Vantage Points @ the Hamiltonian

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. Written By: Emma Whitaker for discoveringthedistrict.blogspot.com

Mr. November, Larry Cook

by  and  in Centerfold Artist | November 13, 2013

Centerfold Artist is happy to present Mr. November, Larry Cook. Larry is a DC- and Maryland-based artist who focuses on video and photography portraits. This year, he has been a finalist for the Janet and Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize and was awarded the Hamiltonian Artist Fellowship. He currently teaches photography at George Washington University and Project Create, an art development program for impoverished youth in Washington, D.C. And he has a solo exhibition coming up at Hamiltonian Artists Gallery in January 2014. To learn more about his work visit his website.

We wanted to know even more, so we sent Larry a datasheet, recorded ourselves talking about it, and then invited him to our studio to for an interview. Now it’s all right here in this post: audio, images, and text. Enjoy!

CENTERFOLD ARTIST: How did you get started with photography?

LARRY COOK: I was always interested in commercial photography. I would look at magazines and go online, and I liked what I saw. So when it was time to pick a major for college, I knew I had to pick something that would keep me interested. I was always into filmmaking and photography, and the school I went to had photography.

CA: What was your first camera?

LC: A Canon Rebel thirty-five millimeter.

CA: You say that with such longing eyes.

LC: It’s taking me back. The camera actually got stolen.

CA: Ooh, that is sad. What was your first good photo?

LC:  I think it was back in Photo 1. I remember we had this assignment where we had to go around and take pictures of anything we saw. The teacher was walking around helping us to develop pictures and she saw my negatives. She was like “Larry, this is like…” I don’t know if she was gaming me to be a Fine Art major or just being a teacher. But she made it seem like I had a good eye.

CA: What was the photo of?

LC: The photo was of this alleyway between a house and a post office. There was snow in the foreground, and it lead down the alleyway to a tree that went up into the background.

CA: Do you still have a copy of the photo?

LC: I do.

CA: We’ll we need to get a signed print later. After the interview perhaps. So, I assume, since you listed it as your favorite camera, you shoot with a Bronica Medium Format camera?

LC: Actually, no. I don’t own one, and I haven’t shot a lot with it. I borrowed it from my mentor, Chan Chao, to work on a project, and I was in awe. I love the sound the shutter makes and really everything about it. Shooting with it just feels good. I don’t know how to explain it.

CA: You also used a 4 x 5 camera for some of your other projects. How did you get the opportunity to use the 4 x 5?

LC: I wanted to get under the hood, in the ‘hood. Chan Chao told me he had a camera I could use, and he showed me how to use it. And it went from showing me how to use it to Can I hold on to it? and I ended up shooting this project, The Red, White, and Blue Klan’s Men Blood and Crypt. I always wanted to print large scale, and it gave me the chance to do so. Since then, I’ve wanted to show all my photography large. I had this experience once where I had one photograph in a show. I had my C-print, my oak frame, and I was like “I am going to win this.” It was twenty-four inches by twenty-four inches, and they put it in the back corner, and everyone else’s work was large and mine looked so small. I am not going to let that happen to me again. So I print large.

larry cook datasheet

CA: The artwork photo you gave us on the datasheet, who is that guy?

LC: He is a young man from a neighborhood I used to live in, Capitol Heights, MD. That area is pretty rough, and he is a sweet guy, but because of the environment he has to be a certain way. I did this project where I invited a bunch of kids from the neighborhood to pose in front of this backdrop and he was one of them.

CA: What gang sign is he holding up?

LC: Oh no, it’s no gang sign. He is just throwin’ it up. It’s just his pose.

CA: It seems like he’s doing something fancy with his hands.

LC: Trust me, I asked him about it, and it didn’t mean anything. It’s probably just something he’s mimicking some rapper he saw, and it probably has some kind of meaning for that person. But for him it didn’t mean anything.

CA: When you go out to the neighborhood, how do you organize your photo shoots and get all of the people to participate in projects? I bet it can be tough.

