Currently on view at the Artists Foundation gallery in the Distillery Building are three solo shows of engaging and beautiful works. Josephine Pergola's "Surface Tension", Joe Steele's "Little Big Mind" and Adra Raine's film "Water" each offer meditations of the cycle of life and death, while none of them comes close to the general cliches one expects from such well-worn ground.
Adra Raine's Super-8 film "Water" (shown as a DVD) is roughly five minutes of silent, abstract imagery that is quite stunning in its beauty. Unlike many films of its type, it is immediately accessible and beautiful, hinting at a narrative that lies beneath the lusciousness of the film-making. As it unfolds, stark shots of branches and dead flowers undulate in and out of focus, building in their length and drawing out a sense of anticipation. Later, sheets of ice melt in fascinatingly repetitive drips, Raine's lens so close that the cold is almost physical. By the end of the film, as water flows freely over rocks and grass, one is left with a strong sense of the beauty and complexity of this simple spring thaw, aware of the patience and consideration behind each abstracted moment, and the power Raine has found in these simple scenes.
Equally as beautiful, though far less subtle, is Josephine Pergola's "Surface Tension". Described by the placard on the gallery wall, this piece comprises "skin, bullet holes", which is such a wonderful understatement.
The gallery floor has been covered in a sheet of plastic, upon which sits a metal folding chair draped with yellowish, tanned skin. This membrane is perforated by hundreds of holes, some large as if made by a rifle, while many more are the small tears of a shotgun. Showing smart restraint, Pergola goes no further, leaving the rest to the imagination and consideration of the viewer. Certainly, in a time of war, thoughts wander to the direct physical consequences of guns and bombs. Yet, closer to home, hunters are shooting animals in the woods while we celebrate this glorious tradition by roasting a turkey at the end of November. Pergola's "Surface Tension" is thankfully devoid of this type of specificity, allowing us to consider our own surface and how fragile we truly are in the face of violence both implied and actual.
Joe Steele's "Little Big Mind" is the most dense and layered of the three shows, combining video with a musical soundtrack, drawings, and several chalk-boards presenting a sort of cognitivie map. Unlike Raine and Pergola, who seem to want their viewers intensly focussed on a single theme, Steele's inability to focus throws one into disjointed series of thoughts that, ultimately, result in a questioning uncertainty.
The video presents a montage of images, seemingly without a narrative. Shots of a person creating rubbings of gravestones, quiet pastoral nature, and a dead carcus on the pavement come and go with no warning. It is as if the video were made in short fits, finding moments of interest and jumping to the next idea before the first has been completed; Steele's attention deficit recorded on video. The chalkboards nearby further this idea, filled with a sort of cognitive map, radiating out in a circle on the largest of the boards, filled with phrases and names.
legacy taste and power
genius and brutality
According to Artists Foundation director Kathy Bitetti, Steele intends to continue work on his piece throughout the duration of the show. It remains to be seen how this cognitive map will develop, and if the focus found in the other two pieces of the show will ultimately guide him, or if Steele will further push his chalk drawings out into more disjointed and abstract areas.
The Artists Foundation is always a great space to see work, small though it may be, as each artist is given their own space and voice. Steele, Raine and Pergola have each pushed their own vision and methodology into powerful forms, creating three exhibitions that each warrent their own distinct consideration.
"Surface Tension", "Adra's Room", and "Little Big Mind" are on view November 5 - December 17, 2005 at Artists Foundation.
Please note that Artists Foundation will be closed on November 26th for the holiday.
Raine image courtesy of the artist. Other images courtesy of James Manning, with permission from Artists Foundation.