October 01, 2012
Tucked inside an artist building in South Boston is Spoke Gallery at Medicine Wheel Productions. This was my first visit to the gallery and most definitely will not be the last. Currently up in the gallery is Terrain, an exhibition of nine artists and one artists founded organization. The exhibition explores the various meanings of the word ‘terrain’ as investigated through traditional mapping techniques and non traditional approaches including but not limited to emotional, abstractive, historical, and inventive.
The first work that caught my attention was Raul Gonzalez III’s sculptural installation created in collaboration with La Die/Elaine Bay. A rooster, snake and Malta beverage bottles are some of the recurring imagery in Gonzalez’s caricature-like drawings, and these are present here. The two dimensional image of a boy traveling on a raft dissolves into a three dimensional piece. The work speaks to the artist’s childhood growing up regularly crossing the border between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez.
Heidi Whitman’s large intricate paper construction was one of the more memorable works in this exhibition. They’re invented terrains resembling city grids, ancient ruins, and even underwater rock formations like the Yonagumi monument. They reminded me of the complex nature of cities and their interconnected geographical, political, social, cultural and historical boundaries. Whitman’s work ties in nicely with the nearby drawings of Caoimhghin O Fraithile. Created on one-of-a-kind handmade parchment paper, Fraithile’s drawings resemble an abstracted mappa mundi from the Middle Ages. They were my window into an imaginary world filled with fantastic geographical and anthropomorphic-like features. It was difficult to pull away from them.
Directly across from O Fraithile’s drawings are Elise Wagner’s recent small scale encaustic paintings. These explore the unpredictable nature of the material the artist works in. The end results are paintings that capture the feeling of what a scorched or boiling earth would look like to me. Next to Elise Wagner’s encaustic paintings are two of Bruce Myren’s panoramic photographic triptychs from his Fortieth Parallel Series (Kickstarter funded by the way). Myren has set out to photograph the 50 longitudinal points that intersect the 40th parallel on land. Most if not all of the panoramas in the series turn the longitudinal points into fractured landscapes, forcing the viewer to become even more aware of the national and geographical boundaries that we’re subjected to live by. I found the juxtaposition of Wagner’s paintings and Myren’s photographs quite interesting.
I was immediately attracted to Gail Burton’s Altar/Alter, an experimental performance project deeply rooted in ancestral traditions. Old black-and-white photographs and various Afro-Caribbean religious paraphernalia in the work transported me back to my homeland. The work, which will be added on to during a performance November 2 (Day of the Dead), explores ancestral mapping and collective memory.
Rajiv Ramaiah’s digital prints are smart and funny. When viewed from a distance they appear to be regular subway lines, but upon close inspection their familiarity dissipates. Ramaiah finds humor in things most of us often take for granted, like subway station names for example.
Marie Cieri’s work is interesting because it considers data about the geographical extent, size and complexity of the post Katrina/Rita diaspora throughout the US. Community and activism play a major role in her work.
The only issue for me in this exhibition was Rinat Harel’s documentary film Ima. Ima is about the artist’s mother and the struggles she faced as one of the first female bus-drivers in Israel. It is an issue because the film itself is not part of the exhibition, but rather the map featured in it. Ima was screened on loop during the opening reception, which I regrettably had to miss. I just wish it was shown during the entire duration of the show because without it, the exhibition is not as strong as it could have been.
Terrain is on view September 22 - November 16, 2012 at Spoke Gallery @ Medicine Wheel Productions.