Written By: Emma Whitaker for discoveringthedistrict.blogspot.com I apologize that this review is a little belated, but my fingers seemed to have been frozen last week, thanks to the cold weather, and perhaps also to my increasingly cluttered mind (!).
As I entered the Hamiltonian last Tuesday, I barely noticed the chaotic bustle of U Street quickly and quietly evaporating behind me. Suddenly I was in a very distilled, serene space, and I felt very distinctly alone, really my favorite mode of looking at art.
Elena Volkova, Untitled, 2013, graphite on paper, 24" x 30"The most compelling work of the show is Elena Volkova’s Untitled. Volkova makes a lot out of little. She begins with a simple concept – a piece of paper, twice folded – and creates a quiet unity amongst parts. She pairs a delicate set of lines with subdued chiaroscuro. Light and shadow dance across the paper, forming a distinct pattern upon each quadrant. At the same time, the work’s luminous center acts as a focal point, anchoring the piece and keeping it self-contained. To add to the delight, Volkova draws illusionistic creases in addition to the real folds of the paper. But even these have been amplified by fictive shadows, complicating the clear concept behind the work (the initial fold).
My second favorite piece was Grayscale. Individual toys, including horses, bells, and rocking chairs, are arranged upon a wooden projection, meant to recall a mantelpiece with collectibles atop it. It is sweet and nostalgic, and would look lovely as a piece of art to hang on the wall. Each one of the collectibles (which the artist has classified as found objects) carries the feeling of nostalgia. They are trinkets that you would find in your grandmother’s attic, belonging to another place and time, connected to your history. But the artist has bathed each one in a uniform color on a white to grey scale. In doing so she reminds us that these are merely symbols; we cannot feel nostalgia toward them, because truthfully, we have no connection to them. They have lost the markings of their maker, their original function, and their personal value.
The show quickly became, for me, about human isolation. The walls are grey, the disposition of paintings sparse, and a rather subdued color palette prevails. The show is meant to be about “invented environments, the natural world and the symbolism of everyday objects,” but in reality (and perhaps in support of the show’s mission!) a physical human presence is absent. The only true human being can be found in San Shui Sights, where the young woman inhabits an overwhelming natural environment that she does not (or cannot) engage with. She is instead a passive figure, receiving the wind through her hair. Steep Climb and they said plumb and level was an absolute, sort of truth similarly represent places that appear ghostly, uninhabited. White Shadow Tower I has a skeletal, ghostly feel, and is invigorated by the gallery's lighting, which casts a multiplicity of shadows on the surrounding floor.
What does the Hamiltonian have in store for us next? We'll have to wait and see...