June 29, 2006
by Stephen Maine
"I Can’t Quite Place It. . . ,"
June 3 - July 16, 2006, at Smack Mellon Gallery, 92 Plymouth Street, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11201
The stalwart Brooklyn nonprofit Smack Mellon Gallery, which recently relocated to the former Gair Company boiler building at the corner of Plymouth and Washington Streets in the borough’s DUMBO district, is now hosting a summer group show titled "I Can’t Quite Place It." Organized by the energetic Elizabeth M. Grady, the exhibition choreographs the efforts of 17 artists whose works variously examine the provisional nature of our relationship to our surroundings.
The open space of the new venue is perfect for an installation that pursues notions of fragmentation, disruption and dissolution. Spectacular in a ramshackle way though the old space was, that former spice warehouse on Water Street somehow rarely accommodated the heightened dialogue between individual works that propels this show.
For instance, Monika Goetz contributes Horizon, a stark, glowing line of light that slants across the rear wall of the space. Roughly cut into the sheetrock and backlit by fluorescent lights, the work converts a matter-of-fact postminimalist investigation of process and materials into an eerie gateway to some technological unknown.
Another reference to landscape can be seen nearby, where Jennifer Urso has placed a large rectangular patch of dirt on the floor in front of her fragile ink drawings on yellowing newsprint, which hang in a row on a drooping line on the wall. Titled Fractured Thought, Urso’s pseudoscientific diagrams purport to depict things like “lightning," "broken glass" and "thoughts," as if to combine Richard Tuttle’s poetic researches with Robert Smithson’s investigation of entropy and decomposition.
In Robert Walden’s exquisite, graphite-on-black-paper Ontological Road Maps, tiny, tight grids signifying urban centers segue into the nesting curls of tract housing and the meandering trails of exurbia. Steven Millar surrealistically evokes suburban sprawl with Lookout Mountain, TN, a brokeback oak table, all blackened and charred, that assumes landscape proportions with its population of house-like blocks. Fawn Krieger brings a rough-and-ready touch to the tradition of the architectural model with Brasilia , a five-foot-tall stack of scraps of sheetrock and wood slats surmounted by a wallpaper crown.
Two very different contraptions evoke natural processes. In the elaborate Underground Parallax, Megan Michalak uses multiple mirrors and fresh sod to suggest a wormhole escape below the surface of the earth. The volume of steam within Jung Sun Oh’s hulking, boxy Fog Wall II might be a paradigm of technology’s clumsy efforts to shape the environment.
Several of the works in the show include sound, and, perhaps inevitably, they overlap in an aural montage. As the viewer navigates the space, the scrambled subway public-safety announcements that are one component of Vibeke Jensen’s If You See, Something Say blend with Grady Gerbracht’s sound installation, Sympathetic Resonance, in which the ambient noise of the gallery’s cavernous interior (shaped by the rumbling train traffic on the Manhattan Bridge) is amplified and replayed.
A paradox peculiar to the well-curated show applies here, as the most convincing works render the thesis irrelevant and compel us to confront them on their own terms. In Landing, Graciela Fuentes projects a video of flickering, aerial views of a section of Mexico City onto a small pile of dirt on the floor. The course, sandy soil is the perfect, anomalous backdrop for the few frames of footage, as it tantalizingly degrades image quality while lending gravitas.
A dim, cramped rear stairwell houses Patrol, a video installation by Ofri Cnaani, a young Israeli artist working in New York. Projected on the low ceiling are shadowy silhouettes, as if seen from below through translucent plastic, of people moving about, dropping things, and speaking to one another in indistinct tones. While their actions and intonations are not especially threatening, the illusion Patrol affords of hiding or being trapped triggers the anxiety and paranoia centers of the viewer’s brain. Not recommended for the claustrophobic.
The show also includes engaging efforts by Lynne Harlow, Richard Garrison, Avantika Bawa, Amanda Mathis, Tom Kotik and Roy Stanfield, whose untitled, found-Plexiglas prop pieces, staking out territory near the entrance, remind the visitor that the specter of postminimalism is still at large.
STEPHEN MAINE is an artist and writer who lives in Brooklyn.