Sunday, September 29, 2019

Serious Games






For his solo exhibition Finding Way at Antenna, Rontherin Ratliff has selected fifteen pieces to fill the gallery located on the building's second floor. They reflect his current practice inspired by his childhood and in keeping with his previous body of work are made of found objects and architectural material. Hung on the walls, the assemblages are of small to moderate size giving an intimate flavor to the show.
Three pieces from 2017, the artist's statement and a wall text, introduce the exhibition in the anteroom-like space at the entrance, and lead to recent works done this year. White Horse is a composition made of a wooden toy leaping out of a box suspended to the right side of a gate painted in gold. The fence draws a frame around an empty space and brings the focus to the off centered toy. Black Horse is almost identical, the horse this time gallops toward the box, showing his rear. The joyful pieces evoke a carousel and allude to childhood's dreams. On the other side of the gallery along the back wall, Heirloom, is a more elaborate monochrome assemblage of discarded furniture and objects covered by a heavy coat of black paint. A draped quilt adds a homey feminine touch to the funerary piece. A total of seven Mind Splinters are displayed in the gallery. The painted wood sticks decorated with found objects evoke homemade toy swords. Alphabetical Playscape and AlphaBollock Balance incorporate a sphere made of alphabet wood blocks. The two pieces facing each other are elegant in their simplicity with the former combining gate and lock, the latter a sash window weight as a counterbalance. The artist includes void (negative space) to fill gates, doors, frames and asymmetry in most of his latest compositions.
How can you build a future without a past? Since hurricane Katrina, Ratliff has been repurposing objects to reconstruct the past and rebuild memories. For example, in Perception or Self-Defense, 2017, mattress springs become relics protected by etched glass and are laid into wood boxes decorated with antique window sash weights looking like tassels. Most recently, he explores the world of childhood filled with dreams fed by unbound imagination and further, the passage of time and the fragility of life, through a conceptual language that not only brings up ideas but also tickles emotions. The self-taught artist has assimilated conceptual art to create simple playful compositions filled with rich meanings.
Titles matter and looking at the series of Mind Splinters, I thought about this quote:
“Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind …”
~ Morpheus, in ‘The Matrix’ 






photographs by the author:

"Emotional Symptoms", 2017
"Alphabetical Playscape", 2019

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Myths Up To Date






Greek mythology is a boundless source of inspiration for poets, musicians, playwrights and visual artists with its tales of love, tragedies, deceits, rapes and other monstrosities about the deeply entwined lives of gods and mortals. In Gorgo at the Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette, Lala Raščić revisits the story of three tragic female characters in the context of feminism. Born in Sarajevo, the artist is dividing her time between Zagreb, where she attended the Academy of Fine Arts, and New Orleans. She is known for her performances, installations, videos, sculpture-artifacts, drawings and held previous shows at Good Children Gallery in New Orleans. The solo exhibition fills the Center's main gallery with three videos, a reflective glass installation, sculptural objects, drawings and photographs.
Blinded by the local sunshine, it takes a few minutes to accommodate to the darkness of the windowless space. A floor installation made of drawings on glass projects shadows of masks and other artifacts on two opposite walls through a play of lights. Paintings, sculptures, drawings and photographs are scattered throughout the vast space divided by temporary partitions.
The stories of Arachne, Electra and Medusa provide a loose plot for the scripts of the three videos projected on large screens. EE-O, 2018, features Arachne (Raščić) the victim, weaving her way into a science fiction heroine. The slow and monotonous monologue gives emphasis to the spoken words also available in a brochure laying on the bench facing the screen. The images are hypnotic and the artist's performance flawless. The Eumenides, 2014, a piece in three acts based on Jean Paul Sartre's famous play The Flies, starts with a close-up of the lone artist looking straight at the camera to address the viewer. Reversing the traditional use of male actors to play female roles, she is Orestes the "king without a kingdom". In contrast, act two featuring the Furies is a fast paced succession of multicolored masks grimacing while rapping. The third act is about Electra, the winner. Wearing a cloak elegantly draped like an antique sculpture, her head crowned by a delicate crocheted headband,  she represents status and power. From the stage, she is haranguing an invisible crowd, sharing her wisdom. Energized by her exhortations to resistance, the cheers of the chorus build up chanting "Elect Electra". The third video in color is about Gorgo, a made-up character by the artist who resurrects Medusa with a new body. Wearing breastplate, mask, shield, she is also connected to sensors. Triggered by her body and armor, they generate sounds reverberating in the gallery. The cyborg adopts warrior-like poses and stares defiantly behind the mask, fearless. I chose to conclude my visit on this lasting image.
Filled with references to mythology, Ovid's Metamorphoses, modern plays, the Xenofeminist Manifesto, ..., the exhibition is challenging and requires some brushing up before the visit to fully appreciate it. A flyer is available at the entrance to refresh our memory and provide clues about the show which takes time to absorb. Two of the videos are about thirty minutes long and can be viewed regardless of their chronological order. The solo show is supported by a number of contributors: a Bosnian poet, a Serbian academic for texts and scripts, the only Bosnian female blacksmith for props, and three local artists for punctual performances.
The multi-talented artist, who also performed live in previous venues reaches a wide audience as she rejuvenates the myths we grew up with in light of the Me Too Movement.
In doing so, Raščić appears fearless like her heroins.


