Work Harder Under Water @ Rowhouse Project (Ajay Kurian)

Quintessa Matranga

It is fitting that Ajay Kurian’s show at Rowhouse Projects uses the word “work” in its title: Work Harder Under Water. The mega exhibition, consisting of three floors (several rooms to a floor) indeed shows a lot of work. The install utilized a multitude of media including the aroma of freshly fried fish prepared by Kurian’s mother, and served, at times by the artist himself throughout the opening. The home cooking and inclusion of family nicely complimented the ever-present domestic atmosphere of Rowhouse Project’s interior on its opening night.

The home cooking was not the only reference to consumption or childhood in the show. Upon entering the foyer of the house, you were greeted by a sculpture of a black frog serving a speaker on a platter garnished with an assortment of faux leaves. Adding to the prankish absurdity, the frog’s pants were pulled down revealing heart patterned boxers.  Catching the waiter in this goofy yet humiliating state of undress was erksome and there was a sadness underneath the lightheartedness of this sculpture. The encounter with the humiliated frog waiter as an entry to the show is emblematic of the title of the exhibition, “Work Harder Under Water.”  The waiter’s work is undermined by his appearance of ineptitude. The voyeuristic quality of this moment was just a taste of what more was to come further on into the exhibition.

In the same room, a caricature of a high school aged Kurian was silkscreened on the maroon red wall in butter. The cartoonish portrait depicted the artist as a hairy ape with a human face. The greasy substance made the image only faintly visible and suggested certain racial slurs like grease monkey etc. The ape-man caricature is particularly poignant considering the press release for the exhibition, which details the artist’s experiences growing up as a person of color around the time of 9/11. “The membership into a white world that I had so assiduously earned was then called into question,” (speaking of the post 9/11 political climate). “The jokes and playful fears manifested in suggesting I better not grow a beard when I go to New York were meant to show that I wasn’t a terrorist, but that I’m one facial hair mishap away from fitting the description,” reads the press release.


Continuing through the house, you came to a beer-pong sized folding table supporting a ten gallon Igloo water cooler in bright orange (a humorous decoy to the beverages typically provided at openings).

Within the belly of the cooler was a silver ironman looking mask submerged in a lemon-lime colored liquid. The way the mask glimmered under water (another tie in to the title of the show) resembled shiny change in a fountain, tossed in for good luck. The liquid softened the exaggerated masculine features of the mask making it appear more as an illusion of masculinity rather than a symbol of it.

Just past this room, Kurian’s mother fried the fish in the house’s kitchen. The staging of this scene reads like a snapshot made to be viewed in real time. To quote Gaston Bachelard in The Poetics of Space, “We realize that the calendars of our lives can only be established in its imagery.” Through this scene, the theatre of memory is revisited and the physiological reverberations of the act are absorbed in the walls of the house along with the aroma.


Positioned there on a wooden shelf was a derelict sculpture presenting a much less edible food; two Styrofoam containers from Cup Noodles were placed several inches apart. In one of the containers was body hair from Kurian soaked in about two inches of Neem oil. The adjacent soup container held the recently extracted molars from the painter Jamian Julliano-Villani, also soaked oil. These abject cast offs can signify our mortality while also provoking disgust at the fate of our ultimate decay and the messiness that goes along with it. The primal body is treated in pieces and sorted as a doctor might while performing an autopsy. In this tableau, the fragility of the body is gently contrasted with the stark materiality of the synthetic soup containers.

The oil has Old Testament significance as well. Oil as a magical material, one that can mysteriously extend its own life, etc., offers a trace of hope.

Up the stairs and to the right is a large room in which three child-sized figures engage in a homoerotic display of pre-prepubescent debauchery. One of the boys (he had a clear piece of vinyl tubing in place of a phallus indicating that he was male) was urinating into the mouth of another figure positioned directly beneath the first while another one of the figures watched in giddy anticipation. Or was it horror? These figures looked like skeletons from hell dressed in Old Navy mimicking a frat house hazing session. Physically the “boys” were in different stages of decomposition or deconstruction. Parts of their armatures were left exposed. Their wigs hastily positioned atop uneven skulls. The voyeur of the group, the child who was not peeing or being peed on, had black skin while the other two characters skin could be described as white. I am having a hard time deciphering what the significance is for the black kid to bear witness to the sadomasochistic performance of the white children but to say that it was a hellish scene and the figures all appeared to be demons in it.

The fluids from this perverse vignette trickle down the house, unseen, literally soaking the foundation of the institution in the depravity. The “urine” eventually reaches the intimate space of the basement where it is caught in strategically placed cookware (pots and bowls). The basement or cellar of a house signifies the irrational. According to Bachelard who wrote; “In the cellar, “rationalization” is less rapid and less clear; also it is never definitive.” If the structure of the house mimics the human psyche the subterranean space of the basement, inherently dark and damp, is where secrets are kept. “The cellar dreamer,” states Bachelard, “knows that the walls of the cellar are buried walls, that they are walls with a single casing, walls that have the entire earth behind them. And so the situation grows more dramatic, and fear becomes exaggerated.” It is where one might give in to temptations, or regress to the primitive.

Perhaps this is why, in this same space Kurian hung electric neon light in the shape of the neighborhood watcheye pointing out the relationship between light and vision. But in this case vision is also a stand in for power. The neighborhood watcheye, a symbol for vigilantes, disrupts the nature of the cellar. The cellar cannot be a space to stowaway childhood fears because it is under surveillance. “But the unconscious mind cannot be civilized,” Bachelard writes.