LC: Yes, it can be. Early on, when I was doing street photography, I had to develop a thick skin because people tell you “no” with no hesitation. Sometimes, I’ll go into an area and I’ll have some type of connection to the place. Maybe I’ve lived there, or I know someone that lives there, and that will be my entry way. Or, it might be that I just hang out somewhere and come around and frequent the area and people see my face. Then I’ll come back with my camera, so they know I’m not working with the Feds. Then, at some point, I’ll introduce myself and start talking about what it is that I am interested in and start building some type of connection and see if they want to collaborate.

CA: Wow. So by the time you take people’s photographs, you’ve become a part of their lives. How you get your subjects comfortable?

LC: I try to insert myself into the area. It could be something very simple like someone may like my shoes, so we may start a conversation about Air Jordans or, maybe, tattoos. Even though I have an MFA, I still look like these people and/or I’ve lived in the neighborhood. Also, I explain to them in detail what the project is about. I don’t want to trick anyone. I don’t want to feel like I’m exploiting anyone, and ultimately I want it to feel like a collaboration. So I give people agency in terms of how they want to pose or what they want to wear. Another thing I always do is give the person a copy of the photo I take. Having people know that the photo is something they are going to own helps get their guard down. Then the shoot almost becomes an event, like the guys with the white backdrops (like the guy who is not throwing up a gang sign), I had them in a show, and then I came back around showing them that the images were in a gallery and that a lot of people were seeing who they are. That kind of thing makes people feel a certain type of way, so the next time I come around they want to be a part of it. One kid had his image on the front page of the art section in the Baltimore City Paper, so I came back around and was giving copies out, and now he is like a little celebrity. When you build that type of rapport, it goes a long way.

Untitled, archival digital print, 20" x 30", 2013

Untitled, archival digital print, 20″ x 30″, 2013

CA: Found photographs turn you on. What is it about them that you like and where do you find them?

LA: I like family photos. If someone has left a photo album at a thrift store, I use those. I like the strategy of appropriation, using images that exist in their own right and then placing them in a different context.

CA: Just to clarify, you like when artists use found photos in their artwork as well as found photos in general?

LA: Yeah. I really like Joachim Schmid, a German photographer who is most known for collecting and taking photos at one of the largest flea markets in Germany. When I discovered his work, I thought, man, this is a different way of working in photography that I had never really considered. Also at the time I had two uncles who had just come home from prison. Both did ten years, and each had collected these photo albums. They were so proud to show me these images. Looking at them and thinking about the work of Joachim Schmidt, I was like, man, this is art right here.

CA: Who were the pictures of in the albums?

LC: They were pictures of themselves and other inmates.

CA: They could take pictures in prison?

LC: Yeah, actually they have prison photographers that go around and take photos.

CA: What are the photos like?

LC: You have the yard pictures, where the photographer runs around the yard and shoots pictures of guys in groups. You also have the visiting room where family members or friends or whatever come to visit. The visiting room has painted backdrops with fountains and castles or things like that. You can take pictures with your loved ones in front of the backdrops. So the albums are a collection of those types of images and also a lot of collaging with inmates’ own images. They’ll cut out magazine, text, or porn images and paste them onto their own photographs. So you have this layer of people creating their own art.

CA: It seems like what you are describing is a need to create.

LC: Absolutely. Those painted backdrops with the castles, someone had to create that. So there is this network of art and artists that is already working. I really wanted to show these pieces in an art gallery. I wanted to have artists that are totally unknown showing work in a gallery space. Maybe the artists had thought of showing their work; maybe they hadn’t. And that was the show I had at Pleasant Plains Gallery in D.C. a few months back. So, yeah, that’s how I became fond of found photographs.

CA: Do you ever leave photographs for people to find?

LC: I do not.

Maria, C-print, 20" x 24", 2010

Maria, C-print, 20″ x 24″, 2010

CA: So, we have to ask, because Zac is a framer: What’s up with your frame collection?

LA: I guess it’s wanting to save money and knowing how important frames are and being a photographer and being an artist. All that makes me a collector of frames. Whenever I come across a place where frames are for the taking, I’m going to grab one.

CA: Your motto on the data sheet is, “Commissary is very necessary.” What does it mean?

