Monday, November 16, 2015

Sensations That Announce the Future

Intriguing but difficult show at The Evergreen State College
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Nov. 12, 2015

“Souvenir,” cabon pigment print by Amjad Faur, courtesy of PDX Contemporary Art and the artist.
The latest exhibition in the art gallery at The Evergreen State College takes concentration and thought to comprehend. It is not a show that can be easily enjoyed for its beauty alone but one that stimulates deep thought from those willing to put forth the effort. It is called Sensations That Announce the Future. It showcases artworks created by and chosen by TESC students and faculty based on the book Thinking in an Emergency by Elaine Scarry, and it posits the theory that art can look at patterns in the present and the past and intuit the future.
A gallery handout, uncredited but presumable written by faculty member Shaw Osha, who organized the show and has a series of eight paintings in it, says, “Art shifts our perspective so we can perceive current circumstances differently. Art makes visible the subterranean ‘forces of chaos’ we contend with every day.”
I have to admit that I had a hard time understanding a lot of the works and seeing how they relate to the stated themes, possibly because I have not read the book that purportedly inspired them all.
For such a conceptual and future-oriented show, Osha’s contributions look surprisingly like paintings from the early 20th century Ash Can School, but with looser and more expressive brushstrokes and less clear definition of form. Her eight small paintings, which are not shown together but are scattered throughout the gallery, are street scenes with people. The setting might be the TESC campus, but that is hard to tell because there are few recognizable details. The colors are lush and soft, and figures and backgrounds bleed into one another. In one of her paintings the co-mingling of figure and ground is so extreme that the walking man, a shirtless figure facing away from the viewer, all but vanishes. The plaza or sidewalk and buildings and trees can be seen through his body. In another there is a man walking on what is probably “Red Square” on campus. The brushstrokes across his head and hair are so broad that they merge into the autumn leaves on the tree behind him. The ground he stands on is orange and tan, and as bright as glowing embers in a campfire — a treatment of the sidewalk that is common in all of her paintings. I don’t get the meaning of this series of paintings, but from a purely formal point of view they are outstanding. I would be proud to own any one of them. 
In Steffani Jemison’s video, “Personal,” the setting is a street scene with a mural picturing Barack Obama and Desmond Tutu. A large black man walks back and forth in front of it, seemingly unsure of where he wants to go. Perhaps he is waiting from something or someone. Cars drive by, quickly, going backwards. Other pedestrians pass by, also going backwards. The scene then changes to a park scene where a man walks endlessly in a circle. Is the film making the point that we are walking blindly and backwards into the future? It is funny and perhaps prophetic.
I loved C. Davida Ingram’s “Conjures & the Mermaid,” a selection of three photographs and a poem printed on three panels. The first line of the poem is “Here Lies the Nigress,” and the photos of the “Nigress,” are of a black woman seated in one photo and lying down in the other two. A dark, shadowy figure sits or lies in front of her in one of the photos; cushions on a bed replicate the shadow figure in the other; and in the third, something indistinguishable and mysterious stands in for the shadow figure. These are dramatic and attractive photos, and as with much good art, the images and the poem relate to each other but not overtly.
There are some fabulously dramatic black-and-white photos of storm clouds by Joan Livingstone.
Naima Lowe’s “Thirty-nine questions for white people,” notes in ink on notecards with brown paper wrapping and tied with ribbon, give whites and blacks much to think about, especially in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.
There is much more to this show, much of it difficult but most of it intriguing.

Sensations That Announce the Future, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday,, through Dec. 2, The Evergreen State College Gallery, 2700 Evergreen Parkway NW, Library 1st floor, Olympia, 360.867.5125

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