Back upstairs, themes of race, power and consumption are subtly carried through in a video of a black police officer puppet attempting to eat his arm. Using the body and a nonsensical gesture, the piece looks like Sesame Street appropriating Vito Acconci’s early video work.


The show utilized every corner of the space with objects both deeply rooted in personal narrative and universal concepts; race, coming of age, consumption, violence. Children’s toys were used in several sculptures tracing the subtle significance of those objects on the psyche of the adult they help to shape. An oversized Jacob’s Ladder hanging in the stairwell of the house was particularly metaphorical. Climbing a Jacob’s Ladder does nothing to bring you forward while climbing the stairs in the house is what one must do to see the piece. The Jacobs Ladder, like a stationary bike, contradicts itself. It is the children’s equivalent to the myth of Sisyphus summed up in one elegant object.

The installation also made exciting correlations to Bachelard’s theory that the structure of the house parodies the human psyche. The functions of rooms of the house correlated poetically to the sculptures they harbored. In several pieces the artist used water or, “being under water” as the title phrases it to symbolize how one might struggle with the themes presented in this show. Like trying to run in a dream, working harder under water is futile and all efforts at it are ultimately doomed to fail.

Work Harder Under Water is on view by appointment only from September 26, 2015 through November 14, 2015. All images courtesy of Rowhouse Project.

Watching Things Burn @ Springsteen

Daniel Greenberg

To safely light one’s hand on fire, first apply a sodium polyacrylate polymer. While water would run right off one’s hand, the polymer holds large amounts of water in gel form, protecting the skin from the flame. The promotional image for Watching Things Burn depicts a hand lit on fire using this method. The show’s poster, coupled with the title, tells me much about what I should expect to see: controlled chaos, staged fire, and the intensity of heat both with and without the burn.



Izabelle New’s candle and wax works are the most immediate reference to the show’s title. New’s cast apple and asparagus candles are scattered throughout the exhibition and were burned during the opening reception. No longer lit, the wax is frozen in action as it puddles, drips, and spills out onto the floor. Most noticeably, at the entrance, a wax candle is melted down to an indistinguishable mound of goo, while its handsome counterpart—a candle asparagus, titled for Julian—stands upright across the room. The potential of the candle is to melt away.

Unlike the candles, New’s work near the gallery entrance is concerned with preservation, rather than entropy. Fully bloomed chives covered in wax rest on a windowsill. Tension is placed on a single flower that has fallen off its bloom. The title of the work, your laughter comforts the dead, is a line from the poem A Tree Within by Octavio Paz. Paz uses the tree as a metaphor for the mind and spirit, which both grow and die—“born in the memory of an old women/ and you turn it into a flaming carnation.”

Jason Benson’s Untitled works share (but complicate) this notion of preservation. Clear tubes mounted with plumbing hardware contain paper with printed notes, moss, plant debris, and piss-yellow resin. The notes on paper are preserved in a staged temporality with resin bubbled in faux movement and plant debris that suggest rather then show natural growth from the enclosed notes.

With the tubes mounted flat against the wall, only sections of the printed notes are legible. One note reads, “Natural_Born_Killers Directors_Cut_ [1994].” The referenced film is a dark comedy about two murderers and lovers who are glorified by the mass media. Predating the popularity of reality tv, Gale, a tabloid journalist follows the couple for a show called American Maniacs. Gale gives a live television report as Mickey confessed to his crimes followed by a prison break in which people are beaten and killed. Now it is common for mass murders to use social media to confess and elaborate on their crimes. Take for instance Randy Janzen, who posted on facebook after killing his wife, sister, and daughter, “Rest in piece my little family. Love Daddio.”

Another piece of visible text in Jason Benson’s tubes, “You: fruit / flesh combination” points me back to New’s candles, reinforcing bodily connotations. Though these two works are formally disparate, they couple nicely.


If Izabelle New’s work embodies the show’s reacurring motif—the potential to burn, melt away, and unbecome—Sydney Shen’s and COBRA’s works sets the tone. Placed adjacent from each other they sing in disharmony.  Sydney Shen’s three works titled Lament Config. consist of metronomes inside of 3d printed boxes rotating on a mirrored platform. Each metronome beats at its own pace, displayed at three different heights. The work points to theatricality, performance, and musicality. The titleLament Config., comes from a fictional puzzle box popularized by the Hellraiser movie series. In the film, solving the puzzle box transports you to a demonic dimension, a place of endless pain and suffering. This is precisely where I am transported viewing COBRA’s video The Future is Wild – CRY CRY CRY -. In the video, a clown whimpers, ranging from a light sobbing to a theatrical hyperventilating cry. Equally exaggerated are the clown’s features, including overdrawn lips, eyebrows, and a prosthetic nose. The two works sing together. The metronomes keep time, and the clown cries eternally.

The most intense piece in the exhibition is Zachary Susskind’s Malcolm X Blvd, a flattened shoe that sits in the middle of the second room in the gallery space. The shoe is as flat as the floor with its shoelaces sprawled out like limbs from a chalk outline in a crime scene. The work is poetic and requires little explanation.



