You can almost hear the war's drumbeat pounding in Iranian photographer Rana Javadi’s series “Never-Ending Chaos,’’ now up at Ars Libri. Javadi, with her late husband, Bahman Jalali, documented conflict as a photojournalist during the Iranian revolution and the Iran-Iraq war. In the layered and sharp digital photo-collages in this show, she shuffles images of a historic battle with war photographs from her own archive, and other illustrations.
The exhibit, presented by Robert Klein Gallery and Azita Bina-Seibel, a collector of Iranian photography and the wife of Ars Libri owner Elmar Seibel, hinges on a trove of 19th-century tiles depicting the Battle of Karbala, a significant conflict in the early history of Islam. Javadi arranges them like pieces of a puzzle and photographs them. Most depict soldiers, marching or wielding spears, many looking more sad than they do fierce.
The tiles create a grid format, which Javadi embellishes with borders that sometimes echo elements of Islamic decorative design — but hers are inevitably images of war. She tops “Never-Ending Chaos #5’’ with a string of explosives, each clearly labeled “BOMB.’’
RANA JAVADI: Never-Ending Chaos
The illustrated tiles, bright and topsy-turvy, convey bedlam. Those in the center depict men in colorful uniforms on their sides, their heads lopped off. Other men stand and look on. Women in hijabs huddle in a bottom corner; Javadi replaces most of their veils with a single eye. They’re the witnesses, the mothers and wives at war’s sidelines, filled with dread and grief.
Toward the lower center of the piece, the chaos arrives at a still point: a black-and-white photograph of a bombed-out hospital ward. It is not peaceful — it’s more like the eye of a hurricane. A painterly image of a bleeding heart hovers there.
The lamentation in Javadi’s photographs feels personal, even as the works weave together centuries of cultural strife. Artful and searing, they warn of little relief in sight.
Caplan and Evans at NAGA
There’s nature, and there’s hype. Lana Z Caplan examines how the two are played off each other in China in her show at Gallery NAGA. Look at her photo “Tree-Lined.’’ It appears to capture a soothing summer scene, green trees on a mild slope. But there’s a seam to the left, an opening, and it becomes clear that the bucolic image is printed on a scrim that hides a construction zone. You can see rubble through the opening.
In her thoughtful three-channel video “The Loveliest Mountain of China,’’ Cap-lan juxtaposes a painterly image of a mountain with visitors having their pictures taken in front of it, and interviews with people affiliated with the tourism trade there. They spout tripe such as “It's not man-made, it’s just nature's gift.’’ That first video reminds us that people have been packaging nature for eons; the last suggests that the more wily and big that packaging becomes, the deeper the schism between humans and the landscape.
Benjamin Evans mounts another character-driven installation at NAGA — his work is almost more that of a playwright and set designer than visual artist. “Full Count’’ explores baseball and American masculinity through the persona of Benny Cobb, an up-and-coming pitcher for the New Berry Roosters.
Evans offers up many details — Cobb's locker, a pitcher’s mound with audio of a chiding catcher, and a young boy’s bedroom filled with baseball souvenirs, including a jockstrap signed by Cobb.
The artist portrays the pitcher in a funny commercial for athletic cups blaring on the TV in the boy’s room, and he has put together a faux edition of Sports Illustrated with himself, as Cobb, on the cover.
The story inside flails between satire and earnestness. The points Evans tries to make — about how an athletic culture driven by commodity and desire is blind to more nuanced, everyday things, such as love — are stumbled over in his writing, and not effectively embodied in his installation. There’s romance, here — a boy’s affinity for his hero, lipstick kisses on baseballs — but Evans doesn’t effectively convey the emptiness at the middle of it all.
Lentz and Carlino at Bromfield
Bromfield Gallery has mounted two shows by the winners of an annual competition for solo exhibitions, juried by Al Miner, assistant curator of contemporary art at the Museum of Fine Arts.
Sculptor James Lentz makes funny works on a surprisingly large scale. One untitled piece embeds a cast iron zipper in a gallery wall. Half unzipped, the wall settles into soft folds, as if it was a sweatshirt. I love the idea of imposing clothing’s language on architecture; maybe next Lentz will add cuffs to a pillar, or a button fly to a door. His “Postcard to Edgerton’’ goes in another direction, solidifying Harold “Doc’’ Edgerton’s famous photo of a crowning milk droplet into lovely blond maple.
Kim Carlino’s watercolor and ink abstractions expertly blend vaporous washes with hard-edged patterns and crisp drawing. “Cosmological Formations, series IV.V’’ appears to come into being around a coral and copper bull’s eye. Clouds of black and blue billow; wormlike, segmented loops coil tightly; geometrical designs hover. One threads into the next so they all become a roiling whole, delicate but explosive.
LANA Z CAPLAN: Peach Blossom Spring
BENJAMIN EVANS: Full Count
At: Gallery NAGA, 67 Newbury St.,
through Feb. 1. 6172679060, www.gallerynaga.com
JAMES LENTZ: IS/ISN’T KIM CARLINO: The Artifice of Geometry
At: Bromfield Gallery, 450 Harrison
Ave., through Feb. 2. 6174513605, www.bromfieldgallery.com
Cate McQuaid can be reached at email@example.com.