Viscerally Yours at School 33 By Rowan Fulton
At what point does a sexy title do a disservice to the artwork it features? This was the question foremost in my mind as I browsed Viscerally Yours, an attractive group exhibition encompassing the three gallery spaces at School 33 curated by Kim Domanski, Public Art Coordinator at BOPA. Snappy and unique, the name alludes to the theme of this show, which is loosely described as “works [which] aim to provide a special experience for the viewer… best enjoyed in person, rewarding the viewer for their participation.” With this vague overview in mind, I approached the show expecting interactivity and physicality, and for this reason came out somewhat disappointed.
To be fair, two of the works are true to the bodily theme: Gary Kachadourian’s “Forest” is a three-dimensional xerox-printed drawing which the viewer can enter and view internally, and Kelley Bell’s “The Oracle” is an interactive video installation which playfully “responds” to yes or no questions written by participants on a slip of paper. However, if the show as a whole aims to hit the audience in the gut, it falls short.
The exhibit seems to demand the viewer’s physical presence to be fully experienced, however I would argue that the majority of this work could be understood fairly well from afar. Erin Curtis’s vibrant and otherworldly painting-collages, for example, happen to photograph beautifully (perhaps because in this format the physical collage layers melt away, and we can focus more on the strong color relationships) and, in fact, feature prominently on the promotional materials and social media advertising the show.
Additionally, I fail to see any connection whatsoever between the physicality theme and the display of Paul Shortt’s “Large Child” videos. (Speaking of which, why is the LCD monitor paired with a single set of headphones such a curatorial staple?) This collection of short films, which feature the artist humorously exploring childlike solutions to adult tasks, are all shown on his Vimeo, and function much more effectively in this online format.
Despite problems with the curation, I was impressed with most of the work and would be remiss if I did not mention its strengths.
A highlight is the work of John Bohl, whose compact, flaglike paintings on paper are bold and meticulously sharp (if they occasionally lean a little too heavy on the paint gun), to the point that I initially mistook them for screen prints. The visual simplicity and coherence of these small images, and their arrangement in tightly-packed rows, leads me to draw connections to language. They function as characters which hold unique meanings but belong to a shared iconography and –appropriately– are untitled. In his other paintings, Bohl uses imagery which calls to mind styles as diverse as that of Georgia O’Keefe (smooth blended edges in “Grid”), and Photoshop (hard-edged perfection and fuzziness characteristic of digital-photo-editing in “Invert”) to beautiful and well-executed ends.
Gary Kachadourian does an excellent job of translating his process of installing xeroxed photo-realistic drawings, to an immersive three-dimensional realm. “Forest” is essentially a small room with a doorway (yes, you are allowed to go inside), in which every surface–walls, floor, and ceiling, is covered with life-size drawings to create a forest scene. A soft glow emanates from behind the printed surfaces, to produce the effect of a serene, silent space. The creation of a space using two-dimensional surfaces also has a certain grounding effect, inspiring a sense of standing within a vast, unlimited expanse in which one is unable to move further than eight feet (the dimensions of the cube).
You may remember Fred Scharmen’s inflatable manatees (“Charismatic Megafauna”) from the Lazy River at Artscape. These floating sculptures are exhibited here alongside other artifacts from Scharmen’s humorous (and thorough) utopian project, the “Nonhuman Autonomous Space Agency” (or NASA). Through drawing, fabrication, environmental design, and writing, Scharmen explores a utopic hypothetical future in which humans care enough about the environment to arrange for the comfortable space travel of manatees.
Paul Shortt’s series of films, entitled “Large Child” make use of children’s games and toys as innocent (and futile) solutions to adult problems. In one video, “Cleaning”, for example, he uses a paintbrush-sized toy broom & mop to clean an actual dirty floor. The attempt is carried out in earnest, but–as you might imagine–not much progress is made. This sometimes tedious, sometimes humorous series provides an awkward, fumbling perspective on adulthood.
In the dark room, Kelley Bell’s “The Oracle” is a video installation of a cartoony “oracle” who will “answer” your yes-or-no questions about the future. A small box is provided, in which the viewer is asked to insert a slip of paper with a question written on it. A motion sensor will then trigger an animated response (I am not sure how many potential answers there are, but I received a repeat), before returning to the idle Oracle screen. The idle animation loop is a tad jumpy, but the installation is stylish and silly. I think it will appeal in particular to kids.
Erin Curtis’s small mixed media pieces are wonderfully chaotic. In a given piece, one may expect to encounter floating eggs, boomerang shapes, ribbons of tightly-patterned diamonds, and–inevitably–punchy, vibrant color choices. Curtis has a characteristic way of bringing foreground and background to an equal plane, to a dazzlingly jarring end.
While I would recommend giving this show your time for a peak at some interesting bodies of work by local artists, I would suggest ignoring the misleading title. You won’t find much in the way of physically-engaging work, and (I might as well point out) you won’t find any viscera.
Author Rowan Fulton is a Baltimore-based artist and writer.
Photos courtesy of School 33 Art Center.