Galleries | Cate McQuaid

Virtual and real meet in Providence

A detail from Hannah Newman’s “Sky Water.”
A detail from Hannah Newman’s “Sky Water.”

PROVIDENCE — What if Thoreau had had an iPhone? He’d be posting pictures of his shack at Walden on Instagram. Imagine his selfies.

Today, technology makes visions of nature available at a keystroke. In “Nearly Not There,” at GRIN, two artists tackle how personal devices frame the wild for us by pairing screens with sculpture, a tension that’s purposefully hard to resolve. Sculptures confront us in our own space; screens beckon us into imaginative ones.

Then there’s the dichotomy between nature and technology, which Hannah Newman complicates in “Barren.” She hangs a red rock beside an iPad with a simmering video of a reddish desert. A cursor scoots and clicks, as if the user is playing a game. Which better conveys the experience of nature? One is real; the other takes you there.


The video of a stereotypical sunset over a lake, in Aimee Odum’s “Horizon Lines,” flickers onto a big, dimpled clay disk. Silvery ceramic squibs, like drops of mercury, scatter over the video and on to the wall. The shiny objects cool the fever dream of a sunset, like drops of water.

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Odum has sculptures here with no screen, as if to anchor a largely virtual show. The ceramic “Swell (Reverie Series),” like a chunk of bleached-out, dying coral reef, perches on a platform of orange acrylic. Below that, aqua-glazed clay resembles a puddle of the Caribbean. Color, texture, and transparency remind us that three-dimensional art can also walk us into dreamland.

Thoreau appears in Newman’s shrewd, intoxicating “Sky Water.” An iPhone sits on a tabletop screen suspended from the ceiling, swimming in a video projection of shallow water — pebbles, sand, shimmering light. Text riffing on “Walden” appears on the screen. “I am an ocean of subtle intelligences,” it reads, and you know we’re floating in data.

To use handheld devices as components of sculpture sets up that real/virtual polarity, but it’s also peculiarly satisfying. It fits: Our devices have become components of who we are.

Aimee Odum’s “Swell Reverie Series).”
Aimee Odum’s “Swell Reverie Series).”


At GRIN, 60 Valley St., Providence, through July 29.401-272-0796, .

Cate McQuaid can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.