photographs by the author

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Timeless






Photographs, paintings, videos, installations, the forty four works from twenty three artists selected by the guest juror David Breslin, Director of Curatorial Initiatives at the Whitney Museum of American Art are not only made of different media, they also represent a whole gamut of styles. At the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the highly anticipated opening of the yearly juried exhibition Louisiana Contemporary on White Linen Night is the occasion to discover new artists and works, and sometimes look at previously seen pieces in a new context like Sistema, 2018, from Kristin Meyers.
Near the entrance, the full-length humanoid of sizable height, wrapped in black material and red strips of cloth, is a free-standing sculpture with multiple points of view and focal points. Top-heavy, with a base anchored on a small golden pedestal, it defies the laws of gravity. The rigid torso supports two arms, each telling a different story. The left limb gracefully ends with a slender hand fit for a ballet dancer as the right with a gloved hand is ready to deliver a punch like a boxer. Above, the head is tilted upward, its face hidden by a heavy protective mask. The assemblage of sundry objects embedded in the fabric is an invitation to spend some time to look at the numerous perspectives. Shotgun, stethoscope and blood pressure cuff, a small black panther, diverse metal pieces, pommel of a sword or a knife, scalped bunches of hairs, sometimes hardly recognizable amulets, become part of the mummy-like shape. Weapons and trophies evoke a warrior. Like Janus, the androgynous creature has two faces, a small head can be spotted hanging from the upper back, tilted downward. The fixed piece is not static. Asymmetry and instability provide movement and energy. Dancing or fighting, there is action.
Going back to the title, "Sistema" or system in Italian is derived from Latin and earlier, Greek. The composition is an amalgam of cultural references crossing continents and centuries and adopts a universal language to "explore the human condition" (artist's quote).





photograph by the author

Friday, August 9, 2019

Ongoing at NOMA







The new exhibition Bodies of Knowledge at the New Orleans Museum of Art offers a display of videos, photographs, installations, in the galleries on the first floor and a number of related events including curators lead gallery visits, artists talks, musical and dance performances, site activation, movies through October 13th. Eleven artists contribute to the show, some internationally renowned like William Kentridge, others locally based like filmmaker Garrett Bradley. The "role that language plays in archiving and asserting our cultural identities" is the theme developed by the artists through diverse media.

