four photographs, Ryan Debolski

In contrast to the cold machinery and materials are scenes of men, most likely workers, enjoying themselves on a beach. Images of bodies interacting – despite being dragged about – evoke a tender feeling, complimented by the image of a snake being released from a plastic water bottle. An ubiquitous masculine symbol being affected by a simple act of kindness. The emphasis in these works isn’t on the energy, movement, or symbols, but on ideas of isolation and the formation of relationships.

These two artists’ works are about shifting focus to what lies beneath, to give us insight on what is not always apparent at first glance. When thought about together the tension between photography and painting is unavoidable, adding another layer of complexity to these two separate bodies of work. Both these artists succeed in pausing life’s constant movement and allow us a moment to contemplate it.

 

Nancy Mitchnick’s work is on view in the CVA’s Main Gallery until October 6th. Ryan Debolski’s Break is on view in the Clement Gallery until October 31st. There will be a reception during the Third Thursday Loop on September 21st from 6-8PM. For more information please visit http://www.utoledo.edu/al/svpa/art/galleries/.

“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/.