'Viscerally Yours' at School 33 tests viewers' willingness to interact

Exhibition at School 33 plays with perception and participation

The visceral is all at once elusive and easily recognizable. Referring in root to the viscera—select internal organs of the body such as heart, lungs, and liver—the visceral is your extreme carnal reaction to a trigger. It's when you feel something so intensely that you're practically vomiting. It's when you go with your gut or love the shit out of something.

In School 33's exhibition "Viscerally Yours," on view through Oct. 31, we aren't necessarily moved to soiling ourselves, but we are encouraged to engage with the art in a way that goes beyond simply looking. And by physically engaging with this work—touching or walking into it—and using our bodies, we get a little more out of it than if we were stuck just staring.

I laughed with both discomfort and empathy at Paul Shortt's video pieces, 'Large Child: Role Play' and 'Large Child: Solo Play,' which loop simultaneously on two wall-mounted television sets. In both pieces Shortt exhibits absurd, childlike actions, such as scooping dirt with a small toy dump truck in a hole made by the actual dump truck that is still nearby in the shot. On the other screen he tries to fit his large frame into a toddler's play set, in a way that's both comical and off-putting—a sort of cringe-worthy pointlessness. In the next scene Shortt picks up a guitar and makes intense faces of concentration, and despite his near-sincere rock-star imitations the sound that comes out is more noise than music. It seems that Shortt is trying to speak to the futility of childhood nostalgia and the inevitability of aging. His awkward movements recall performance artist Bruce McLean's 'Pose Work for Plinths 3,' though it seems Shortt's concepts could be a bit more succinct—time and growth are two very sweeping topics.

Framed and mounted on the wall across the room, Erin Curtis' mixed-media collages are playful in their use of shape and color. It is not until getting very close to the collages, however, and craning your head to and fro that the full depth of Curtis' works becomes apparent. The collages are swimming with images of moons, tiny mushrooms, and wristwatches that, from a distance, blend into these larger decorative patterns. Though the individual imagery seemed a bit haphazardly chosen, Curtis clearly thought about the points of view from which we would encounter the collages—as well as the intense layering of color, image, and pattern—and the way we might move about in relation to the collages.

Moving away from the walls, Gary Kachadourian, Kelley Bell, and CP contributor Fred Scharmen employ the concept of viewer participation in different ways through installation. In Kachadourian's 'Forest' we enter an 8-square-foot constructed space with large black and white printouts of drawings of a forest that are stapled to the walls. Despite the realistic drawing, the piece isn't anything like an actual forest; it's flat, the imagery is literally Xeroxed, and it's all hard edges and no color or depth. It produces an effect that is somehow rather oppressive and uncomfortable, and I feel compelled to leave the space.

Scharmen's work is displayed in an alcove across the room. He has transformed this space into a form of propaganda for what is called 'The Nonhuman Autonomous Space Agency,' according to the insignia referencing NASA that is pasted on the wall. Large, silver manatee balloons float in the center of the room, and there are photo-edited images of manatees depicted as astronauts and iPad users, conflating marine life and space exploration—a comic spectacle and a critique of advancing technology.

Upstairs Kelley Bell has constructed a type of circus booth wherein a short video and installation space entitled 'The Oracle' will answer your query. I scrawl a simple question, "What is the meaning of life?" on a sheet of paper, and 'The Oracle' responds with the word "fish.' I am transported back to my initial feelings with Shortt's work and his absurd actions, but this time I am the one enacting pointlessness. Is there a suspension of disbelief at work in this piece, where we hope our outcome might bear some truth, or are we, in chorus with Bell, just poking fun at the unforeseeable future?

John Bohl's paintings, displayed across the room from Bell's piece, are slightly referential to optical illusion in their color and patterning, with one piece depicting a vibrant orange circle that pops out against a slightly smudged gray background pattern. Because of these color interactions, my brain is effectively tricked into believing that the orange circle is closer to me than the gray area surrounding it, though of course the painting is flat. Optical illusion, before modernism, was something that had always been used to create depth. This classic trick of painting turns out to be the most visceral moment I've had within the context of "Viscerally Yours." Without the usage of logic, I have come to understand a depth that does not actually exist. In another painting I see two gray shapes with a white space between them, but my brain intuitively understands it as a kiss.

This exhibition is more about the viewer's participation, and less about provoking a visceral response in the truest sense of the word, but it also reinforces the subjectivity of each viewer's perceptions and experiences with these works. I feel like I've participated with the art in this show, which is refreshing, like I've gotten out of my head to interact with what's around me.

For more information, visit school33.org.

Copyright © 2019, Baltimore City Paper, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Privacy Policy