We’re looking forward to Second Saturday Art Attack in Georgetown on March 12, but there are some ongoing shows we recommend, including one that ends this weekend.
MIXT no. 2: Timorous Beasties at studio e
Guest curator Netra Nei again brought together work from dozens of international photographers for her second show at studio e, this time with the loose association of “furs, feathers and fronds.” Titled Timorous Beasties, the thematic, non-human elements are sometimes subtle and serve to always direct one’s mind to ineffable emotions and our shared humanity.
Styles vary from documentary, to fashion editorial, to pin-up, to the fragmentary (think high-quality Instagram), and even if some individual images aren’t extraordinary on their own, their association in the room and with each other hints at a more complete story.
In many cases, the non-human elements are a proxy, serving as adornment to objects and the human body and bringing attention to the fragility of all. A portrait of a woman by Can Dagarslani is one highlight in this vein; she curls up on a couch with tropical-themed upholstery, displaying tattoos on her bare skin and looking askance in the opening between her shoulder and her knee. In a photo by Pierre Wayser, a group of young people are wearing plush costumes of animals (a tiger, a giraffe, a bee are most visible). The twist is that they are standing in a trophy room, smiling and gawping at taxidermied game animals (including a tiger) mounted on the walls over cases full of rifles. Fittingly, the girl in the tiger outfit looks the least amused by the situation.
In advance of the show, gallerist Dawna Holloway arranged to have some trophies from a local taxidermy collector installed in the space, allowing visitors to get an immersive feel for shots like this, but the majority of the photos are much more pensive and ambiguous. Images of foliage in particular may seem to lack any narrative, but instead evoke a pathetic fallacy. James McKinnon presents two exterior shots that reveal foliage contained within structures (presumably greenhouses, though it is unclear). In one twilit shot, the leaves are visible only as silhouette pressing from within. In another context or in isolation, I might not look twice, as it borders on cliche…but it really is a beautiful shot, and as one moves from one image to the next, seeking thematic (or at least cosmetic) connections, it becomes all the more humane and striking.
It’s hard to not just love the humans of Danielle Houghton‘s work—even the woman who looks ready to bite our faces off (in a leopard print jacket and holding a tiny dog, of course). Fyodor Telkov offers beautiful portraiture of indigenous Khanty people in northern Russia, stately and humane, though swallowed up in furs and hides against the bitter cold.
For those who love a taste of the uncanny, there are quite a few highlights in that realm: Mankichi Shinshi‘s image of a touristy cut-out board, whose empty head would allow one to pose as a Japanese farmwoman holding green stalks from her harvest, but is open only to the green hedge in the background—an empty face of leaves; Patrick Joust‘s double-take-worthy shot of fake horses wrapped with caution netting around a lone tree in a field; Linus Lohoff‘s shot of a taxidermied fawn staring eyelessly forward as it is held by an arm with a neon pink rubber glove; and Fabien Fourcaud‘s lush, dim image of a gorgeously furnished room, wherein a fox is curled on the seat of an armchair. One can’t say for certain if the fox is live or taxidermied, but it would be an unusual pose for the creature in the case of the latter. It seems wary of us, and we have to wonder what it is doing there.
In light of these, otherwise banal moments show their subtle absurdities, but never lose their humanity. Timorous Beasties is a feast for the eyes that nourishes head and heart.
Mixt No. 2: Timorous Beasties closes on Saturday, March 5. studio e is open Fridays and Saturdays from 1-5pm.
Escape Velocity at Prairie Underground
For the third installment of their collaborative artist series, Prairie Underground invited artist and photographer Megumi Shauna Arai to create a new body of work that connected in some way to the clothing line’s own use of natural and sustainable textiles. Arai used a grant from PrU to partially fund a trip to Shikoku, Japan to study in a paper studio that has been operating for three centuries. In addition to making her own paper, Arai sourced Murakumo Kozo paper from the studio that would receive the dyes from an inkjet printer and natural sashiko thread. The work that she has made using them has a sublime, sensual materiality that is simply impossible to produce with mass-produced paper and thread.
One diptych that Arai made shows the view of the Pacific as it comes crashing against the cliffs of Shikoku. On the Murakumo Kozo paper, the frothing greens and whites are both vibrant and soft. Two halves of the image are hung and joined at their interior edges by threads that droop down in rippling arcs. The object invokes romance and serenity in ways that a single image would not. It doesn’t even hurt to know that the site where the photos where taken is a popular place for suicide jumpers. (As I remarked at the opening, many high, scenic spots in Japan have that unfortunate designation. Here, too.)
