Vacations have a mythic quality. Routine gives way to new experiences. Rest and play flood all those corners of life made arid by work. Two artists with shows up now explore time away, and a third creates a kind of mini-vacation on the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza.
Photographer Justin Kimball revisited many of the campgrounds and waterways he went to as a youth, when his family piled into a van for summer trips. His color photos at Carroll and Sons depict people in bathing suits, in and near the water.
The people often appear out of place. They immerse themselves, they prepare to dive in; they wade, and avail themselves of nature’s curative powers. In “Little Pigeon River, Tennessee,” a man reclines in rushing whitewater near the base of a waterfall in what looks like complete surrender. Yet he must be holding himself there; if he completely surrendered, would the water not carry him off?
It’s this tension in Kimball’s photos that captivates: A desire to be one with nature collides with its sheer impossibility. “Old Orchard Beach, Maine” depicts a pudgy man and a girl carrying a pail, knee-deep in water among the barnacle-clad pylons beneath a pier. Beyond them, swimmers frolic in the surf, but these two stare downward, almost grim. Are there rocks underfoot? Are they keeping an eye out for mussels? The water swirls around them, heedless of their drama.
A girl in a gully at the center of “Warren Dunes, Michigan” comes the closest to being one with nature. The gully runs with mud. She has positioned herself as if in a chute, and mud covers her body. A muddy boy stands above her, as two cleaner boys look on prudishly from the side. She may be playing — a boy below shows us she’s not far from the water — but she looks like a young teen with a reckless sense of abandon.
While Kimball’s photos convey nostalgia for humble summers spent by the water, they also demonstrate how longing and disconnection are part of nostalgia’s cargo.
A painter of immersions and chance
Samuel Denoncour, a young painter, took his sketchbook on a road trip across the country. His paintings and sculptures at GRIN in Providence also explore immersion — in the dream of unfamiliar landscapes and chance encounters.
His sketchbooks, which provide fodder and inspiration for the paintings, are rich, tinged with angst, and threaded with narrative morsels: “It was there I met Jr. He built his castle from old car parts and tires. His ramparts, his ideals.” With some editing and a touch more narrative structure, Denoncour could turn these into a compelling graphic memoir.
He seeks to distill his memories of the trip in paintings, which shimmer and at their best stumble toward hallucination and bold forms reminiscent of Marsden Hartley’s landscapes. In “Mitch and Tanner’s Night Ride,” we look down at a van puttering through a reddened landscape, as two haloed figures in the road shake out a striped blanket. It’s a charged, enigmatic scene, made stranger by the southwestern palette aglow under the moon. Many of the other paintings seek that strangeness, but don’t quite achieve it.
It’s clear that Denoncour is principally a painter. The painted wood sculptures, such as the totem-like “Monster Prophet,” which murmurs audio from the trip, are goofy and sweetly cartoonish, but they add a degree of texture and detail missing from many paintings, which can unfortunately read like somebody else’s treasured memories.
Echoes from a bouncy installation
If you’ve ever enjoyed a game of Ping-Pong, get over to the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza. Liz Nofziger’s installation “Bounce” invites everyone to play. Nofziger has conjoined three regulation-size tables, and paddles and balls are available for free any time.
Every panel of each table has a microphone beneath it. The sound is processed, giving every bounce an electronic echo. As with the audio in a computer game, when your actions trigger sounds, there’s a tiny, rewarding thrill. Last week, a group from Zumix, an agency that promotes youth music projects, came by to use the table as a rhythm instrument.
It’s rare that a public art project becomes a gathering place, and one that engages visitors so actively. In addition to the sound element, Nofziger ups the art quotient with proposed variations on traditional Ping-Pong. At the opening, three sets of players faced off across the net, while another set played lengthwise, along the net. “Hilarity ensued,” said Nofziger in an interview.
When I stopped by late last week, Nofziger was still tweaking “Bounce,” setting up high netting so the balls wouldn’t fly into the street or onto the plates of diners eating al fresco nearby. The BCA has been negotiating with neighbors about the sound level, which varies through the day and is turned off at night.
Meanwhile, folks are using the tables. Nofziger has set up a tournament. Other arts organizations have informally challenged the BCA to form a Ping-Pong team and have an arts tourney. It’s terrific fun.
Justin Kimball : Where We Find Ourselves
At: Carroll and Sons, 450 Harrison Ave., through Sept. 6. 617-482-2477, www.carrollandsons.net
Samuel Denoncour: This Land Is
At: GRIN, 60 Valley St., Providence, through Aug. 16. 401-272-0796, www.grinprovidence.com
Liz Nofziger : Bounce
At: Boston Center for the Arts Plaza, 551 Tremont St., through Oct. 15. 617-426-5000, www.bcaonline.orgCate McQuaid can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.