LA: It’s really about the prison system. It’s about making sure you put money on the books for a friend, loved one, or whoever is in prison. It’s so that they can go to the Commissary and purchase whatever it is that they want to purchase, whether it be deodorant, noodles or whatever it is. Having had uncles prison and sending money to them, even if it’s five dollars, in there it’s a lot of money. It’s important not to forget about your people when they are down.

CA: What exactly is the Commissary?

LC: In the prison system, it’s an area, kind of like a store, where you can buy special items that you couldn’t get normally. Let’s say the prison gives out a standard soap bar, and at the Commissary you can buy Dove soap. You can buy Snickers, or depending on the prison and how it’s set up, you get your photos, different types of toiletries, magazines, movies, and things like that. Pretty much anything that is available in the free world that doesn’t come standard in prison, that’s what the Commissary is for.

CA: Sounds very necessary.

LC: Yes! It’s necessary as hell! Because it’s not so much like, “I need to have this type of soap.” It’s the idea that someone on the outside is not forgetting about you. And about taking the time even if it’s only a couple of dollars. It’s the gesture that’s important: Don’t forget about people. Especially if it’s people from my circle, if it’s my family, friends, people that helped me along the way, or kids back in the neighborhood, etc. Don’t forget about them.

larry-cook-video-portraits-1024x419

Video Portraits (still), video, 3 minute loop, 2012

CA: Can you describe the best Long Island Iced Tea situation that you have had?

LC: I’m sure it involves a female. Gosh, does this really have to be in this?

CA:  Guess not. So LIIT is your go-to drink?

LC: It’s my go-to drink, and it’s my favorite.

CA: Where do you get a good LIIT in this town?

LC: I wouldn’t say I’m a connoisseur. I just know that it gets me to where I need to be.

CA: That’s exactly what we were saying when we saw it on your datasheet. It’s a get-me-to-the-next-stage drink. And maybe that’s the next stage with a female. Larry, thanks so much for being a Centerfold!


Annette Isham makes art work and lives in Washington, DC.
Zac Willis, born in southwest MO, is an artist living and working in Washington, DC. An avid collector of toys and an obsessive documentarian, Willis redirects his energies toward amassing the stories of others in Centerfold Artists.

Vantage Points Featured in the Washington Post

Joyce Yu-Jean Lee | San Shui Sights | HD video | 2012 Written By: Mark Jenkins for the Washington Post

To mark its fifth anniversary, Hamiltonian Gallery has assembled 11 works by 10 alumni of its fellowship program. The selection tends, unsurprisingly, toward the minimal and the conceptual. The show’s title, “Vantage Points,” probably doesn’t refer to so old-fashioned an artistic form as the landscape. Yet more than half the pieces are connected to that tradition, if untraditionally.

Joyce Yu-Jean Lee insinuates herself, standing and a little fidgety, into a pixilated video of a Chinese classical nature scene. In paint, ink and pencil, Jessica van Brakle depicts a steep staircase, framed by black leaves in the foreground. Magnolia Laurie’s hazy oil painting suggests yet doesn’t quite represent a vista. Mike Dax Iacovone traces the U.S.-Canada border with maps, video and colored yarn. Even Jonathan Monaghan’s two CGI prints include landscapes of a sort, although the world they show is that of computer games.

Most of the pieces are stark and muted, and sometimes involve chance. Selin Balci paints by growing microbes on boards, a random process that’s presented very tidily. Leah Hartman Frankel’s “Grayscale” arrays small found objects, mostly toys and miniatures, in a tonal progression from black to white. Michael Enn Sirvet’s sculpture is a column of white-coated aluminum, Swiss-cheesed with holes. Elena Volkova uses pencil to lightly texture paper that’s creased into squares. The chaos here is studiously contained.

See the full article here

Lisa Dillin's "Stopgap" Named Best Solo Show

BEST SOLO SHOW

Stopgap, by Lisa Dillin

Baltimore sculptor Lisa Dillin has been known to create spectacles where office furniture, faux vegetation, and industrial lighting confuse the man-made and the natural world in clever ways. Stopgap, her most recent exhibit at Gallery Four, brought her fascination with artificial nature to a participatory level, so that the viewer could not only appreciate her well-crafted detail, but also wear it, taste it, and be it. The show included a spray-tan performance where volunteers donned specially made tanning uniforms to be airbrushed into a bronzy glow by the artist. Once tan, participants could enter a cave/lounge where imitation rocks served as comfy chairs and a secret beer fridge. In addition, Stopgap featured a giant communal water fountain inspired by a woodland watering hole, a giant linoleum floor depicting dinosaur bones, and a perplexing room full of hybrid office furniture and ferns. In Stopgap, viewers were surrounded, submerged, and ensconced in Dillin’s artistic vision, which created a unique sensory experience few artists can match.