Opening night brought an enthusiastic crowd to attend the first event, a dance performance in five movements choreographed by Edward Spots and Donna Crump. With the Great Hall and its staircase as a backdrop, Black Magic culminated with a celebration  of black culture's beauty and joy. The vision of Spots shadowing Rodin's famous sculpture L' Age d'airain, 1877, was enthralling.
Of course, it was not a propitious night for an in-depth visit and the twelve stills from Garrett Bradley's film America hung along the Great Hall's walls were unreachable. A few days later, a walk-through the exhibition started with Black Mask, 2012, the video from Wilmer Wilson IV facing the gallery's entrance. During its six minutes length, the artist slowly covers his face including eyes, ears, mouth, with black Post-it notes until they sculpt a black mask and then removes them all but one, revealing his visage, reborn. In Family Tree, 2000, the Chinese artist Zhang Huan now living in New York City is also in front of a camera for a day-long performance documented in nine giant photographs of his face eventually concealed by layers of selected texts of personal thoughts, family stories and Chinese folktales written in black ink by calligraphers.The wall texts are informative and relate the artist's intend to underline the body as bearer of identity. On a lighter note, Wilson lampoons hurried tourists in six booklets of blurry photographs. Taken in diverse cities like Paris, Philadelphia, New Orleans,..., they feature monuments, known places, in fuzzy images reflecting the sightseers' confused memories back home.
In the main gallery, William Kentridge who trained as an actor early on, tells a story in five acts. Zeno Writing, 2002, is a video made of archival film footage, shadow puppets, writings, drawings, short animated films accompanied by a sound track from Kevin Volans. Filled with historical references, packed with texts and graphics, it takes several viewings to appreciate its diverse facets and its life lesson: our trivial pursuits are futile swept by the course of history. It all ends in smoke (last picture of the video), death is unavoidable so is the annihilation of the world. "Smoke, Ashes, Fable? Where are they all now? Perhaps they are not even fable."
Nearby, Memento, 2013/2019, from Adriana Corral can be called a funerary installation. The site specific piece includes two horizontal panels along the walls bearing a long list of  names and on the floor, a thin coat of ashes from burned documents laid in the shape of a plot. It denounces the disappearance of women subjected to violence in Central and South America. Compounding the tragedy of their life and death, the names obtained through classified documents are illegible and the victims stay anonymous, lost for eternity.
How to find beauty and peace after war? Wafaa Bilal's four photographs from the Ashes Series, 2003-2013, are pictures of models of houses destroyed during the Gulf War. The Iraqi-American artist has selected a grand piano surrounded by debris, an abandoned swimming pool and living rooms covered with gravels. The scenes are eerily quiet, filled with the vestiges of violence. His ongoing project 168:01, 2016, is about the future and the white empty books lined up on the white bookshelves are rapidly replaced by colorful publications about art donated by the visitors to rebuild the library of The College of Fine Arts at the University of Baghdad looted during the war. They are all written in English (one is in Chinese) and if the eager donors offer the gift of knowledge, the choice of books brings up the question of acculturation.
More ashes, this time from burned silk paper are randomly spread on a wall and interact with music for the site specific installation  from Manon Bellet Brèves Braises. Musical events are scheduled throughout the length of the exhibition and include performances by students from NOCCA. A photograph from Shirin Neshat's Rapture Series, 1999, featuring Muslim women wearing chadors with inscriptions in Farsi on the palm of their hands is a resume of her work, mainly films, which will be projected throughout the coming months.
The last piece America, 2019, is an immersive multi-channel video installation from Garrett Bradley. A mixture of archival material and Bradley's own short films featuring non-actors from New Orleans, the thirty minutes black and white film projected simultaneously on three screens is a succession of beautiful images, a celebration of African American silent film. The thorough review from Devika Girish is a must read before or after the visit.
The richness of the exhibition can be overwhelming and one tour will not be enough to absorb all the material available. The ongoing performances are the occasion to discover different aspects of the works and each visit brings a new experience. From Mahmoud Chouki's musical compositions to the movie from Neshat or the talk from Bilal, the variety of events will attract different crowds.





photographs by the author:

Edward Spots and Donna Crump "Black Magic"
Wafaa Bilal "The Ashes Series: Pool", 2003-2013
William Kentridge "Zeno Writing", 2002 (still)



Sunday, July 7, 2019

Reflections





Some exhibitions are flawless, from the selection of artists and works to the title, wall texts and setting. This summer, Facades at the Carroll Gallery is one of these. Curated by Amy Crum and Marjorie Rawle, the show features the works from four female artists sharing a common interest through their practice, to reveal the "fallacies within narratives of the past". The exhibition includes a site specific installation, sculptures, photographs and a video.