Alex Perweiler and Chloe Maratta’s works are the most disjointed of the show, but relate to the blurb released by Springsteen, which addressed the show as addressing “the modes of measuring performance through varying media.” Both works imply a performance.

Alex Perweiler’s work Role, an 8 x 10 headshot of the artist, feels too close to David Robbins’ work Talent to be a mere coincidence. Talent consists of eighteen 8 by 10 headshots of (now) well-known artists including Jenny Holzer, Cindy Sherman, and Jeff Koons. In an interview with Susan Morgan, David Robbins stated he chose talent as the title because, “Artists [… are] people involved with difficult intellectual, political, and moral stances, and on the other hand, they are public figures who function as entertainers.” Perweiler’s piece, made nearly thirty years after the original, asserts that the role of entertainer now overshadows any other artistic purpose.

Chloe Maratta’s D.I. dress is an artifact of a character and performance that is never seen. The dress is white, hand sewn, screen-printed, and smudged with a grey residue. A badge with the numbers “88” is sewn to the back of the dress. The work is too cryptic for me to understand or to relate to other works in the show.

Watching Things Burn is open through July 25 at 502 W. Franklin Street, Baltimore, MD. Images courtesy of the gallery.

Deuteranope @ Gallery CA/ICA Baltimore (Angela Conant)

Joseph Shaikewitz

In her recently closed show with ICA Baltimore at Gallery CA, Angela Conant investigates a curious relationship with color. As the exhibition title “Deuteranope” clinically asserts, the presentation of paintings, sculptures, video, and installation peruses the condition of colorblindness through visual and performative manifestations. In this theoretical starting point alone, the writing of Clement Greenberg, the grandfather of formalism, immediately swarms my mind: is this a formalist exploration of color’s relationship to human vision? I resist this notion and, at times, Conant does too; in fact, it is in these sparse moments of rebellion that the exhibition stands out with a vibrant and inspired potential.



“Deuteranope” is unabashedly ambitious in its thorough approach to the sensory reception of color. A large-scale video projection (Color Cast, 2015) offers an ongoing soundtrack of the exhibition’s thematic linchpin as four actors, including the artist herself, define the visual phenomenon of color and feebly attempt to explain various hues through spoken language. Seated as newscasters, the performers parody the feigned objectivity of the media when confronted with a complex and subjective headline such as color. While the work at times nears too literal an approach to the overarching subject at hand, its saving grace comes in the uncanny and dry delivery of dialogue, sporadically reminding viewers of the intricacies of visual perception as they explore neighboring works.

A scattered series of paintings chiefly paired in diptychs (Human Gesture Paintings 1-5, 2015) is alive with formal interest but, when taken at face value, remains conceptually underwhelming. Each work treats a simple, gestural mark with careful dabs of pigment and consequently reads as sculptural and tactile rather than a hackneyed expressionist swath of oil paint. Conant conceives of the works in sets: one in bright pinks and purples over a field of flat green, the other in muted earth tones over a deep black ground. Through the latter, the artist intends to replicate the range of colors perceptible by those with red-green colorblindness. While I appreciate that Conant appears to ‘get to the point’ through these images, once again I remain unconvinced by the namesake premise of the exhibition. In other words, why are we supposed to be thinking about colorblindness now?

This is not to say that the exhibition completely misses the mark. Where Conant stands out and ultimately excels is in her conception of a transmedia practice that situates painting and sculpture in a refreshingly dynamic relationship; emblematic traits of painting inform the creation of the sculptures, and vice versa. The image of each Human Gesture Painting, for instance, finds a three-dimensional, wall-mounted analog rendered in a coarse mass of plaster and sand (Human Gesture Series, 2015). Three sweeping forms appear tucked away beneath an imposingly low window while others fully occupy a dark gallery-within-the-gallery and receive intoxicating washes of red and green light. The simple starting point of the gestural brushstroke not only motivates the shape of each sculpture, but is itself disrupted as the paintings resolutely and attentively render the contours of a carefree flick of the wrist.  The sheer muddling of the processes behind each artistic format revives what might otherwise be a conceptually wanting show and leaves me yearning for more of this rich transmedia experimentation.



The current state of medium or—to re-insert Greenberg—medium specificity is a tricky one. Mixed-media approaches have assumed an established and respected place in the history of art, most notably with the Neo-Dada craze of the 1950s championing a persistent and ever-present crossover between traditionally separate media. On the other hand, following painting’s rise from its illusory ‘grave’ over the past two decades, a recent glorification of the specific capacities of the isolated medium has renewed and energized how we think about pigment on a flat surface. Conant’s transmedia approach feels markedly different and critically needed—the development of a mediumunspecific practice. As she translates not only forms but characteristic elements between the acts of painting and sculpture—simultaneously adhering to and augmenting the specific attributes of the two—Conant proposes a vision of medium that complicates its prevailing treatments. What might a variety of different artistic media look like in a detached yet nevertheless mutually reflexive relationship? While this question may not fully emerge through the thematic fog of Conant’s exhibition, its budding suggestion promises a captivating viewpoint from the artist to come.

Longing for Leisure @ Open Space

Bailey Sheehan

Longing For Leisure features work of London based artists Alex Brenchley, Lauren GodfreyNicholas Hatfull, and Alec Kronacker and was curated by Seán Boylan.

