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The Absolute Comic at sophiajacob features work by artists Chase Biado and Zoe Clark, curated by Sam Korman under the influence of an essay by Charles Baudelaire, “On the Essence of Laughter.” Korman writes that the exhibit is inspired by the gluttonous, grotesque, and senseless comedy of humanity and nature evoked by Baudelaire, and, in his curatorial statement, cites a passage describing a pantomime in which the archetypal thief Pierrot is guillotined and pockets his own head.

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The show consists of seven pieces of varying size and medium, including a video piece by Biado and a digital loom tapestry by Clark. Additionally, Biado has crafted two figural representations, hands and feet emerging from mops of wrinkled clothing, from digital prints mounted on cardboard cutouts. They are constructed based on the traditional party decoration of Pierrot that Biado hung in his Portland studio, a cutout figure with movable limbs pivoted on brass fasteners. Both the video performance and the cutouts reflect the importance of headlessness and of gravity to Baudelaire’s story, wherein Pierrot’s head falls while his body remains witlessly upright.

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Clark’s tapestry, Balls in Hand, is woven with an image of a hand holding five glass spheres, which defy physics according to the vertical orientation of the rectangular piece. The weight of the fabric slightly distorts the image below, and the black negative space beneath the hand visually pulls upon the spheres, down to where the edge of the cloth folds onto the floor. On top of this, her three small prints of twinned, intricately colored spheres or marbles are hung at groin height on the wall, and labeled Balls (1-3). The walls at sophiajacob are used minimally, leaving lots of white space around the room around each hung object, and the works alternate around the room by artist, starting with one of Biado’s cutouts, and ending with his video piece.

It is a challenge to see all these disparate works and essays combined as one body. Talking with Clark at the opening, it seemed that she was curious to attempt a transformation of her typically sober work, “just going for it” and titling to bring a sense of humor to the work. Frankly, this is the kind of irreverence I’d expect from apathetic art students, stepping over the line between solid effort and one-trick flippancy under the solemn scrutiny of peer critique. I can only assume that Korman sees something absolutely comic in the gap between viewers’ expectations of the delicate imagery and the associations they take from the loaded word “balls,” as if the PG-13 thoughts of the viewers are the subject of the comedy. Are the balls art or are they innuendo? Either way, the game is a dry, hairless one.

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It is important to note that the curatorial process in The Absolute Comic distracts from, rather than enhances, the power of individual pieces, which one could argue is poor curation. For example, Clark’s prints could be admired for their intimacy and attention to color and texture. However, her work is installed with Biado’s in an attempt at conceptual art. As a result, the works that could potentially be interesting because of their open-endedness have now been forced to be viewed in a tiny box of contrived, philosophical ideas. Consequently, everything from the pieces themselves to the design of the exhibition becomes narrow and uninviting.

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It is clear that Korman is enthusiastic to delve into the philosophical implications of heavy handed curation, as well as carefully crafted pieces, and he takes leaps across the giants voids between them. However, his ideas do not complement the pieces, but overshadow them, and then leave them behind. As a result, these prolific artists are insubstantially represented by a sparse yet over-thought show.

Author Mac Falby studies photography and humanities at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Class of 2014.

** All photos by David Armacost