See full article here

Lisa Dillin's "Stopgap" Named Best Solo Show

BEST SOLO SHOW

Stopgap, by Lisa Dillin

Baltimore sculptor Lisa Dillin has been known to create spectacles where office furniture, faux vegetation, and industrial lighting confuse the man-made and the natural world in clever ways. Stopgap, her most recent exhibit at Gallery Four, brought her fascination with artificial nature to a participatory level, so that the viewer could not only appreciate her well-crafted detail, but also wear it, taste it, and be it. The show included a spray-tan performance where volunteers donned specially made tanning uniforms to be airbrushed into a bronzy glow by the artist. Once tan, participants could enter a cave/lounge where imitation rocks served as comfy chairs and a secret beer fridge. In addition, Stopgap featured a giant communal water fountain inspired by a woodland watering hole, a giant linoleum floor depicting dinosaur bones, and a perplexing room full of hybrid office furniture and ferns. In Stopgap, viewers were surrounded, submerged, and ensconced in Dillin’s artistic vision, which created a unique sensory experience few artists can match.

See full article here

Centerfold Artist Series

Centerfold Artist is a series of monthly podcasts that features actively showing artists from around the country. We ask the tough questions that cut to the heart and expose inner thoughts and feelings. Each featured artist is provided a datasheet that is to be filled out and returned in a sealed envelope. In this our first installment of Centerfold Artist, we introduce Mr. January, Ben Kinsley. Ben is currently teaching in Washington, DC at American University. He recently had a show called Harry Smith Was So Skinny… a Janks Archive at the Practice Gallery in Philadelphia, PA. To see this month’s datasheet, click here. To learn more about Ben and all of his artwork please visit his website. And to learn more about us, write to centerfoldartist@gmail.com.

Witness to Whiteness: Center for Progress

Sam Fulwood III from the Center for Progress has written a very insightful article on Nora Howell's exhibition Spotless. Fulwood gets to the root of Nora's practice as a community artist and examines with her what it means to be white in America.Read the article here

Washington City Paper Reviews The Salon of Little Deaths

For an exhibit titled “The Salon of Little Deaths,” this dual-artist show at Hamiltonian Gallery doesn’t include much in the way of orgasm art, though at least in the works of Milana Braslavsky, there’s a not-too-subtle sexuality at play.....

Fellow to Fellow Reviews: The Salon of Little Deaths

Garden Eye View - By Joshua Wade Smith “ While visiting the Alps, (Bruegel) swallowed all the mountains and cliffs, and, upon coming home, spat them forth”--Van Mander

Our conversation about his new paintings started at the opening but took shape in a sea of bodies, as we yelled above the din of a swarming U-street bar. Looking down from the roof deck, I saw torrents of people looking for something that wasn't there: for a hook-up, some flirting conversation, or a future missed connection. We discussed other inspirational views. Inspiration that came not in his studio, but from his basement window in a 'garden view' apartment. To peer at the street he had to look through low bushes, a voyeuristic peak onto a low-slung DC vista beyond his window.  At the top of his lungs, Mann belted about the 'Fraggon Wall' that inspired his latest paintings; through my incomprehension I asked him again what he meant, and he repeated “Fragonard.”

 

The Salon of Little DeathsBack at the Hamiltonian gallery, Matthew Mann's second focus show “Salon of Little Deaths” is on view until June 15th. He presents a new body of work and samples from earlier projects undertaken during his fellowship. This new suite of paintings breaks from the image-heavy panels Mann populated at his last solo outing. Those Buddy Pictures served “the character rather than serv[ing] more pictorial ideas I was interested in” What Mann chides is an image in service to character, an illustration, so he reverses course and began last year to depopulate his Renaissance inspired landscapes. In these new works the figures are all disappeared. They have been concealed, grown over, and hidden by wispy plumes of leafy foliage, like gilly suits in a no-mans land of atmosphere and color. Mann claims that he wanted to “dig a little bit deeper into some aesthetic terrain;” instead of whimsical straw-men he constructs towering columns of shrubbery, garland battlements, and scalloped portholes into radically abstract colored voids.

 

What first attracted my attention was the humor and horror in Edge of Persian Park. Against blushing sea of sky, a phantom hand or disjointed penisula pokes from the bottom corner of the canvas. The outcropping of manecured lawn extends like an amputated appendage, or a half cocked member from the frames edge. The horizontal gradient of salmon and taupe behind the green bulge implies an irradiated atmosphere at dusk, a kind of Kodachrome Sublime. The hedgerows on the periphery of the lawn are seen from a bird's-eye-view, and cast long shadows onto a neatly cropped geometric lanes of grass. Some are shaped like houses, some cut like diamonds, and others like Ellsworth Kelly abstracts. The interlocking forms cut right to the edge of the bushes but do not show any figures frolicking, resting, or flirting on the green. For Mann, “painting is a fiction making.” Maybe for Mann a tree is crowd enough.

 

Legend has it, that the 18th century French Academic painter, Jean-Honore Fragonard, was on a tour in Italy when he decided to 'paint his dreams'. Unlike the Surrealists some years later, he wasn't painting the literal imagery of his dreams but painting an escape into a fantasy world of lush foliage and sensuality. A place-less setting for ruffled petticoats and thinly veiled erotic urges. Fragonard was avoiding reality, but painted a certain lightness that surrounded him, something he as well as his patrons dreamt. Perhaps there is as much of Max Ernst as Fragonard, as we have the near-revealed brides of St Anthony and the texture of foliage in the foreground. In Matthew Mann's new paintings also offer formal veils, we have figures concealed beneath layers of split perspective, duo tone gradients color, and incongruent light that are dressed in the impossible spaces of dreams.

 

The Salon of Little DeathsIntervention at Kobayashi Cliff is the most traditional landscape of the group. It has a horizontal orientation, a romantic palette and iconography, but with a twisting perspective. A view of a cliff side facade juts up from bottom left of the canvas, curving like a roller coaster's first ascent towards the right. At the cliffs edge is an outgrowth or tree line that extends far into the air. It continues from a deep green to successive layers of abstracted color. The contour of the shape implies a massive height of an oak, but without any solidity, its space is hollow like a portal. Through the tree shaped cutout we are offered a gateway into other landscapes within. Behind the wispy tree line and the hyper-space cloud bank, we have a deep view into a classical landscape of green fields, on-coming storms on a distant horizon. It is the hyper-spatial interruption which blocks and twist the viewers perspective and orientation that is the most suggestive of Mann's new turns.

 

Mann is a painter's painter, a painter steeped in the history of painting. From this history he draws his dry humor and keeps his viewer at a distance. On their surface one could make draw comparisons to a Dutch landscape tradition. Besides Fragonard, Mann seems most indebted to Jacob van Ruisdael, a Dutch master working in the 1650s. Van Ruisdael painted views standing low in dense landscapes; the sky is but a sliver at the edge of the horizon. The imagery pours over the canvas and the viewer, creating a massiveness to the form, a solidity to the pictorial constructions of rock, foliage, and water.  Mann invokes the concept of the topocosm in his artist statement, which defines a landscape as: 'a complete environment that, through a combination of topography, weather and atmosphere gives rise to belief, myth, and ultimately, a worldview.' This philosophical completeness that is referred to also feels like arbitrary perfection of a day-dream, or a subjective mental exercise where all the pieces can fit. Perhaps this is the dream of painting, a 'thought game' being worked out in virtual isolation.