Leisure-longing is an endeavor known by little, as it is rarely intersected with an art viewing encounter. Phenomenology, being of awareness, could be perceived as boring (possibly even more boring through its acknowledgment) though whoever it was that said that boring is counter-effective should, in this instance, reconsider. Painting is as useful as is standing in a shower until the water runs cold or stirring pasta until the water comes to a boil on its own (I mean this in the best of ways). A realization has to be made at some point down the road. Leisure as a tool for non-literal thought posits an intuitive breakthrough that these four artists have laid their collective finger on.

Upon entering Longing for Leisure, it is easy to find yourself dissatisfied with the lack of imagery with which you are presented. One sees a few larger-scale (around 4×5’) paintings to the left and back-left, a smaller-scaled work and a few vinyl prints next to and in the front two window displays. Leaving the gallery, what I can remember most of the show is that much of the work was spaghetti themed and that there was a large painting of a man who is also a ship, smoking a cigarette. In the center of the space sits an enlarged, navy coffee lid with stirrers (all produced with a CNC mill). Lastly, one is to pick up a poetic gallery text accompanied with a list of the artists and their respective works.



This poetic preface to the exhibition is important in its failure to spark any ‘interest’ on the readers’ part. One observes the space and then, confused, turns to the text to attempt to put a name to an image. We read the preface and finish, perhaps maybe even more unaided in answering the question ‘what is this about?’

Maybe we knew the answer to that question and then we forgot it, and now, at this exhibition, we are trying to remember it. In considering ‘remembrance’ and ‘awareness’, we have lost touch just as the person (who is described in the short story in the gallery text) could not remember the note inscribed on the ripped piece of paper they lost between pants transfers (even though it was of most importance to them).

A risk is being taken in that this show walks a very fine line between being ‘interesting because it is seemingly boring’, or just being ‘boring in and of itself.’ I am trying to remember what exactly it was that I saw in the show and why I found it so fascinating, but it is escaping me. This isn’t necessarily detrimental to the show as much as it is a merit to its execution; its comfort in being forgettable. The show allows itself to become a backdrop and reemerges when I’m in the shower, or cooking pasta. I think that is especially beautiful.



When trying to remember some thing, the more effort one exerts in remembering, the more the Thing escapes them. The inversion of this would be: the thing is most likely to present itself when we are not trying to remember or put our finger on it.

The moment we enter Longing for Leisure, we experience neither side of this coin but perhaps something between. We enter expecting to realize the thing that we have not yet realized. This prospective realization is unable to actualize itself through our concurrent attempts to grasp this thing. e.g. By attempting to remember the name of an actor, the further the name seems to drift to the back of your head; you realize that you need to not think of the search for the name in order for the name to naturally re-emerge.

At Longing, for Leisure, we have been assigned the task of the I cant remember, which posits as much of a question as it does an answer (throughit being the answer to a different question than the original one (what is this show all about?), and that same answer owing its Aha!-moment from the original question itself). To jump off the diving board harder is to only be drawn further into the enigma to which this show is presenting to us. Perhaps one would have to sit around and drink beer until one remembers.

(Longing For Leisure is installed through June 20 at Open Space, 512 W. Franklin Street)

Youth Dew @ Springsteen (Flannery Silva)

Allie Linn

Though it is unusual to see Springsteen’s lights dimmed during open hours, the current exhibition by Flannery Silva opts for a muted darkness and curtained-off front window to house its collection of digitally collaged posters, ceramic figures and ballet barres, and embroidered banners. Moving away from the net-ready, pristine shows Springsteen has consistently curated,Youth Dew offers a selection of carefully crafted and often times peculiar artifacts that feel like a secret or whisper offered by the artist and necessitate being explored in-person to fully resonate.

That said, navigating the space is much like navigating Silva’s diaristically structured website: a labyrinth of images and links fusing fragments of Little House on the Prairie,Little Women, and The Glass Menagerie among others. The characters from these stories seem to act as surrogates for the artist, and Silva shape-shifts between roles in Youth Dew, merging her own hand with the likeness of Laura Ingalls, ballerinas, and Precious Moments dolls. Silva’s interest in these childhood depictions of girlhood surpass nostalgia and border on obsession/fixation, making it difficult to distinguish the boundary between fact and fiction, performance and reality. Simultaneously imbued with tenderness and threat, Youth Dew blends young naiveté of melancholic reminiscence with something more sinister.



Akin to a crime scene, or perhaps the opening montage of a crime television drama, small vignettes of fabricated ballet barres, footprints indicating ballet positions, and spilled baby bottles lay on the ground untouched, softly lit in the otherwise darkened room. In one corner, a grey and black wooden cutout of a simplified, featureless figure in a bonnet hangs from white rope. It is unclear whether her hands are bound or she is innocently swinging. On the opposite wall, a triangle of fabric machine-embroidered with a poem hangs by two oversized hair clips. Splotches of juice or dye allow the white-on-white text to emerge more clearly, revealing collections of phrases both light-hearted (“a feeling i only want to poke with a stick”; “qUiLt TiL u WiLt”) and more threatening (“Drawers Hiked, Ode To Bloomers/ milk-teeth missing, lips bee-stung, nipples swell/nothingness for baby”). Throughout the gallery, hands are bound, faces are obscured, and shapes reminiscent of tears and flower petals litter the ground.

