Brooklyn Shakers: Paintings and Photographs
Wooster Arts Space
147 Wooster Street
New York NY 10012
August 31-October 1, 2005
The six emerging artists in this exhibition–painters Eric Ayotte, Jon Elliot, and Gwenessa Lam, and photographers Jaishri Abichandani, Lisa di Donato, and Tod Seelie—each portray ways we have transformed, for better or worse, the natural world. The computer plays an important part in their process, and the impact technology has had on the human psyche looms large. You could say these artworks are primarily pictorial signs rather than linguistic signs, in the sense that they are iconic and descriptive. They describe internal psychological states and the ways we experience the lived-in physical world.
In Lisa di Donato’s four photographs, each 20 x 13 inches, from 2005 calledNeither Here Nor There we see different views of a barren landscape flattened out in Photoshop with a uniform grayness . These are pictures of what Christopher Knight has called “a ‘no place’ that defines and is defined by the nature of passage.” These photos invite us to examine the pockets of nothingness our way of life has created, anonymous terrains or peripheral events we usually don’t notice because we are blanking out waiting to get to where we are going. Light Sources, 2005, a largish C-Print that has been heavily manipulated by the artist, is an essay in voyeurism and isolation. The camera angle places the viewer in the position of a lonely person standing in a darkened room gazing out at an assorted array of illuminated apartments. Unknown light sources in these apartments and the outlines of mysterious forms and spaces visible through the obscured windows focus our attention. Bright patches of reflected light and the image of a television screen hover weirdly in front of the windows, and reveal in a fragmented way the personal space of the voyeur, who looks out on the illuminated checkerboard of absent life. Modern Ruins is a panoramic view of the skeletal remains of a structure located near 63rd St and surrounded by the Hudson River. On the right side of the photograph, high above a shoreline littered with broken chunks of cement, life goes on, traffic streams by, and Lord Trump completes another trophy project. The ruins are far more beautiful than the sad excuse for life transpiring on the edge of the composition.
Light acts a dramatic force of transformation and disruption in Todd Seelie’s work. It is mysterious and transformative but not mystical in nature. It is all about capturing the perfect moment of atmospheric effect. Seelie’s paintings are also about the entwinement of nature and the human made world. Seelie’s photographs stress the point that we are thoroughly embedded in our world, no matter how many different shells or artificial skins we make to protect ourselves. He captures epiphanies of natural and artificial light, perfect moments of illumination that come and go in an instant in real life. In Whistler Van, a C-Print from 2004, we see the front of a snow covered house, front yard and driveway, and a parked old white van, with a piercing ray of dawn’s light shooting out of a second floor window. We can’t imagine the van moving ever again. Light is the embodiment of the life force in this photograph, but it is also dauntingly bright and mercilessly slices through the human made world.
There is an element of intimate mysticism in the photographs of Jaishri Abichandani. In one image there is a lush tree and grass filled terrain with a beautiful reclining female nestled in the grass. The entire image is bathed in warm green light suggesting a comfortable bond between humans and nature. The expression on her face is dreamy, as if she was communicating with the trees and grass in silence. In another photograph a ball of light that suggests extraterrestrials or some sublime other hovers above a broodingly dark strip of highway and in another photograph the artist’s foot is collaged into a photograph of lush trees, calling to mind the films of Stan Brakhage. Abichandani transforms her intimate thoughts and acts of self discovery into romantic and symbolic reveries which stranger’s can gain pleasure and insight from.
Gwenessa Lam’s oil paintings perfectly capture the claustrophobia of being trapped within interior spaces all day. Her paintings of windows are frames within frames, a patch of blank wall and rectangular windows with the sky and clouds visible through them. The dense clouds outside do not provide a reprieve from this sense of entrapment. No realist, Lam does not try to make us believe we are looking through a sheet of glass. Instead, these paintings focus on the framing of nature or exterior space as part of the slow, usually unconscious feelings of entrapment we experience while indoors. There are barely any details specifying the type of interior space these windows are located in so the paintings have a nightmarish quality. There is a tense static quality to these paintings because we are frozen in a moment of gazing out with a limited field of vision.
Jon Elliot begins all of his paintings by covering a wood surface with a dark brown, high gloss polymer, and then he etches thin white lines into them and adds painted grids, patches of stippling, non-descript cityscapes, and cartoonish renderings of TV sets, computer hard-drives, and barrels of oil or toxic waste. He also likes to paint noxious rust-colored clouds or plumes of deadly gas. The grounds on all of his paintings resemble dark amber or quartz, and the finely detailed imaginary architecture and patterning he paints on them bring to mind the detail in Siennese paintings. But his paintings are not just about technology transforming society, or the transformation of the entire world into a toxic wasteland. The spectral forms that appear in his work look like alien life forms, weird energy creatures, signifying a post-human environment.
The sporting industry, a financial behemoth that seeps into our daily lives, regardless of our economic backgrounds, produces many potent images for artist’s to work with, but this is seldom done. Eric Ayotte paints with icing-like enamels that congeal around each other but maintain their autonomy. The vacillation between representation and abstraction–you recognize the subject matter, it dissolves into an overall abstract pattern, and then it comes into focus again– is the main form of visual movement in his paintings. Areas of different color interlock rather than blend. We are reminded that the subject matter of these paintings is photographic imagery that has been transformed in Photoshop, because the disembodied race cars and motor bikes exist in a weird state of digitalized entropy. Our latent desire to see someone die or to see someone cheat death is what makes engine powered sporting events so popular. Ayotte’s paintings have a static funerary quality. Patches of light and dark are compartmentalized and the intimacy of the brushstroke is replaced by an industrial sheen that emphasizes the iconic quality of the imagery. Their iconic quality, however, is constantly undermined by the abstractness of the imagery and the tension between the two. This is what makes Ayotte’s paintings very different from LeRoy Neiman’s output.