 

The standout of the show, Rehorizon continues this project of eruption, interruptions, and obscuring of the landscape genre. Mann's most recent work, it is the most efficient, and consequently its most abstract of the foliage bride suite. The painting is dominated by a crenellated mass of leaves, accumulated into a shrub-like blockage in the frames central column. There are three horizontal gradient bands running from left to right. One set of double horizons repeats on the left, from a deep plum to gray violet, to a Venetian yellow, which is briefly interrupted by a grassy window of sky, overlapping the green blow. This second horizon pulled a bit lower in the canvas and continues on the right side of the figural shrub, but also including a thicker band of yellow. This process of widening the band of light implies a progression from a greater viewing distance from the horizon, or an earlier point in the day all within the same painting. Rehorizon's long view switches to a zoomed in view of the horizon and is framed by the battlements of foliage at its dark leafy edges. There is nothing in the landscape to be seen except irregular shaped views of grass and the distanced light beyond. Presenting an irregular view, one could walk unobstructed through the landscape, if not blocked by the leafy totem, because the otherwise unobstructed view is absent of rivers, outgrowths of villages, brigand's camps, or mountains deep in the distance, or any signifier other than light and color.

 

These are much riskier paintings than what we have seen before, but in the avoidance of character, of narrative, or apparent subject matter we see an artist directly engaging in a contemporary language of cut-and-paste mash-ups and digital abstracts. Mann borrows from this dense cacophony of Nature painting, but what strikes me as different is where he puts the viewer. They no longer stand in the scene beholding divine Nature. Nor is the viewer on the stage or at a comfortable distance in an allegorical theater. Instead we float somewhere above the painting, or outside the work, like a reader of a text looking down at a reproduction or flipping through an iPad web browser. Where is the tangibility of the setting felt in the earlier canvases, where is the ground that the viewer stands on? Is the ground another fiction? Is the viewer in the scene, or is the viewer, like the view, also floating?  Mann's new paintings give a sense of flying in a veiled world where you can't set foot on the ground again.

 

Review of Milana Braslavsky’s Salon of Little Deaths - By Nora Howell  

 

As you walk through the doors of the Hamiltonian during the Salon of Little Deaths exhibition, the bold colors coupled with clean spacious photographs of Milana Braslavsky greet you immediately. When you first encounter her most recent work, you will see the bright fruit that is intently arranged on equally bold and wrinkled tablecloths. The photographs are beautifully composed and their size holds your attention. After spending more time with the images, the rather odd shapes, details, and textures of the fruit begin to evolve into entirely new forms. The specific arrangement of such simple and mundane objects, given avid attention by the artist and in turn her viewers, becomes perplexing, and you might say to yourself, Why am I staring at sliced fruit?

 

The Salon of Little DeathsAs you follow the trajectory of Braslavsky’s work, some trends become apparent. The use of confident colors in domestic settings is fundamental to her compositions. She is continuously replacing, cutting out, and rearranging objects, which serve as body parts for other objects and body parts—the transition to fruit in place of body seems a logical progression. She has thematically explored apocalyptic realities, and violence by utilizing domestic objects as means for protection. If the story behind these new works is embedded in the trail of her past explorations, which we can perhaps glean some tools for which to visually engage these images.

 

The Salon of Little DeathsThe fruit photographed is cut violently, contrasting the crisp and precise knife work we have become accustomed to in food photography plaguing Instagram and Pintrest. Flowers are introduced in some of the compositions and yet their blossoms remain closed and shielded from the viewer’s full gaze. The fruit given such attention becomes succulent and mysterious. The context of her past work can only lead us to ask: are these photographs narratives? Who has been here? What occurred? And what exactly was left behind? Alternatively, given the static nature of the photograph perhaps they relate more closely to portraits rather than narratives. In the end, the compositions are entirely nostalgic. Her images are composed of her own family’s belongings, a family unit relocated from the Soviet Union to Maryland, U.S.A.

 

Whether you take the time to draw thematic ideas and encounters with the work while you are in the gallery one thing remains clear, when it comes to Braslavsky discussing her current work, she is as subtle, mysterious, and humorous as her fruit.

Fellow to Fellow Review: Gathering Space

Timothy Thompson’s Gathering Space ReviewBy Billy Friebele

Gathering Space, by Timothy Thompson challenges our assumptions before we even enter the gallery. From the sidewalk on U Street, the view through the gallery window is of a series of large blue tarps hanging perpendicular to the sidewalk. These tarps may spur memories of a construction site, or a space still in development. Entering the door to the gallery one’s perceptions are again challenged. The taught blue curtains extend from the floor to the ceiling, blocking the flow of foot traffic, altering the light, framing our view of the space. Thompson asks us to choose a path as soon as we enter the space. There is no clear directive to move in one way or another. This immediately implicates the viewer and invites them to engage the artwork, to manipulate their bodies in order to interact with the obstructions.