The exaggerated sadness of Silva’s arrangements references the performance work of Laurel Nakadate, while ties to artists Bunny Rogers and collaborative partner Filip Olszewski emerge in the imagery and content on display as well. Recently highlighted in Joanna Fateman’s article “Women on the Verge: Art, Feminism and Social Media” (Artforum, April 2015), Rogers employs a similar language as Silva, combining found text, crafted objects and websites, and appropriated imagery to explore cybermythology and child sexuality. Probably the most disturbing yet all-encompassing phrase cited in Fateman’s article is lifted from a poem of Rogers’: “Adorability is fuckability / because children are adorable/ and men want to fuck children/ Acknowledge or die wow/ You are dead to me.”



And there is something mildly disturbing about encountering so many characters and figurines intended for a young audience in Silva’s show, although this exploration of the uncomfortable intersection between trauma and innocence remains intriguing in its taboo without ever becoming overly didactic. Moments where these two subjects merge, as in the image of a young toddler crawling on all fours, cradled by the words, “This little country girl is all ready to be hung from your tree,” become the keystones for Youth Dew. Not explicitly erotic or violent, but certainly interpretive as such, these works provide only murmurs of their histories. Even the show’s title offers liberal interpretation, simultaneously referencing infancy, spring, freshness, perfume, perspiration, a water drop emoji, and a tear.

Youth Dew is on view through June 6that Springsteen Gallery, 502 W. Franklin St. (Photos courtesy of Springsteen, view video walkthrough here.)

Rigor Raging Rigger @ Freddy (Thornton and Foster)

Colin Alexander

Colin Foster and Torey Thornton show collaborative work as well as individual work in the current exhibition at Freddy Gallery, Rigor Raging Rigger. On entering, the compact space is crowded by a large floor pedestal that supports a sci-fi acrylic and wood table. On the table, a variety of objects sample one substance for this, another substance for that, forming an array of shapes that seem to have neither history nor future. To the left, a large red transparent vinyl covers the front window.

A few wall pieces by Thornton experiment with the context of OLD WOOD (which, in the context of particle board and depicted gum in one piece, I can’t help but think of as a sign increasingly owned by yuppie food establishments). A blue, “+” shaped cardboard collage is forgettable/unnervingly tidy in the mad (material) scientist atmosphere that everything else works to establish. Foster’s pieces each seem to embed some sort of overwhelmingly human narrative within their otherwise industrial/analog electronic Hobby Hell aesthetic.


The link between these practices seems to stem from a material dissonance — an ambivalence towards just how comfortable both might be with the found and manipulated material vernacular available. I see a sort of flattened timeline of cutting edge and antique materials, of natural and unnatural qualities forced to interact outside of their themes. Where Thornton’s work remains relatively sober, Foster’s work feels erratic and difficult to parse.

Though Top Ribbon (Disturbed Mono) by Thornton and Selling Shoes on the Beach by Foster are both non-collaborative, they mark where the artists most closely brush shoulders in practice. They seem to be the strongest pieces in the show in their ability to point to that link (a squished material timeline) and employ the separate strengths of each artist’s practice.



That the gallery text and title offer a roll of possible labels that function more as phonetic textures (pick your poison: beatnik poetic, summer camp icebreaker, dada, hashtag list?) than as specific descriptors is a nice coupling for work that relies so heavily on the physicality of objects.

As a collaboration, Rigor Raging Riggeris a treat to explore even with the few pieces that seem engaged in a different conversation. Thornton’s blue “+” still seems unfitting here, but the formal effort to match it (or to be matched by?) Foster’s large red vinyl window highlights the conscious efforts of the two to commit to the sort of material choreography that ultimately holds the show together. Perhaps a second collaboration is the stage for further grace in that dance—I’d be curious to see it.

(photos courtesy of Freddy Gallery)

breathe in gold light @ New Door Creative

Chris Williford

breathe in gold light is a current exhibition at New Door Creative gallery in the Station North neighborhood. Curated by MICA Curatorial Practice MFA student Kelly Johnson, breathe in gold light creates a comfortable, dream-like oasis in which women’s bodies are observed as sacred temples: “sites” rather than objective destinations. For her thesis exhibition, the culmination of two years of rigorous collaborative work, Kelly was concerned with commenting on the gender-based hierarchies that still rigidly define the discourse of contemporary art as we know it. A light in itself, this timely exhibition—spanning painted, sculptural and performative works by exclusively local female artists—sheds new (gold) light upon spirituality’s role in a woman’s process of creating.



Walking into the space, I am instantly soothed by the dimly lit entryway that smells of decades earlier, when it was built. Red brick walls line a majority of the exhibition space, a gorgeous historic feature that supports Kelly’s interests as a curator concerned with re-contextualizing the gallery as a livable, breathable, space through which to view works. As Kelly explained, there are three visual motifs that can be interpreted from the exhibition: portraits, scenes of partnerships and scenes of group exchange, all equally powerful manifestations of female autonomy.

Looking around the first gallery, my eyes wander from Mequitta Ahuja’s Dream Sequence: Winged II to the tarnished surfaces of Rachel Rotenberg’s large wooden sculpture. On vellum, a painted composition reads as an ancient scroll on which Ahuja depicts a woman towering over a pastoral village. In the image, the figure exists not just as fearless woman but also as goddess; feathered wings extend out from underneath this protagonist, whose gesture already embodies a feeling of empowerment. Across the way, Rotenberg’s poetically rendered forms in Elizabeth echo the holistic sensibility of Johnson’s exhibition: a sum of parts that reference a larger whole. The twelve Mid-Atlantic artists in the exhibition demonstrate the criticality of representation within their given mediums, all or most of which have been commercially dominated by white, male artists throughout history. Evidently, there is strength in numbers as breathe in gold light surveys a vast landscape of cultural traditions and personal histories.

