February 19, 2008

Very Sensitive Material Engrosses Viewers

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The poster for Very Sensitive Material! certainly knew how to attract attention. It featured Polaroid photographs of the artists holding cleverly-placed signs in front of their otherwise-nude bodies. The exhibit, which ran from Feb. 11-15 featured recent photographic works by Marxel Lopez, Nicole Militello, Emily Parsons and Carol Zou, a Sun designer.
Upon stepping into the empty gallery on Friday afternoon, I was greeted by a typewriter on which I could type up comments about the work on display. Not having been to an exhibition in Tjaden Gallery before, I found this to be a refreshing and unique touch. The presence of the typewriter represented a profound respect for technology that is largely considered obsolete (not unlike the Polaroid photographs on the flyer) but still vital as part of any artist’s journey of self-expression.
The typewriter and Polaroids expressed beautifully the impression that I walked away from the exhibit with. Take, for example, the premise behind the Polaroid camera: the artist uses it as a tool in sharing their insights and perspective of the world. The typewriter, however, was used in this exhibit to provide the artists with feedback and reactions to their respective works of art. This juxtaposition created a dialogue between the artists and their audience, even when the gallery was vacant. Just as the typewriter and Polaroids represented the use of old technology to express current ideas, two artists gave their works meaning via references and allusions to mythology.
One particularly striking example was Marxel Lopez’s use of elk rawhide in his piece “Skinned/Broken: Glory as Coyolxauqui.” The title references the Aztec lunar goddess who represents evil. The piece consists of van Dyke prints on pieces of elk rawhide, connected by twine and red string. The composition of this piece seemed to directly imply a sense of violence or explosiveness, which is not all that surprising when the myth associated with the goddess is explained. According to Aztec mythology, Coyolxauqui wanted to kill her pregnant mother because she believed that the unborn child would dishonor her. Coyolxauqui attempted to accomplish this with the help of her 400 brothers. The brothers beheaded the mother, but the child, known as Huitzilopochtli, was still alive. He then burst from his mother’s womb and avenged her death by killing Coyolxauqui. This myth provides the origin for the rising and setting of the sun and moon each day, with Huitzilopochtli (the sun) bursting forth from the earth in order to remove the moon from the sky.
A similar mythology-based theme dominated Nicole Militello’s work entitled “Becoming.” “Becoming” is a five part photo series, which begins with a nude model completely covered in white paint. In the first photograph, it’s easy to see that the paint is cracking and bits of skin and bodily imperfections are visible. The model’s eyes are cast down and she appears to be lifeless. In the second print, her eyes are open and she is visibly reacting to something and showing emotion. In the third and fourth panels, red paint is smeared on the model’s arm, chest, cheek and stomach, and it is possible to see the already-cracked white paint begin to break down even more. The viewer can actually see where the model smeared the paint and hints of skin through the layers of red and white paint. In the fifth panel, the model is seen crouched over, hiding her body, or quite possibly, her rapidly disappearing façade. These photos seem reminiscent of the myth of Galatea, a statue who came to life at the request of her sculptor. This piece, however, is not as straightforward. There is no “creator” present and so the viewer is left with a lot of questions as to what the process that takes place in “Becoming” means.
The two pieces highlighted in this article are merely two examples of the intelligent and thought-provoking art on display in Very Sensitive Material! which required a close visual reading and a willingness to engage oneself with the works on display. Very Sensitive Material! can best be likened to an engrossing visual conversation. My only criticism and regret is that it had to end so quickly.