One experiences the extended framing mechanism of these blue curtains cutting diagonally across the narrow gallery space from the door. The white walls become a part of a larger spatial dialogue; they are rigid in comparison to the flexible plastic sheets. The tarps are tightly wrapped around the air ducts above, swiftly weaving in and out of previously unseen elements hanging from the ceiling. This causes the viewer to peer upwards; in fact one is constantly drawn to look in directions that are unconventional in a gallery space. The lighting attracts our gaze to the place where art is traditionally is hung, but the beam of light is now interrupted by the giant blue curtain, casting shadows and creating dark corners on the vacant walls. As a result we are drawn to the periphery, to the aspects of space that are often taken for granted.

Gathering Space Installation

These delineations continue through the gallery in a diagonal pattern. There is an opening near the center of the room where we can choose to explore the other side of the membrane. Viewing Gathering Space when it is full of people becomes a study in social interaction. On one side of the division, crowds gather in pockets, nestled tightly in the angular spaces. Traversing through this scene becomes a tough navigational task as the dimensions of the room shift constantly. On the opposite side of the blue membrane there is plenty of space to maneuver.  A few people pensively observe the construction. The figure-ground relationship is emphasized on this side as we frame each other (and ourselves) within the space, seeking to judge the relative dimensionality of our environment. In this instance it seems as though the room has been divided between social space and perceptual space.

One is reminded of Richard Serra’s Torqued Ellipse series, large steel constructions that also emphasizes our physicality by framing the act of walking within and around larger structures. Thompson’s work utilizes a similar sense of scale and division to alter our perception of space in relation to our bodies. However, in the works referenced by Serra the forms are often curvilinear and include an interior chamber. As the viewer enters the Torqued Ellipse the sense of location is lost due to the height of the walls and the interior passageways. By contrast, in Gathering Space we are never unsure of our position. Instead we are asked to reconsider our relationship with a familiar place, the white walls of the gallery.

The flexible tarp material is deployed in straight lines, from point A to point B across the room. As a dialogue with the architectural aspects of the space, namely the right angles in the room, this piece works within the systems of linear design rather than by completely resisting it, which at times seems odd given the flexible nature of the tarps and tent poles that are deployed. Given that the entirety of the piece exhibits a sense to scale and spatial engagement for the viewer, one may wonder why the curvilinear aspects of the material were not used to further this feeling of disorientation, or to run further against the grain of the existing architecture. Thompson states that this iteration of the project is site-specific, so it may be that the linear design reacts directly to the narrow dimensions of the gallery.

Gathering Space Installation

However, if we consider the nature of the blue tarp material and the associations with utilitarian use and value, the tarp introduces an informal element into the formal setting of the gallery. Tarps often signal that work is being done, that a space is undergoing change. To use this material as a staging device transforms the gallery into a space of perceived flux. So the root of the tension between the installation and the existing structures is more about our associations with the materials than the forms themselves.

The series of six watercolor drawings in the back of the gallery act as small studies, mock-ups, or imaginings of the space in a similar vein as the drawings of Christo. In fact, the work of Christo and Jean Claude, namely Running Fence, a 24.5 mile veiled fence that runs across the hills of Sonoma and Marin counties in California, as well as the Wrapped Buildings series have a lot in common with this work. These pieces alter our sense of familiarity by covering or delineating, but the enormous sense of scale in these works make it impossible to perceive the whole piece; there is no privileged viewpoint. In Gathering Space there is no singular view either. I found this piece to cause a chain reaction as I wandered up and down the corridor, beginning with the engagement and disorientation of the body in reaction to the architectural alteration of the room, followed by an attempt to frame the entire installation from certain angles within the room, and finally succumbing to a sense of reasoning where I conceived of the space in my mind as a blueprint. Essentially the experience moved from the body to the eyes to an interior process in the mind.