As I spoke with Johnson, I gained more insight about the mechanics of the exhibition. She displays a layered consideration for museum and gallery conventions in her minimal use of signage. For breathe in gold light, she feels, the signage and otherwise curatorial jargon had the potential to be too intrusive to the overall inclusionary nature of the exhibition. As a curator, she is more concerned with staging the variety of messages inside these works rather than musing further on their material components. By encouraging us to look beyond an artwork’s physical makeup, Johnson subverts the Modernist impulse to obsess over craft in favor of a more accessible conversation of imagery. Hourglasses were placed throughout the exhibition so that the viewer could meditate alongside artworks to gain perhaps deeper understandings of them. Another critical position on homogenized gallery culture, these signs explained that the average gallery viewer spends an average of six seconds looking at an individual artwork. Here, Johnson takes a political stance on the immediacy of contemporary artworks, giving works with allegorical or narrative structure time to shine in breathe in gold light.

Outside the gallery space is a painted labyrinth by Sandra Wasko-Flood. Visible from the St. Paul Street entrance, Goddess of the Universe Labyrinth was commissioned specifically for the exhibition. For thousands of years, these ornately designed mazes have been used to promote peace through wandering and meditation. Furthermore, non-profit organization Living Labyrinths for Peace says that walking a labyrinth can help balance the creative and analytical polarities of your brain. As I traversed through the golden labyrinth with a group of others, I became more aware of my body and also of the bodies sweeping past me, our individual energies fusing into a collaborative activation of the site-specific piece. The mission of the labyrinth echoes that of breathe in gold light in that it simultaneously suggests a venue for individual reflection in the context of a larger community.



This depiction of individual reflection is most thoughtfully articulated in the work of Cynthu Muthusamy, the single performative work in the exhibition. In her 2014 piece Soil, Soul, Society, the artist ritualistically creates patterns known as kolam, Hindu symbols that altogether represent creation, destruction and the wavering obstacles one must overcome in life. Muthusamy’s background in printmaking at MICA directly informs the graphic marks she imposes on the street outside her home in Baltimore. As the sun rises in the video, we are again reminded of gold light – and more importantly of the time we are given to breathe it all in.

breathe in gold light will continue its programming at New Door Creative, located at 1601 St. Paul Street, through May 19, 2015, with several workshops scheduled before closing.

(images courtesy of Kelly Johnson)

Something Crossed My Mind (Fashion Event @ The Copycat)

Nate Grossman



Works (Events? Shows? Exhibitions?) like Something Crossed My Mind are difficult to quantify; to address it as a singular entity would be doing a disservice to the complexities of each individual artist’s work, and to treat each component as separate would be to ignore the intent that goes into curating something of this kind. This is made even more complicated by the fact that, while at its heart, Something Crossed My Mind is a fashion show, things like the room’s design and the soundtrack have been treated with as much intentionality and care as the collections themselves. It could be argued that the actual work is the interaction between these components, and between these components and their audience.

The show is set in the garage of the Copycat Building, a cavernous, windowless space with large pillars running down the center of the room. Colin Foster has constructed a series of fountains out of ultramarine plastic barrels and PVC pipe that are scattered between the pillars. The barrels rest on rectangular plastic mats of a similar color which catch the splashes of water while the fountains are running. These assemblages have a flatness that gives them a quality not unlike a rudimentary, untextured form in a computer graphics software. They are the schematic of a fountain; reduced, yet recognizable. The starkness of these objects contrast them sharply against their weathered surroundings, and they seem to float above the ground rather than rest on it. The space is lit with large cinema lights on tall stands placed in the corners, which tower above the crowd, casting elongated, dramatic shadows.

In one corner, Co La sits in the driver’s seat of a parked car with a PA system set up in the trunk. It is from here that he performs the soundtrack for the show, a seamless set of psuedo-club tracks which transform and evolve throughout the night. The audience gravitates to the perimeter of the room, clinging to the wall, meaning that no matter where one stands, they’ll be directly facing someone across from them. The din of Foster’s fountains creates an aural screen that intersects the room, assuring that while you can see who’s standing opposite you, you cannot hear them. This dynamic sets the tone for the night, where one feels more like a voyeur than a viewer. Perhaps the greatest feat of this show’s design, is that by the time the procession of models begins to move through the space, the audience is already well inundated in the show’s atmosphere, blurring the lines between viewer and participant, show and prelude, runway and room.



The four collections presented make up a cohesive whole, without any two designers’ work feeling overly similar. Lucia Maher-Tatar’s collection is shown first, which is constructed largely from dark denim and pale neutral fabrics, with a few pieces in a reddish pink hue. Upon first glance, her garments seem fairly conservative (and relatively speaking, they are). They are recognizable as clothing, and point to pieces of clothing that came before them (a coat, a dress, a blouse, jeans, etc.), yet these categories simply serve as a point of departure from which the pieces take shape. Certain motifs such as exposed seams, tied closures, and raw edges unify the garments and suggest a sort of amorphousness or adaptability. This is emphasized by the actions of the models, who remove and reconfigure their ensembles as they move about the space. The collection’s use of denim is unique in that it avoids the trap of seeming nostalgic, a difficult feat when using a material so imbued with cultural significance.



