Thursday, September 20, 2012

Two shows for the price of one

Jessica Bender and Susan Seubert at Kittredge Gallery 

reviewed by Alec Clayton
The Weekly Volcano, Sept. 20, 2012

"Coimetrophobia” by Susan Seubert
Jessica Bender’s mixed-media installation Dejection fills the large front room at Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound, and Susan Seubert’s modest photo exhibition Nerve-Wracked fills the smaller back gallery space. The two shows complement each other in that both are highly emotional and deal with the darker and sadder side of human emotions. Bender’s Dejection is also as personal as an art exhibition can get, and Seubert’s photographs feel personal while expressing universal feelings.

Each of these shows deserves individual attention, so I will review them separately, starting with Seubert’s photographs, which can be seen through Sept. 22. I’ll save Bender’s installation, which continues through Nov. 3, for a later date.

Seubert uses a variety of photographic techniques including wet plate collodion, tintype, and platinum printing to achieve deep, velvety blacks and a mysterious, antique look to photographs about fear. Phobias, to be exact. Ten of the 13 photographs in the exhibition illustrate or stand for specific phobias, and each evokes a dark mood due to the rich blacks and grays and the soft focus.

"Neuresthenia No. 9" by Susan Seubert (not in show but representative of series of similar photos in the show)
It takes skill and a highly tuned artistic sensibility to capture the overwhelming feelings associated with Aichmophobia, a morbid fear of sharp objects. She does it with a photo of a tool I could not identify but which I think is a tool seamstresses use for pulling stitches. Soft, gray and floating in a sea of black, this instrument seems both ancient and threatening.
A doll on a black background evokes images from horror movies — there’s nothing more horrifying than a child’s doll turned menacing, unless it’s a clown. The title is “Pediophobia,” fear of dolls or, more literally, fear of children.

There are two photos depicting homophobia, each is of a nude couple embracing, one male and one female, with their heads cropped so they are universal rather than individual. These images are a challenge to viewers who may, indeed, be homophobic to look at them and examine their own feelings.

Others include a photo of a rat titled “Murophobia,” and there’s one of a cemetery titled “Coimetrophobia.”

The three non-phobic photographs are a series of large tintypes called “Neuresthenia” I, II, and III. They are soft-focus and barely visible heads that force the viewer to study them very closely. One medical dictionary I consulted defined neurasthenia as “a virtually obsolete term formerly used to describe a vague disorder marked by chronic abnormal fatigability, moderate depression, inability to concentrate, loss of appetite, insomnia, and other symptoms. Popularly called nervous prostration.”

Seubert’s photos are moody, mysterious, thought provoking, with just the slightest twinge of humor.
[Kittredge Gallery,  Nerve-Wracked by Susan Seubert  through Sept. 22, Dejection by Jessica Bender, through Nov. 3, Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday noon to 5 p.m., 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma, 253.879.3701]

No comments: