At Guest Spot @ the REINSTITUTE through Dec. 7
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New History , the current show at Guest Spot's new Calvert Street location, brings together four artists whose work explores themes of memory, time, and cultural identity. Ranging from internet-based work to collage and constructivist photography, the show explores the ways in which we catalog and interpret memory in a personal context, as well as how our stories shift and change, becoming part of a larger cultural fabric when they are put out into the world to interact with the memories of others. "The artist's processes in New History range from individuals who create something tangible from an abstract idea to people who've had a lived or perceived experience and use that to create something abstract," Ginevra Shay, the show's curator, says.
Entering Guest Spot's new digs, one finds oneself in a narrow hallway before it opens out into a swank, high-ceilinged gallery space. Shay worked with the tightness of the corridor space by filling it with an untitled piece by Russian-born, LA-based Marina Pinsky, a diptych of large photographic prints which amplifies the feeling of density with its striking visual disorientation. These compositions of bricks, lemons, and highly patterned paper are seductive in their chaos, compelling the viewer to linger and explore the visual space in a manner more typical of a painting.
Pinsky's other two pieces in the show are also taken with an old-fashioned, 4 x 5 inch-view camera. The images are tableaux of objects arranged to create a multilayered space, appearing at once distinctly planar and curiously deep. The choice of imagery is as haunting as a Giorgio de Chirico painting: Like the famed Surrealist, Pinsky's icons speak to unconscious memories, particularly those relating to the histories of her native Russia and her current home, America. Deeply influenced by Russian Constructivism, Pinsky compels the viewer to look for the compositions' joints and cracks. "For me, it's very beautiful to see the seams in something. That's where art starts to approach notions of 'truth,'" the artist says.
Allowing for a similar dialogue between the artist's memories and the unconscious associations of the viewer, the sculptures of Boston-based artist Luis Arnias stand sentry in the main gallery like funny Rorschach tests. Humorous, tactile, and a little eerie, Arnias' constructions exhibit a candid rawness. They confront multiple senses, employing organic materials like milk to engage the sense of smell, or tar and GREAT STUFF insulation to add a layer of tactile agitation. "Sardines," for example, is a clever construction of plastic cast fingers in a tin of olive oil. The work reads a bit like less cuddly, updated Claes Oldenburg; it could just as easily cause someone to laugh out loud as recoil in uneasiness.
"I'm married to film," says Arnias, who typically works with experimental 16mm film, "but I have an affair with sculpture." It's interesting that an artist who works often with projection makes sculptural works that act so perfectly as a screen onto which viewers can cast their own narratives. The imagery is the "hook," the artist says, that generates a connection with the audience.
On the quieter end of the spectrum (erstwhile CP contributor) Alex Ebstein presents four works on paper that incorporate collage, paint, and found materials to vastly different effect. "Untitled (Oh Cubed)" is a spare composition exhibiting a hard-edged abstraction, while "Climate Science" contains soft squares of sock fabric, touchingly familiar and imbued with a vague nostalgia.
Even when Ebstein's compositions border on random, there is a meditative order to them that tips the scales to the side of balance. In a piece like "H," disparate materials work together to create a space that is just barely on the harmonious side of haphazard. The tension between the combined materials is metered by the care with which they're applied and the space they're given to inhabit peacefully.
The exhibition's movement is anchored by three groups of work by Baltimore-based Dina Kelberman (author of CP's "Important Comics"). In the front of the gallery, five monitors display GIFs of 50s era movie credits whose texts have been blurred with painterly strokes of digital obstruction. Further along, stacks of old TVs show Simpsons GIFs that draw attention to quiet, detailed moments from the beloved cartoon. "The Boys," showing two triangular water-ski handles twisting on blue water, is simultaneously simple, beautiful, and slightly hypnotic.
Housed in Guest Spot's Project Room, Kelberman's "I'm Google" is displayed as a large, interactive projection. The viewer is invited to scroll through a carefully curated Tumblr of commandingly beautiful imagery, which retains a careful balance of color and form, even as the subjects of the photos rapidly transform from craters to waterslides to dust storms and beyond. The source imagery-discovered on the internet-is displayed, with rare exception, exactly as it was found in a seamless, rhythmic progression. While it is easy to imagine an autobiographical context to the selection, the images are decontextualized enough to allow for a viewer's own associations to play into the pattern.
The show "is held together by its theme, but there is also the physical element of the works being connected by the artists' use of underappreciated materials and mass-produced materials," Shay says. And New History is a fitting title given the context of the work. Guest Spot's new location in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District is dubbed the REINSTITUTE, which is described by the gallery's blog as a "school for innovation and self accreditation for the Arts and Sciences." Where the gallery's old Fleet Street location felt like a luxe domestic interior, the new space, ironically, could be the lounge of a pricey MFA program, despite the REINSTITUTE's stated aversion to traditional art-schooling systems. Still, Shay's curatorial vision and the holistic and inclusive approach to culture presented in New History take up the REINSTITUTE's proposed desire to challenge conformist educational methodology and situate the exhibit perfectly within Guest Spot's swanky new space.