Her two other large pieces are wall hangings that attach the paper to ruffled sections of dark cloth. The paper is stitched directly to it in a cross-hatch style characteristic of sashiko thread. The thread also drips from the paper toward the floor and on the paper is printed a human figure mostly obscured by the same indigo cloth. Like a lot of great high fashion (and Japanese art) it affects a sort of disheveled homeliness while being aesthetically sound through and through—a soft sculpture serving to set the image of another soft sculpture enrobing the human form.
The warmth and darkness of this pose a perfect contrast to the aforementioned diptych, making the show extremely satisfying in just three large pieces. Check it out at the PrU headquarters through the end of April.
Prairie Underground is open to the public, Mondays through Thursdays, 1 PM to 4 PM.
last_resort at Interstitial Gallery
Mario Lemafa‘s solo show at Interstitial, last_resort, is a tight critique of tourism, colonialism and other isms that erase cultures by commoditizing them. Lemafa is originally from Honolulu and the work in this show applies to any tropical place that has been turned into a “destination”—a Cockaigne for the age of Corona beer.
That’s the trouble with colonialism and the tourism that follows: From the outset it removes the autonomy of the place by making it contingent on one’s starting point. It’s a destination, a dream state, and the tourist is the dreamer around whom it revolves. Its resources are marketed as rare and exotic, yet treated as if they were unlimited. Meanwhile, the indigenous culture is treated as a performance, and hecklers and critics abound.
Post-colonialism and “whiteness” as it pertains to cultures absorbed with colonized land is a sprawling subject, but Lemafa keeps his gestures simple and incisive. Gallery goers expecting a touristic experience (where the content is handed to them without reflection on their own part) will miss out.
In the front room, a projection runs on a loop, beginning with footage of a waterfall. It’s a poor surrogate for the real thing (part of the point), but visually soothing…until it is invaded by an overlaying video block…then another…and another, each referring to water, but as a contained commodity. One may ponder the general sapping of resources (maybe even some water crises close to home), but in this context one might also examine how the marketing of so many goods and beverages exploits an image of the tropics as a pristine, utopian space. This twists expectations while masking the physical exploitation of these places and their inhabitants.
Of course, a lot of things marketed as “tropical” are in no way natural, and Lemafa gives visitors a sampling of that. In an adjacent room, small vials of colored fluid sit on a table. Each is a cleaning agent or commercial fragrance (e.g. one used in portable toilets) sold as “tropical.” Some will be familiar, but all of them, in this sterile white space, hardly evoke a natural floral scent, let alone a reasonable abstraction of the tropics. The tropics are fecund, decaying matter and wet vegetation, wild animals, feral horses, sea salt and bleached wood. They sure as shit don’t smell like any of these fragrances, which reduce the idea of the tropics to a caustic bouquet. These are the subtle ways in which the myth of the tropics is propagated, which only helps foster its exploitation.
This sampler complements the two most prominent objects of the show: two “tropical” shirts that Lemafa has treated with bleach. It’s a simple concept but has a dramatic effect. An underwater scene full of colorful fish and plants is reduced to a pale, milky, polluted ghost of itself. The untreated section is like a gaping hole right in the gut. The other shirt shows layered vignettes of flowers and floral designs and a seaside sunset silhouetting the palms—a pleasing pile of postcard-worthy stereotypes. One side of the shirt is bleached, and the beach scenes now appear to be lost in smoke and haze while the flowers have all but disappeared.
The colorful scenery depicted here evokes ease and escape for its intended audience; it’s the fantasy, turned into mere adornment on western clothing. But the bleached sections are closer to the reality, in which the richness of the landscape and the culture is attenuated and polluted by tourism without a sense of stewardship.
Under the current system, one can’t simply say, “Halt all the cruises and close all the hotels.” One can’t suddenly halt an industry without upending entire economies. But the largest economies in the world are still colonizing and pillaging, and we need pointed reminders of this and not buy in too heavily to a paradise built on exploitation. It’s ongoing, so last_resort is, sadly, not the last word on the matter.
last_resort is on display at Interstitial Gallery through April 2.