PROVIDENCE — Ross Normandin’s exhibition at GRIN examines in sidelong ways the gulf between the inner self and the more practiced social one. In his video “Shell,” Normandin’s head ducks as he dons a mask. Then, for an unsettling 15 minutes, all we see is the back of his mask, as if even the front would tell too much. When he doffs it, the video ends, but we still don’t see the artist’s face.
Sometimes the only way to clearly see someone’s true self is surreptitiously. Despite our tendency to craft and blare identity on social media, it’s truly more like a fawn in the woods — easily startled and hard to track.
Normandin’s mask-like artworks seem, eerily, to have a sense of self. He currently has a series cast from his own head in “People Watching: Then and Now” at the Fitchburg Art Museum. At GRIN, he pushes deeper into this territory, and paintings — rectangular wall works with a colorist’s touch — seem to take on archetypal consciousness.
His “Pig” series, crafted from silicone rubber (and sometimes urethane) has a fleshy consistency. A pig’s snout projects from each piece, and a cast rubber cord hangs from the surface; it could be a mask’s strap, if you looped it around the back.
They’re artworks, but naked and defiant ones — indignant, riotous. Piggish, but not porcine enough to be seen as an animal and separate from ourselves. Instead, these pieces confront us as a portrait or a mirror would, nearly snuffling and grunting in retort to our gaze. They are not fawns in the woods, but wild boars.
Casting from a mold seems essential to Normandin’s aesthetic, and all the iterations, in varying tones of pink, ivory, and orange, perseverate. They put on repeat something we might otherwise eagerly turn away from or snicker at out of embarrassment, and compel us to look directly at it. It’s not pretty, but it’s got an electric current.
SLABS AND A SHELL; A HELL: ROSS NORMANDIN
At GRIN, 60 Valley St., Providence, through Dec. 15. 401-272-0796, www.grinprovidence.com
Cate McQuaid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.