The main gallery is filled with Carlie Trosclair's site specific installation Chrysalis: Reflections on the Interstitial, 2019. Born in New Orleans, the artist is based in St Louis since obtaining her MFA from Washington University. The latex mold of a porch located in the Tremé features all the details of the wood and iron work embellishing New Orleans homes. A place where families, neighbors, old and young gather to converse, gossip, argue, read, tell stories, share space and life, the porch represents the physical imprint of the community. In the gallery, its delicate translucent shed skin evokes memories, metamorphosis, a past and an uncertain future, overshadowed by gentrification, fences, parking lots and lives centered around television and computer screens. The visitor may leave with a shade of melancholy after a walk through the silent ghostly structure.

In contrast to Trosclair's architectural display, the half-dozen works from Ana Hernandez fit on one wall in the back gallery. The title of the series Deconstructing Facades and the Fallacies within Narratives of the Past, Present and Future inspired the show. Discarded books and artifacts from Southern houses become media to create sober compositions. Each of the assemblages includes a book cover which provides the title of Hernandez's piece. Slavery Time, 2016, is the first of the series and features a delicate metal decoration crowning the composition, and at the bottom, a small iron grid. It is next to Symbols and Society, 2017, surmounted by an inverted V like a roof and Borderline Studies, 2017, which includes a torn piece of chicken wire fence.  Among the subdued colors of cardboard and book covers, the cerulean blue of A History of the Old South, 2018, attracts the eye. The viewer can look for the symbolic meaning of the objects assembled in a piece, however, it seems that  the key to the works is the creative process itself. It involves two stages: a phase of deconstruction, tearing books apart, a violent but cathartic act, followed by reconstruction, a rebirth of the book in a new form, offering a visual experience. Each piece includes an area of scrupulously aligned nail coffins, usually painted in red. The reference to voodoo practices adds a magical connotation to the seemingly quiet compositions oozing anger and pain.

Sharing the gallery space, a display of seven black and white photographs from Allison Beondé who recently obtained a Master of Fine Arts from Tulane University, fill the remaining walls. At the hands of persons unknown features unkempt parks, decaying buildings and a restored historic house flying a shredded American flag. Beondé captures with her lens uninhabited places but rich in history, like Arthur Shore's house, and documents neglect, precursor of oblivion.

Bleed, 2018, the interactive video from Jenna DeBoisblanc is about the Mississippi River, its tributaries... and more. The setting allows the visitor to wander back and forth to activate the work and look at the red meanderings become pink and eventually disappear when coming closer to the screen. The wall text refers to "the role of the river as the region's lifeblood", and "to the legacy of the environmental and social bloodshed that has occurred along the Mississippi". Eventually surrounded by a bright white screen, one can venture to call Bleed an allegory of life and death.

Facades is a challenging exhibition to make us reflect on past, present and future.  





photographs by the author:

Carlie Trosclair "Chrysalis: Reflections on the Interstitial", 2019

Ana Hernandez "Borderline Studies", 2017

Allison Beondé "Braced School Building, New Orleans, LA", 2018

Jenna DeBoisblanc "Bleed", 2018

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Haunting




New Orleans belongs to whoever embraces its spirit and becomes a permanent resident - body and soul so to speak. Kahori Maeyama is one of these transplants ensconced in the heart of the city, enriching its cultural diversity. The visual artist born and raised in Japan, moved to the United States in 1994 and obtained a BA in film production from the University of New Orleans and a MFA in painting from Tulane University. As a member of the collective and gallery Staple Goods, she produces annually a show of her work which can also be seen at various venues during the year.

A feeling of doom assails the visitor surrounded by the seven recent paintings included in the exhibition titled Subaquatic Homesick Blues. Over time, Mayeama has developed a distinguishable, very personal style to render somber scenes, featuring iconic New Orleans urban landscapes for this show. The artist describes the process, starting with several layers of paint applied on the canvas to build the background. The following sessions are dedicated to painting the subject itself.  Switching brushes for brayers, she masters the technique which allows her to project an aura of surreality to the cityscapes. One by one, the paintings reflect an empty ghostly world inhabited by anthropomorphic houses with windows deep like eye sockets and doors waiting to swallow the passerby.
On the build-up backgrounds, shadowy images are laid off-center sometimes (Blue Highway II: Blue Sky Blue, 2019 or Blue, 2018), leaving space for an infinite midnight blue sky above, or like oppressive masses occupy the whole foreground (Subaquatic Homesick Blues, 2019, Relativity Twice, 2019). The quiet paintings project an eerie feeling of impending doom due to the threat of rising waters. They also allude to the abandonment of neighborhoods left with silent empty streets, a precursor of decay. A few lights, the only tangible signs of life, glow in the humid, heavy night atmosphere, like the embers of a smoldering fire, glimmers of hope.
The artist catches the quintessence of New Orleans through these urban landscapes and expresses the romantic love we all feel for the fragile city.