The second collection, designed by Marines Montalvo, is a jarring shift. It relies heavily on printed fabrics, ranging from plaid, to camouflage, to a striped fabric adorned with the designer’s first name. The allusions to luxury brands are evident, and many of the outfits consist of matching tops and bottoms, establishing them as a sort of uniform. Montalvo’s play on patterns are subtle; a black and white camouflage pattern that is doubled over, similar to a printing error, or a knockoff of the iconic burberry fabric with areas that have been digitally altered and distorted. The most extreme example of this is a light purple textile that is printed to depict distressed denim, and then actually torn and tattered in places. It’s effective tromp l’oeil which cleverly highlights the absurdity present in this sort of commodification of damage. This collection seems most focused on apparel’s role as a signifier of status, and is choreographed to call attention to interpersonal interactions, as the models stop in the space and share eye contact before moving on.



Where Montalvo addressed luxury, Audrey Gair’s collection seemed to instead draw from necessity and thrift, featuring garments that are rough edged, patched, and tied together, and props like plastic bags and styrofoam cups. It is also the only collection of the four that includes footwear, such as bulbous assemblies of athletic socks worn over sneakers, or sandal soles lashed on with cord. Although aesthetic choices such as these run the risk of coming off as a gimmick, here they are tastefully executed, suggesting resilience as opposed to a fetishization of poverty. The prevailing trend of the collection is baggy, sacklike garments adorned with eyelets and belt loops, that suggest an adaptability to a wide range of body types, and perhaps a practical usage as well (à la cargo netting). Other garments feature clever details like panels of terrycloth, or a two part coat that slides off the shoulders to become a set of dangling sleeves, almost resembling those of a kimono.



The final collection, designed by Sonja Solvang, assumes a childlike playfulness. Some of it’s outfits execute this quite literally, with oversized sleeves that hang long past the hands of the models, or ruffled tulle skirts that are reminiscent of a tutu. Other pieces are a nod to arts and crafts, such as a paper chain crafted out of leather, or a series of garments fashioned out of a neon plastic mesh that resembles strings of dried glue. Solvang’s work draws parallels between youthful experimentation and garishness in high-fashion which, similarly to Montalvo’s collection, serves to point to the arbitrary lines between class and crass. Of the four designers, Solvang’s garments are some of the most alien, with cartoonish silhouettes that render the models as caricatures.

Something Crossed My Mind is an exercise in juxtapositions, and is successful due to the skill of its players. Maher-Tatar, Montalvo, Gair, and Solvang have each executed collections that are both aesthetically strong and thought provoking, Foster has constructed a fitting environment for the audience to engage with these collections (in addition to creating objects that would function just as well in a different setting), and Co La has composed a score which complements each collection individually without sounding unfocused. If there is a weakness to this show, it’s that ultimately, it still adheres to the established format of a runway show, which can feel linear and reductive (an alternative could be seen in the structure utilized by conceptual fashion label Bless, in which the models are positioned naturally throughout a room, rather than walking through it.) That’s a minor criticism however, and while the show’s basic structure didn’t match the ingenuity of its other components, it doesn’t detract from them either. Overall,Something Crossed My Mind is a show whose sum is greater than its parts, and it succeeds in uniting the work of six artists as a cohesive whole.

(First photo, credit: Nate Grossman, all others, credit: Tim Mahoney)

Real Rocks Are Heavy and Hard to Find @ Gallery Four (Bouché/Syrell)

April Camlin

Real Rocks Are Heavy and Hard to Find, on view at Gallery Four, is a collaboration between James Bouché and Ryan Syrell. The show translates familiar materials through a grammar of signifiers that Bouché and Syrell have developed to address ideas of time, illusion, reflection, and process.



From the moment the elevator doors open directly into the space, I lose all sense of the typical feelings of anxiety that permeate most of my art-opening experiences. So much consideration has been given to the arrangement of the space that it becomes impossible to focus on anything but the work. This is a strong, ambitious show. Syrell and Bouché address the ubiquitous material object in a way that both highlights and obscures its materiality, showing us works that become more than themselves, or the ghost image of themselves. This can be seen in a series of five pedestals that are arranged in a linear alignment throughout the course of the show, moving in gradient from light blue to black. Displayed on each pedestal is a grouping of bricks and rope that have been subtly transformed from conventional materials into a new object that feels simultaneously familiar and unknown.

I laughed when, while studying the obliterated homage to Maso di Banco’s St. Sylvester (a 14th century fresco), a fellow visitor leaned over and asked me if the work was part of the show. I could only assume that he was confounded by the presence of a Renaissance painting amongst domestic building materials. By the way, the only information yielded from my research of this painting was that St. Sylvester slew a dragon that was killing a lot of people with its toxic odor. I appreciate these hidden jokes within the works.

Here and there, little remnants of blue tape are left behind, feigning intentionality within the context of the expertly installed works they accompany. In the final room of the show, pieces of sandpaper are treated with a sawdust flocking that form caricature-like references to Bouche and Syrell’s collaborative works. These are also available in a folio as a take-home set.



