Philadelphia artists’ works create compelling show
By Kurt Shaw
Sunday, October 10, 2010
It may be the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, but seven artists from Philadelphia have taken over the first-floor galleries of the center to display their art. Organized by the center’s Adam Welch, their exhibit “Context Ingeminate” is the result of an ongoing annual trading of spaces between the Pittsburgh Filmmakers/Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and the Center for Emerging Visual Artists in Philadelphia.
The exhibit features the work of the Philadelphia group’s Career Development Program Fellows: Ana B. Hernandez, Bohyun Yoon, Leslie Atik, Tim Portlock, Maria Anasazi, Laureen Griffin and Allison Kaufman.
Their work represents a small cross-section of the 21 artists awarded a career development fellowship, a two-year program that gives participating artists an opportunity to experience a full exhibition schedule, receive career counseling and mentorship, teach in the community and participate in numerous professional development opportunities.
“This exhibition exchange is part of an ongoing collaboration by CFEVA and PF/PCA created in order to strengthen the artistic dialogue between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia,” Welch says. The title of the show, “Context Ingeminate,” attempts to “marry the passive and the active, the viewer and the creator,” Welch says, which it does flawlessly thanks to engaging works like Yoon’s “Structure of Shadow.”
Taking up an entire gallery, Yoon’s installation is comprised of hundreds of small, cast-rubber body parts. They create numerous shadows of figures on the walls that seem to dance, thanks to a gyrating light bulb hung directly in the middle of the installation that activates as the visitor approaches. Yoon says the truncated rubber figures, hung like puppets, portray the idea of a group as opposed to an individual. It’s something he relates to his training in military methodology while serving in the Korean army. “As soon as I entered the military in Korea, my superiors tried to brainwash all the new soldiers in regards to who our enemy is, why we have to obey them and so on,” Yoon says. “This training methodology and military law were very well structured and very effectively organized to control new troops.” A light and shadow trick is a key factor in this work. Yoon says it is a metaphor of the invisible power of political tricks he encountered.
Kaufman’s “Dancing with Divorced Men,” a six-and-a-half minute, single-channel looped video projection, makes a different, though equally pointed, social commentary. Basically recordings of the twentysomething artist dancing with middle-aged divorced men in their homes, Kaufman says she decided to make the video after a visit to her newly single father’s apartment for the first time. “It’s very strange to visit the home of a newly divorced parent and see what they choose to surround themselves with when they are living on their own for the first time in a long time, or possibly ever,” she says. All of the participants in “Dancing with Divorced Men” were found through online or in-person divorce-support groups. “All strangers to me, I asked the subjects to choose a song and style of dance and, following their lead,” Kaufman says. “I create an appropriate female counterpart from their cues, recording our collaboration.” Experiencing a major change, particularly in mid-life, necessitates forming a new identity to some degree, Kaufman says. “Vulnerability, disappointment and hope, among many other things, are all part of that process and are emotions I’m fascinated with, both in my subjects and myself,” she says. The work is tender, witty and sad, raising questions of how divorced people cope in their personal spaces and in intimate situations.
“It’s ultimately about the need for human interaction, the search for it and the insecurities around it, in an increasingly cyber-connected, yet emotionally disconnected world,” Kaufman says.
Not gender issues, but gender identity is fodder for Griffin’s “Gender Portraiture Project,” on display here as four small, framed “self-portrait collaborations” between the artist and her subjects. In each, the subject is presented as stereotype—worker, student, and artist—
but also presented to convey their own “embodiment of femaleness,” says Griffin through commentary on personal and historical devices of ornament used in portraiture and home decoration. “Stories told by participants (those posing in the portraits) are about being
stereotyped,” Griffin says. “What is appropriate behavior in relation to perceived gender? What have we been taught about personal aesthetics and hygiene? What are societal expectations depending on class, ethnic heritage, and family background? Every portrait is individually negotiated and designed in collaboration with each subject.”
The remaining works on display are a bit more abstract and obtuse. Hernandez’s wall sculpture, “Mothering the Pearl,” assembled from layers of thread sandwiched between layers of silk and stacked on each other, explores the process of cultural transplantation from a feeling of dislocation to acceptance and growth in an adopted land. Atik’s piece, “Nocturne: Notes on Thoreau,” is comprised of continuous lines of
handwritten words and threaded marking tags that become a layering of words, paper and threads that allows for the interplay between text and textile, providing a wonderful warp and weft to the work that gives it a sense of rhythm. Anasazi’s “Crutches” sculpture attempts to address invisible pain—the kind you imagine when you see someone walking down the street on crutches. Although, that may not be obvious at first, given the integration of several books in the work, which the artist says is “a reference to personal history.” Nevertheless, her work contrasts nicely against Portlock’s large-scale digital print of an imaginary cityscape image generated from 3-D special-effects software. It somehow makes this show come full-circle and complete in its own right.
Kurt Shaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org