Friday, November 27, 2015

Joe Batt “In the Cloud’ at Tacoma Community College

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 25, 2015
Installation view of Joe Batt’s ‘In the Cloud.’ Photo by Rachel Payne.
South Puget Sound Community College art professor Joe Batt has created a world of charcoal, wood and ceramic adults and children, mostly children.  Digital media have taken control of their lives — a comically surrealist world not too far removed from the world most of us live in today. I’ve seen bits and pieces of this world in exhibitions at SPSCC and Tacoma Community College and a full-scale installation at Salon Refu a year ago this month, but never have I seen his In the Cloud world presented as such a complete environment as in his current installation at the gallery at TCC.
The first thing to greet the eye upon entering the gallery is a life-size drawing in charcoal on paper of a group of young girls standing behind a rope line, hanging on, leaning to the right and looking to the left. They are strange looking girls, staring wide-eyed in fear or wonderment at something not yet seen as if waiting for the first part of a parade to arrive. Hanging from the ceiling above them is a satellite in orbit rendered in charcoal and pastel on a cut-out wood shape. The satellite casts a double shadow on the empty white wall to the left in front of which stands a strange little ceramic child wearing large futuristic goggles.
Behind this entry the gallery opens up to a profusion of similar drawings and sculptures of children and young adults captured by their electronic media, many talking on smart phones or holding tablets in hand, many wearing these goggles or visors (somewhat like the one Jordi on Star Trek wore, only larger). The ceramic children stand or sit on sculpture stands. Two of them are on a tall ladder reaching out toward the satellite just above them, and there are more cut-out paper drawings on the wall. The space is filled with them. It’s almost claustrophobic. It’s a futuristic environment the viewers do not so much look at as immerse themselves into. It is frightening and comical, and perhaps all too true to the world we live in.
Iinstallation view of Joe Batt’s ‘In the Cloud.’ Photo by Rachel Payne.
The drawn and sculpted human figures have an almost primitive, “outsider” quality. Charcoal and pastel are the perfect graphic media for the sketchy drawing on the overhanging satellites, which have the surface quality of paint on weathered boards but with a sweet glow that comes from the natural wood color shining through. 
On one wall there is a set of three digital collages that are different in technique and appearance than everything else in the installation, even though the same strange children and satellites can be seen. The description, “digital collage” on the wall labels is insufficient to explain. They seem to be photographs of Batt’s drawings and sculptures along with photographs of live models, digitally collaged together in transparent layers. Everything is in soft focus, and the overall coloring is gray. There is a dreamy quality to these pieces. Despite their striking differences from the rest of the show, they fit quite well because of the tonality and imagery..
It is a breathtaking installation. I get the feeling that with this show Batt has taken this theme as far as it can go and will now have to look toward finding a new direction for his art. I look forward to seeing what he does next.

Joe Batt In the Cloud, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, through Dec. 11, Tacoma Community College Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G.

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