photographs by the author:

"Door in the Dark", 2019
"Double Shotgun Double", 2019


Friday, April 12, 2019

Drawing with Light






Keith Sonnier was born in the heart of Cajun country, Mamou, Louisiana, best known for its food, music, and rowdy Mardi Gras celebrations. The visual artist moved to New York City early in his career and became part of its art scene. His contemporaries include Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Sol LeWitt, ..., and he is associated with the post-minimalist movement. After experimenting with various media, Sonnier gained international recognition with his neon sculptures. Keith Sonnier: Until Today at the New Orleans Museum of Art is a retrospective of the seventy-seven-year-old artist's work. The  exhibition includes more than thirty of his iconic sculptures, early videos and a large immersive installation.

The show's entrance is like an invitation to Keith Sonnier's world. Waves of neon lights suspended from the ceiling like celestial decorations reflect on the shiny floor below, leaving puddles of colors. Passage Azur, 2015/2019, is paired with Quad Scar, 1975, an alignment of ship to shore black boxes aligned on both sides along the walls and broadcasting weather reports. The passageway leads to a succession of smaller galleries organized by themes: "Forms in Space: Sculpture, Architecture and the Body", "Industry, Agriculture, and the Everyday", "Future Ruins: Technology and Monument", "Global Influence", " Portals and Passageways" and "Evoking Louisiana: Color and Light".  Each sculpture/installation (hung on the walls or in the round) is introduced by a text and is allotted enough space to spread its glow and shadow. While the first rooms are filled with pieces from the late sixties, the following displays are a mix from different periods. For example, "Industry and Agriculture", features Deux Pattes, 1982, and New Blatt Cinema (Cinema series), 2016, both semi-abstract. Farther, one can find a collection of works inspired by Sonnier's trips abroad, Japan in 1984 or Greece in 2011. The heart of the exhibition is a large site specific installation from the museum's permanent collection. Fluorescent Room, 1970/2019 offers views from two opposite windows into a cave-like structure covered with splashes of orange and green fluorescent paint. Close by, three videos from the sixties provide a glimpse into a period of experimentation with the new medium in collaboration with other artists like Tina Girouard.

The walk through the entrance is an immersive experience with lights, reflections, glows, shadows and sounds reverberating on the walls. In contrast, a peak in Fluorescent Room is somewhat frustrating as one misses the sensation of bathing in colors like in  Chromosaturation, 1965, from Carlos Cruz-Diez or more recently the Pop Cosmic Caverns from Kenny Scharf.
The visit is like a voyage in time and space, from the late sixties until today, from Louisiana to the Far East. Through the combination of electrical wires, fabrics, wood, transformers, porcelain, artifacts, bamboo, found objects and neon or argon lights, the works connect distant cultures. Swamps' ghosts haunt Fluorescent Room also filled with shimmering colors evocative of festive celebrations in India. Back and forth from semi-abstract to conceptual, Sonnier uses all languages to spread his message.
The exhibition gathers works from a number of series: from early Neon Wrapping Incandescent Series in 1968, Ba-O-Ba Series 1969, Herd Series, 2008, to Portal Series, 2015, and more. Spanning the artist's career, it emphasizes the relevance of his body of work to today's world and provides an overdue recognition of Sonnier's originality in his creativity.


photographs by the author:

"Passage Azur", 2015/2019 (detail)
"Neon Wrapping Incandescent II (Neon Wrapping Incandescent Series), 1968
"Propeller Spinner (Antenna Series), 1990