Gathering Space Conceptual Drawings

The installation leaves the viewer contemplating an altered space that employs common materials to transform the white walls of the gallery into an informal space of flux. The minimal construction may leave some viewers guessing, but ultimately those that engage will walk away with a heightened sense of awareness, perhaps noticing the subtleties in the spaces that surround them in new ways, or seeing the possibilities inherent in everyday materials. There is both a social and perceptual shift that is caused by this work, which is experienced by the viewer in the same manner as architecture. That is, our bodies are literally controlled by the forms and the site lines determine our understanding of space. Ultimately these two dialogues seem to be paramount to our interaction with Gathering Space. The constructed environment heightens our awareness of spatial characteristics of our social interactions and habitual patterns of movement, as well as our ability to perceive volumetric aspects of the space we inhabit. It reveals that the perception of space is inherently linked to time, in that we must explore the space with our bodies in order to fully understand it.

 

Fellow to Fellow Review: Social Studies

By: Annette Isham Social Studies: A Fellow to Fellow Review of Jerry Truong

In Social Studies, Jerry Truong exhibits works that explore the dichotomy of elementary school politics. Two old-school projectors shine brightly across the entrance of the gallery.  Large black chalkboards line the walls and are filled with phrases such as “I will encourage critical thinking awareness empathy” and “discursive”.  These sayings are tediously written in white chalk over and over again.  One can’t help but think of Bart Simpson and his never-ending detention with Ms Krabappel.  As you head towards the middle of the gallery, 16 child size chairs confront you.  They are strategically arranged in four rows that are split in half and lined up for battle opposite one another. They are placed on a hardwood parquet floor, the back rows standing tall while the front lay face down, defeated.  The last piece in the show is another projector that shines on a small winding architectural sculpture.  The structure and its looming shadow look like a mix between a dunce cap and Tatlin’s unfinished tower.

 

The show recognizes the affable objectives in the education system but divulges distrust in and failure of the system itself.  The chalkboard phrase, “I will encourage critical thinking awareness empathy,” is something that is advertised in the education system; however, Truong’s depiction of the phrase expresses it as a regurgitated notion to the point of meaninglessness.  Truong alludes to punishment again in the dunce cap installation, communicating it as a source of contention in educative success.  Chairs are lined up against one another, presenting a theme of competition among young pupils and not necessarily striving for “awareness” or “empathy”.  This show asks viewers to contemplate elementary school and the education system as a whole.  He challenges his audience to observe the separation of scholastic ideals and reality—a reality in which punishment and assimilation are king.

Washington Post - Gallery event of the week: ‘Social Studies’

Jerry + Annette

Artists Jerry Truong and Annette Isham make art that explores identity, history, gender and other personally and politically charged topics. So it makes sense for them to tackle the topic of school, where much of our sense of self is shaped.

On Friday from 7 to 9 p.m., Hamiltonian Gallery will host an opening reception for “Social Studies,” an exhibition featuring Isham’s videos and photographs which portray adolescent characters, and Truong’s sculptural installation, which incorporates stackable plastic chairs, blackboards and overhead projectors. The artists, neither of whom is more than a year or two removed from art school, are still young enough to remember what grade school and high school were really like.

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Nora Howell Performs at The Katzen Art Center

Hamiltonian Fellow Nora Howell recently performed at The Fellows Converge: The Obstructions at the Katzen Art Center at AU. Hamiltonian is killing it with performance this month

"Here Nor There" Exhibition Featured in the Post

Traveling from Baltimore to Washington is usually uneventful, although some fans of cliches about the two cities endow the trip with metaphorical drama. Joshua Wade Smith’s “Here nor There” doesn’t really concern itself with either place, however. The Hamiltonian Gallery show focuses on the in-between and the process of movement.

Fellow to Fellow Review

As you enter Billy Friebele’s Current Recorder at Hamiltonian Gallery, you are first confronted by a series of 32 colorful ink drawings, some framed and others clipped to the wall. On them, unidentifiable orbs moving in orbit around a large void cut out of the center of the paper, the image calls to mind illustrations of solar systems or on the atomic level, electrons and their path around a nucleus. Though initially unclear, no doubt, these works emit a scientific or diagrammatic quality.