Construct, Up in the Clouds, Body Magic
Through March 3 at School 33 art center
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“Construct” is a malleable word. It can be a verb or a noun, and it can refer to the physical act of building something or to a much more abstract concept, a subjective theory not based on empirical evidence. Precisely because it is so open to interpretation, the term makes for a convenient, none-too-binding theme for an art show.
School 33’s new juried exhibition, Construct, curated by Margaret Winslow, does the honors. The exhibit showcases the work of seven artists “who explore the notion of construction within their work, whether it be a physical, psychological, or social creation.” While it is difficult to tell how some of the works relate to any of the theme’s several definitions, the pieces tend to be compelling enough that it doesn’t matter.
They range from paintings to prints to collages to sculptures to photographs and tend toward the abstract, but several of the artists clearly take man-made structures as their jumping-off points. Wes Kline’s large-format photographs were taken through the glass of a building designed by Swiss modern architect Le Corbusier. Many of the photos are a gorgeous blue hue and each one is layered with ghostly images, as of a landscape seen through the window of a moving train: Architectural elements reflect onto natural ones, like trees. The viewer’s own reflection in the shiny surface adds another layer of confusion, and the distinction between inside and outside, fabricated and not, becomes decidedly blurred.
Katherine Nonemaker takes on physical constructions in some of her works as well. Her pieces are more varied than that of the other artists in the exhibition, and among the strongest. “Imaginary Structure,” a many-layered oil painting/collage/print, depicts a complex, industrial-looking tower with no discernible use. It calls to mind power plants, cell phone towers, and other structures that are central to our industrialized lives yet remain abstractions for most of us. “Test Flight,” a small oil and charcoal painting that drips unnatural toxic-sludge color, is particularly powerful. A tiny plane belching smoke crashes towards the ground in the lower right-hand corner, dwarfed by a giant sky. The plane is so small it’s as if the event hardly mattered. Nonemaker’s “This Pattern Changes But I Think There Is a Bigger Pattern . . .” also draws the eye through tiny elements. More than 300 pieces of paper, each perhaps one inch square, hang from pins in a grid on the wall. All of them read “Today was the same as yesterday,” but the colors of the paper differ, and the prints themselves appear in varying densities and gradations of black and gray. On closer inspection it turns out that a few pieces are entirely blank. Today is not precisely the same as yesterday, though at first it appears to be so.
Katie Kehoe’s work requires equally close study. “Entryway, ” an installation made entirely of joint compound, looks from afar like the impressions of a tire in mud, rendered in white. It is placed low on the wall, in a corner, forcing the viewer to crouch. From this vantage point, it turns out the pattern is composed of minute repetitions of the word “and,” as are many of Kehoe’s pieces. It’s a word with promise, one that depends entirely on context—usually the words or phrases that it joins, but in Kehoe’s case, the shapes and forms she creates through repetition of the word. (And is the use of “joint” compound as a material intentional? Probably so.)
Julie Anand and Damon Sauer’s collaborative work is, in contrast, immediately striking. Their pieces, enormous works composed of meticulously woven shreds of photographs mounted on aluminum, are abstract in the main, but because they are composed of photographs, they entice the viewer with glimpses of “real” objects. “Solar Arc” has a vibrating, optical illusion effect that fascinates and makes the eyes wobble. The path of the sun is faintly visible, arcing across the upper right corner of the piece. The work is dazzling, and inspires the same species of wonder the cosmic event itself might.
Construct is running concurrently with two other shows on display in School 33’s upstairs galleries. Lana Stephens’ solo exhibition, Up in the Clouds, showcases Stephens’ pleasing charcoal depictions of cloud formations. The works variously convey the sweeping power of a thunderstorm, the dreamy mind-set clouds can inspire, and the deceptively solid, voluptuous quality they sometimes have, as anyone who has flown through a bank of them in a plane can attest.
Body Magic, Erin Zerbe’s solo show, takes on a different sort of voluptuousness: that of the human body. Zerbe is “an artist, an activist, and a fat woman in a thin centric society,” according to exhibition materials. Four large close-up photographs depict portions of a large naked woman; the impressions of a too-tight girdle remain imprinted on her flesh. A related video projected on a wall shows a woman, presumably Zerbe, dressing herself in endless layers of constricting body-slimmers, bodices, and corsets, her labored breathing forming the soundtrack. The video is difficult to watch, particularly perhaps as a woman, because one feels such empathy. Once fully encased, the woman disrobes, loosening strings, unhooking, expanding, until she is naked. Her relief, and one’s own, is palpable.