Front and Center
With work by Julia Bahn, Lucy Brinckerhoff, Graciela Cassel, Youri Choi, Tiffany DiOrio, Leah Dixon, Anthony Donatelle, Byui Han, Alison Kuo, Christopher Martino, Jennifer McDermott, Manuel Vazquez aka Mava and Jacob Williams
This exhibition's title links it to the first show of the second-year MFA Fine Arts students: 'Home Front.' Because the notion of the front here is devoid of any militaristic connotation, 'Front and Center' insists on a whole range of positions not necessarily related to mainstream art practice. "Front and Center" as a purposely non-hieratical direction invokes idiomatically the most prominent position for all the works within the gallery space. At the same time, imagined as a grouping that is nominally front and center, the show erases any closures. There are no superior or inferior positions awaiting the different modes of presence in the gallery space of this show. Still, Front and Center's separate works should not be treated as fulfilling one unified vision: the artists resolutely represent their own unique idiosyncratic fronts in varied practices that range from projected light to very palpable object making in the gallery space. In this way, the differences are not neutralized. Rather, their multiplicity is carefully calibrated."
Similar to the display tactics of the space of Home Front that led the viewer to the private spheres of the subject's psyche, Front and Center deals directly with notion of confinement. Confinements are countered here with the invitation for the viewers' participation. Very often, when the works allude to confinement and the surrender, they offer a way-out. The site where this happens does not have to be front and center, it is imaginative and migratory in its core character.
The first space of the exhibition Front and Center starts with a bang: Jacob Williams' paintings boldly claim their own territory of the longest wall in the gallery. They are objects that are in a dialogue with the tradition of the painting on canvas. Indeed, they use canvas, but only to subvert the tradition by offering the black allover painted surface of the canvas as a starting point in this conversation. The main point they are making relates to their format - they use the organic shapes of wood branches that the canvas is stretched with. Thus, they become powerful organic forms that relate painting back to nature.
As a counterpoint to the absolute saturation of Williams's black canvasses, Anthony Donatelle, presents a work that is about weightlessness. His subtle yellow image placed on the wall is an opening in the line of vision - formless in its nature, emanating light from within. It is framed by the rudimentary children's swing - an object that paradoxically alludes to rococo sensibility because of its lack of ornamentation. Here, it becomes a framework for the image itself - it allegorically evokes the aforementioned lightness.
Byul Han's sculptural installation also works with the notion of weight. It can be said that her objects that hang from the ceiling of the gallery are thematizing the weight. The first suspended object suggests the heaviness in its rough materiality. The second object is doing the opposite - it is suspended only to emphasize its lightness. They form an ensemble by painted surfaces that unify their opposing nature - different material share the same pictorial logic and work across the distinction between sculpture and painting.
Graciela Cassel's video installation offers a glimpse into a strangely seductive mysterious world. Cassel created a nonlinear narrative with cat-girls hybrid protagonists who inhabit her dark, but gentle atmospheric landscape. Her sculptural thinking complements the screens by treating all the objects as a part of a unique environment to be walked around in a state that reminds me of being awaken amidst the dreamscape.
Christopher Martino's paintings are about beauty in the realm of representation. Beauty, being skin deep, is represented here through the unwanted growth on the surface of human skin. He paints hairs, zits, pores, scabs and scars by using an idiosyncratic, subtle palette of his painting series. His attention to details and fragments speaks clearly about his interest in the fragment as a separate poetical focal point. Fragments are treated to new representational syntax that goes beyond the body - and comes back to the apparatus of seeing. To encapsulates this new syntax, a pair of seeing eyes are depicted on the central canvas: they are painted as a part of vision machine that is observing the world around them.
Alison Kuo's food cart brings into focus the delight of participation in making and consuming art. Kuo's work extends the sculpture and installation and leaks into the performative category: quite literally her material is the formless mashed potato that she shapes into being by putting water, colors and flavors into an instant mix. Kuo's food track is about the whimsical echo of our food habits - her food truck is joyously decorated but also goes beyond - into the realm of the carnivalesque. She is interested in delighting the viewer by offering a cute memento of a child's relation to food. At the same time, the work is also about time, memory and, ultimately - destruction. Her video underlines the carnivalization as a metaphorical action that transcends a mere consumption.
Manuel Vazquez aka Mava works with the concepts of masquerade and the category of flamboyancy as constitutive elements of his visual language. His language is informed by fashion's trope and he is creating objects that stem from this world but offer themselves as devoid of functionality. Their function is visual delight in the richness of saturated colors, baroque in their richness and their campy overtones. The installations offer a glimpse into his seductive, whimsical universe.
Lucy Brinckerhoff's fanzines work with the tropes of contemporary fashion that she valiantly subverts. Brinckerhoff wants her viewer to slow down and look closely at her hand-made magazines that attack the inane consumerist world of the contemporary advertisement. Mimicking the format of the underground fanzines, she crudely imitates fashionable subcultural trends by confronting the viewer with the realities of the drug subculture. Her world is not offering a glimpse of the much imitable contemporary sybaritic life for an easy consumption. Rather, it confronts the viewer with the consequences of the certain self-destructing life choices.
Tiffany DiOrio's large series of paintings thematize the inside of the closet. Another topic related to the fashion, without the flair of contemporary emphasis on consumption. Even if it is about the rituals of beautification and dressing up, her representation is about the paintings themselves. The paintings offer interesting compositions in the way they are constructed - an intimate, and somewhat claustrophobic space within the closet that opens to a plethora of clothing objects. For DiOrio this is just a pretext to paint scenes rich with colors in registers that are unabashedly girly.
Leah Dixon's object was made during the installation of the show - as a performative action that had a goal of imbuing the sculpture with the energy of its own making, followed by the images and noises that had accompanied it. Her heroic wooden dismembered body stays in the gallery then as a relic of her own interaction with it. It is her antipode, a complementary object to her creating subject.
Julie Bahn's installation comprises of the mythical birds that juxtapose ethereal beauty with the elements that endanger it. I read them as a reminder of ecological precariousness of the species in nature today. They are both fiercely beautiful, and tragically vulnerable. The installation offers a glimpse onto a swan lake amidst of an ecological apocalypse.
Jennifer McDermott's private space of her installation does not provide a vision of the home as a safe haven. Her installation evokes the uncomfortable blurring of the spheres of sacral and secular in the contemporary popular culture. Her images delve into kitsch and pulp terrain and her installation is pulling the viewer close only to push him away.
The back space of the gallery serves as a imaginative fantasy territory where the visual pleasure unapologetically reigns. In it, Youri Choi's magical landscapes that represents green forest and the ocean waves offer the viewer the delight in seeing nature refracted into fragments. These fragments are reassembled then following the logic of a cubist painting in three dimensional installation that creates the pleasure of all knowing all seeing viewer live a bit longer, even as a last fantasy.
Lin Jiayue's masterful images are product of a phantasmatic conglomeration between analogue and digital modes of creating images with color and light. She relies on a complex technique to create an amalgam - an image so alluring in its shiny surface, meant to be observed in its fully seductive glory only when approach frontally. Jiayue's translucent surfaces are lush as well as ethereal - they linger in the brain long after being seen.