Through Our Eyes: New York (2002-2005)

Through Our Eyes: NYC
Exhibition and Panel Discussion
Jan 9, 2004 - Art In General, NYC

The very complex visual language, evident in the artists’ works, exchanged fluidly among peers without comment from the outside. Our material remained in our own hands to see it as a community of ideas, free from the commercial avenues of exchange and entertainment. In the process, we began to recognize our voice-the artist’s voice- as a powerful one that has always had a major role in defining history. In organizing the series, I was asking- what were the subsurface implications of the historical moment? For insight, I turned to my own community of painters, sculptors, filmmakers, photographers, printmakers, performance artists, installation artists and their hybrids. The nature of their work is to actively reflect and interpret a world that extends from personal to mythic, cultural to conceptual, and intuitive to classic. The many artists represented with their craft, depth of person, and fluidity of vision offer not specific answers but create ways of seeing that shift our awareness to new points.

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By focusing on what downtown artists have to show and say, the Arist Studio Tours of Lower Manhattan is generating a conversation with widespread implications. The events surrounding 9/11 become a focus that recovers and centers dialogue as part of a healing process.

What follows are my impressions and reflections based on each artist’s work. There are ways in which I inevitably string the work together. Work that is not absolute and not necessarily about 9/11 but all happening within an historic time frame. Sometimes these elements were always present in the artists work and sometimes we can see assimilation of the impact. The dialogue between the artists was important in this process.

Painter, Ross Neher, addresses boundaries inspired by the fortress walls that surrounded Sforza during Leonardo’s time in Italy. The view of the fortress is calculated in terms of one point perspective. Neher makes use of exquisite color and the notion of blockade. Intuition and stronghold are vivid and haunting in his new work.

Neher’s fortress has a relation to Katy Martin’s painted skin where the skin becomes a kind of shelter. By painting her skin and photographing it, Martin’s extreme explorations of surface extend inner and outer reaches.

Nancy Davidson’s balloon-like forms, trap the breath inside. On thin edginess popping is immanent. Davidson’s taboos come out of a feminist tradition. There is sexuality in our towers and humor in our grandiosity.

April Vollmer’s work is about metamorphosis. The exacting work of age-old printmaking coupled with a scientific interest in inspects transcends in a classic architecture. Human anatomical change is coupled with temporal awareness and like 9/11, architecture, defines the parameters of that change.

Rather than one perspective Michael Zwack has his feet on two islands, one here and one in Haiti. Multiple properties in his paintings are simultaneous yet displaced, with a photographic sensibility, symbolism, language and pattern relieve like a dream offering through his touch specificity and world. His work is understood here as well as in Haiti.

From visual image to written language flows history into the future and roots us to our most basic selves. Robert Janz’s stones painted with glyphic watermarks are reinserted in the bottoms of streams. They draw our attention to the flow. The murmur in Zwack’s work comes from the way he uses the many languages of his paintings. Sometimes that murmur evokes a world that makes sense an sometimes a tower of Babel. Photographer Gwenn Thomas returns language back to image, rerouting the contemplation of signs through the photographic medium.

The dense physical surfaces of Edward Shalala’s paintings are like pieces of turf. Volume is achieved not by gradation or contrast but by matter itself. Color crawls in and out of the surface like combat. His roots as an Arab-American raised on American army bases in places like Morocco and Bangkok make New York’s melting pot a familiarity. A sense of abandon and a sense of timidity give the sheer abstraction sensuality.

Jo Wood-Brown’s 42 tar image of one open-mouthed singer reduces the body to its prime substance. The installation “Sounds” creates a population, a guttural lament in a constant state of change. Viscous tar surfaces from thick to transparent create space while the gesture reaches through the material sometimes increasing the flow, sometimes halting it. The three walls of installation place the viewer central to the underlying flow of substance and gesture.

What has happened to perceptual objectivity? Gwenn Thomas creates an alternate zone neither solely photography nor collage. Her work like Sandi Slone’s is a hybrid that exists in its own space. Hyper real photographs of her collages are like a reverse documentation; we need touch to confirm. Images of fabric remnants of clothing collect a history as well as contain the time-based nature of a photograph or a film. Filmmaker, Bill Brand commented that they really insist on the photographic reality.

