By Leora Lutz
As the title suggests, the current exhibition at Gallery Wendi Norris is a group show of contemporary landscape. To analyze it further, the work nestles in a place between technology and tradition, utilizing contemporary art-making practices to address traditional landscape tropes. In fact, there are in a sense no paintings in this show, so anyone looking for Hudson River School renditions will be left to seek that view of landscape elsewhere. On the same token, technology is not a literal interpretation here either but rather some artists have used technology as a means to generate their work. Still, “technology” is a broad medium and in this show it encompasses video, manufacture, photography and materials and the work challenges tropes with fresh perspectives of landscape that take a close look at the space between reality and fiction.
I keep hearing the sound of airplanes in the gallery, so I make my way to the video room where Kevin Cooley’s “Takeoff: Runaway 13, JFK” is installed. The timing of this film is really satisfying, because although it moves slowly and the imagery is subtle, it is constantly changing. The lull and whir of the airplanes in the video loudly echo the lines that are being created from the contrails of the planes as they fly over water and the silhouetted skyline of New York in the distance. The pink and pale blue dusk becomes marked with white curved lines, creating a drawing of light against the backdrop of the sky. I still marvel that man can inhabit the sky in this way, and wonder about the modern consequences of technology that relocates people on disparate sides of the planet in such a (relatively speaking) short period of time. The race to getting somewhere is like a parody of “wherever you go, there you are” when you consider that time between departure and arrival.
Nearby, I peer into several peepholes by Patrick Jacobs. Inside each one is a dreamy and miniscule diorama of places I wish I could go. There is a cinematic quality to this work, as if from a still in a film that is using an exaggerated depth of field to achieve a toy-like quality to the subjects. They are at once enchanting and bittersweet in their ability to lure while at the same time denying full access – leaving that to the imagination alone.
In contrast, Val Britton’s installation “The Continental Interior” in the office kiosk window is equally alluring yet also inaccessible. The installation is in the big picture window that acts as a transparent wall separating the offices from the gallery space. It is like a life-size vitrine housing an elaborately suspended mixed-media assemblage of shapes and textures that together create a three dimensional map. Britton is known for her map works, and I have written about her work in another SFAQ piece, “Millennial Abstractions” (May 3, 2013). Much like the piece from that show, the installation here is comprised of soft-toned paper and mixed materials in tans, grey and creams. Hundreds of threads suspend intricately cut drawings and paintings on paper. The individual pieces appear to be continents, with precise and detailed curves and jutting angles that mimic land erosion at the edge of water if viewed from above. Scattered throughout the delicately dangling organic shapes are strips of paper perhaps attached with adhesive. These angular elements intersect the organic shapes like a web or scaffolding – a man-made presence amongst this fictitious locale.
Back in the main gallery I walk directly toward the detailed assemblage, “Slid down my front as the rust from lands new soaking” by Gregory Euclide. Euclide uses a variety of natural and man-made materials including detritus from technology industries, such as Styrofoam, or modern art materials such as acrylic and photo transfers. The vignette is organically arranged, not strictly adhering to a grid yet the works are confined within square and rectangle frames or vitrines. The white substrate paper background shows clearly behind and in some places within the elaborate scene, creating negative space and breathing room in the landscape.
Dominating the composition is an intricately painted multi-level house surrounded by a nature scene with green trees, ferns and lush mountain vegetation. Pale aqua washes allude to a fresh and rejuvenating aura occupying the scene, like a recent rain, further noted in the watery, absorbed and fading pools of green, brown and rust throughout the picture edges. Built in front of the paint are many natural items such as flowers, moss and tiny trees like those used in miniature train dioramas. Many of these plants are perched on broken shards of Styrofoam. The use of these commercial materials and geometric shapes imparts an apocalyptic tone to the work. The vignette seems to be set in a time and place where nature and people collide, where people and natural habitat encroach upon each other, and where time has no clear recognition of a particular era – it could be anywhere, almost at any modern time, since humans and nature are always intersecting and at odds with each other.
To the left of Euclide are several works by Charlie Castaneda and Brody Reiman, more commonly known as Castaneda/Reiman. Utilizing photo-imagery and collage with simple construction materials such as drywall, wood and drywall mud the two artists collaboratively create wall works and sculpture that work as installations when viewed together like they are in this show. Overall, the work is reminiscent of the gentle decay that begins to wear on homes after decades of uneventful habitation. The imagery in these works are landscapes that include bodies of water – A wide range of blues are represented: from pale sky blue, to deep aqua to periwinkle and navy blue. Equally represented are layers of green: moss, grass, pine and chaparral to name a few. The cool palette is balanced by neutrals: clay, white, tan, grey, taupe, sand and eggshell. Naming the colors reminds me of house-paint shopping. I think of the potential that comes with painting a house or a room a new color – a freshness, a new beginning, a welcoming, parties, restfulness, memories. Yet here those potentials are fragmented and layered. The imagery are not “real painting”, but rather photo replicas as if to say that memories themselves are mere imitations of what really happened.
Overall, the show is very well hung, and each piece flowing from one to the next. As far as summer shows are concerned, it is a classic one worth viewing, because of the diverse selection of works. Other works in the exhibition include Mary Anne Kluth’s vibrant and surreal photo-collages, Clement Valla’s aerial views of bizarre travel-ways generated from Google Earth, Matthew Moore’s photo series based upon wheat fields, Tania Kitchell’s white, monochrome futuristic floral sculptures and Brice Bischoff’s in-situ haunting, light images. Together, everything becomes a survey of how people locate themselves in this larger place of landscape.
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