The work is technically and structurally on point while still retaining the feeling of an intuitive process. Forms are placed in orientations of constant activation by the preexisting architecture of the space. And the space itself is one of the most brilliantly present aspects of this show – every element is considered, engaged, and negotiated. Implications of structural elements are placed centrally in every room, giving the feeling of potentials – objects caught in the act of fulfilling their latent capabilities. By repeated use of columns and arches (and the literal or probable acts of obliteration connected to these objects), Syrell and Bouché subvert an architectural canon that is buried deep in our subconscious.



It surprises me that I’ve gotten this far without talking about my favorite work in the show: a piece simply titledDrywall. On a large wall, tinted joint compound creates a three-dimensional grid that is so optically deceiving that my eyes would not believe it was flat even as I stood inches away. Full disclosure: I’ve spent the better part of a year obsessing over the binary relationship between the eyes and the brain created by optical illusions. Drywall interprets these complex principals using the most basic materials; this juxtaposition of conceptuality and universality perfectly exemplifies the statement written by the artists for this show. Bouché and Syrell refer to the “threshold of art” as the resting place for the work, speaking of an intuitive making process that is dictated by materials. Their quest for de-individualization is a noble one, although it’s impossible not to pick up on various cues that reference each artist’s personal practice. But I think that’s ok – their two voices are never dissonant together.

(photos courtesy of Gallery Four)

College Ruled @ Lil’ Gallery (Angela Arrigo)

Joseph Shaikewitz



The double entendre behind the title of Angela Arrigo’s current show “College Ruled” at Lil’ Gallery is enough to spark my interest. Taken as a declaration, the phrase affirms the exhausted adage that college “could be the best four years of your life.” (Looking through the artist’s past work, a series titled “What Loans?” dares to suggest otherwise.) At the same time, the exhibition title recalls the college ruled notebook paper that one eventually acquires for note taking or mindless doodles. In that reading, the narrower spaces for scrawling text might insinuate maturity and seriousness—an academic coming-of-age.

Whether an homage or an affront, Arrigo’s newest series of work confronts the nearly countless days spent in the confines of the classroom in the oftentimes imposed pursuit of an education. The one-room gallery features a suite of paintings that function as vignettes of a homogenous school system, strewn with motifs of graded assignments, manila folders, impasto scribbles, and a folded love note. Throughout the exhibition, the artist demonstrates an impressive ability to translate her subtle forms across dimensions; pockets of 5×7” surfaces hold their own among the smattering of large-scale paintings.

A recent MICA graduate, Arrigo approaches her college years and those that preceded them with an ounce of nostalgia. Scenes of elementary school prompts, wide-open journals, and a blank blackboard actively recall the image of docile students seated behind desks. In the corner furthest from the entrance, a grouping of six small paintings intimate a childlike point of departure for this body of work. The saturated palette simulates a fresh pack of Crayola markers while the swift brushstrokes reinforce the innocent spontaneity of youthful, naïve mark-making.



At times, the literal depiction of iconic school supplies falls short in communicating the actual complexities of navigating an education. Such is the case with three small canvases that initiate the exhibition. Each portrays a quiet stack of lined and plain loose-leaf paper that establish the picture plane as a quasi-desktop. However, the depictions of these unmarked pages and circular reinforcement labels verge on banal in the context of the expressive character and narrative imagination that animate the works alongside them.

“field day was the worst” is one such highlight—a particularly endearing image that puts forth a rebellious, albeit anodyne renouncement to which I find myself silently agreeing. The canvas is separated into two smaller tableaus. The top half reveals a simplified landscape—juvenile swaths of pale blue and green—overlaid with a brazen red circle and a small, incised cut-out. The title of the work is scrawled in pencil in the lower register within the lined format of a handwriting worksheet. If we take this to be a graded assignment as several markings suggest, then the instructor takes offense with the quiet protest of the word “worst”—highlighting and crossing it out with a definitive ‘X’–rather than the flagrant misspelling of the word “feild.” The work appears to poke fun at a system where freethinking and defiance are stifled more quickly than legitimate errors. The subtle rebellion of the composition contributes to the overarching wit of the exhibition where similarly tacit marks encourage close looking and careful reflection.


Perhaps even more compelling than Arrigo’s caricature of the classroom setting is her inspired handling of medium. Her pieces incorporate thick, at times calligraphic impasto lines atop expressive painterly forms. In many of the larger compositions, the textured brushstrokes and now-muted colors of previous paintings bleed through the gessoed surface, alluding to the material lifetime of each object. If painting functions as a record of memory, then Arrigo’s applications of protruding acrylic paint and collage over multilayered and somewhat concealed surfaces metaphorize that very process. The temporal layering of images and viscosities underscores the act of looking back, the polemics of memory, and the allure of nostalgia. The memorializing brushstrokes bring to mind a range of fellow painters ranging from Philip Guston to Liat Yossifor, while the question of painting’s materiality and its relevance to a contemporary moment seems inspired by artists like Trudy Benson, Laura Owens, and Eric Sall. Amid such comparisons, Arrigo’s work emerges as a reflection on the past with a gloss of its material excavation.

If college did indeed rule, then its presence continues to linger in the present. For Arrigo, the act of parsing out this moment creates a likely thematic commonality between artist and viewer and hosts a keen exploration into the essence of painting. While in rare instances this plays out in conceptually sophomoric terms, Arrigo’s new series of work demonstrates a clear painterly perseverance that is anything but elementary.

Photos courtesy of Lil’ Gallery