Sandi Slone, born from colliding two worlds together, can glean two realities on one canvas. Waves of visceral, tactile paint share impact with photographed three-dimensional tableaus of aliens. Conceptually it is near impossible to imagine. The hyper reality of 9/11 reached the levels of fiction and catalyzed areas that are not accessible on an ordinary plane. On the beach by Nevil Shute began to reverberate in Slone’s work. Are our fantasies future realities? “One after the other,” says Janz of Slone’s work, “you would be continuing in a tunnel that would suggest time travel and movement into the deep future.”

Right after the tradegy, Barbara Friedman contemplated a world that had left us. Friedman drives home a sensibility that has one eye to the future and one to the past; the present is the blurred distincition between the two. We register the fact after the moment has passed. Moving to within blocks of the WTC four years ago, Friedman’s focud shifted to her surroundings. She began making paintings that questioned position in the financial world: The Taking of the Federal Reserve and Self-Portrait as a Window Washer.

“Barbara Friedman’s painting of the barbeque” said Michael Zwack, “is the post 9/11 image of America.” The embers burning down in the pit are charcoal; also coincidently symbolic of the relationship between colonialism and deforestation. The backyards of America are open territory in this painting. The barbeque is not just a patriotic symbol, but ominous, about death and the barbeque revealed itself after it was painted.

Friedman comments, “Gwenn Thomas’ Flag (1993), is an evocative image in the context of 9/11.” This piece was a kind of accident, a sensibility that continues to incorprate the unexpected in Thomas’ work. This pivotal piece marked the beginning of a hybrid reality in her work, the photo collages on linen.

Bill Brand, in these video works that constitute Suite, family history, memory, medicine and disease are imbedded in trauma and survival. “9/11 serves more as a confirmation of an already perceived transience and so feels more like a marker along the way than a divider of before and after.” said Brand. His translation of life happens at many levels. The WTC catastrophe pitted vivid experience against symbolic reality and Brand’s work carries these elements without forcing them. His work sustains a seamless intersection of many points.

Silence accompanies hand written entries in Brand’s film, My Father’s Leg. The silence is inner and the leg is outer. They merge so simply our emotion and his are one. Continuity, non-absolute in terms of genetics, jockeys frame upon frame in the sequencing.

Over time Edward Shalala’s surface like bandages after many years become unnecessary. The beauty in his work now is uncovered. It is like an unexpected metamorphosis. In Nancy Davidson’s recent sculpture the balloons buoyancy exchanges for gravity, filled with sand, they are slung over the chairs they occupy.

There is a large painting in process on Mimi Gross’s studio wall. It is hard to gage the finished size. The scale evokes the historic. The group is of art ‘watchers.’ The artist watching the art watcher is an interesting premise. ‘Who is watching who’ is a question. As with Wood-Brown, the focus is on sustaining presence. The exchange of stories with Gross and her subjects are contained within her work. For Gross, 9/11 is like a new concept, imposing absence, and expanding parameters.

In front of us Robert Janz begins to draw with water in a rock. His performance evokes an artist storyteller. The water evaporates in the course of our visit. The event becomes a kind of erasure. Life is waxed and waned by Janz’s work, opening and closing like the lifespan of a flower; the moon’s phases-cyclical and constant, here and gone. New drawings are moments continually reverberating. His work travels through bodies of water and the World Wide Web. A website drawing evokes a whacked out Statue of Liberty, perhaps a new creation myth-born of loss in our world. Martin and brand as well, make the human mythic.

Martin has the eye of a filmmaker; she removes to a particular body part an unexpected view. Her art distills and escalates through the tactile and examines itself finally in print. A reverse anthropomorphizing frees the images of land, vessel, body and architecture. From point A to B is not a logical journey. In a collaborative film, Skinside Out with husband, Bill Brand, we move inside and outside of their creative relationship as 9/11 removed any pretense of boundary. In Martin’s latest work the simultaneous roles of performer and filmmaker exchange. The painting on her body alters with her movement against the black ground that itself leaves its traces on the wet paint of her body.

In these traces of the unfathomable a member of the Through Our Eyes panel audience asks, “How do you deal with the desire to go toward and away from?

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Jan 2004 Art-In-General, NYC
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Bill Brand
Barbara Friedman
Mimi Gross
Robert Janz
Katy Martin
Ross Neher
Sandi Slone
Gwenn Thomas
April Vollmer
Jo Wood-Brown
Michael Zwack
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