Nothing heightens the senses like travel. Sunsets are more gorgeous. Memories are forged. Then it’s back home, and time away seems like a mirage.
“BRINK v1,” the inaugural exhibition in a planned series celebrating emerging artists at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Mills Gallery, spotlights photographers who work on the road, or make art based on travel, in the tradition of Robert Frank.
Guest curator Lexi Lee Sullivan finds a lyrical dissonance between photography’s ability to fix a place in time in a single image and the aching knowledge that time can never be fixed. She ties the transient lifestyle of some of the artists to the quickly dissolving present moment.
Even some of the art in the show won’t last long. Cole Caswell makes large-scale tintypes on flimsy newsprint. One, “Transient Salesman,” hangs on the brick wall outside the gallery, mounted with homemade glue. Already, it’s peeling and fading. The fierce, grimy salesman, with hair in his eyes and a cigarette in his mouth, poses gripping his backpack and duffel bag.
Caswell’s photos depict people in the Southwest who live off the land and sometimes through a barter economy — like his medium, they take us back to the 19th century. Enlarged to 40 inches by 50 inches, these tintypes aren’t intimate keepsakes. They feel otherworldly, imposingly of this time, yet of another. Their wet-plate emulsion has a painterly quality. An orchard scene, “Self-Propagating Orange Trees,” swims with drops and smudges; real netting over the trees might be the swipe of a broad brush.
Scott Patrick Wiener doesn’t appear to give a fig about permanence in his series “I Want the One I Can’t Have.” He exposes to sunlight transparencies on construction paper. The prints fade quickly; the gallery makes new ones each week to hang beside the originals, for contrast. Wiener takes his images from vacation snapshots his father shot long ago. His prints, on paper we associate with childhood, vanish like memories.
“My Da Lu,” Nelson Chan’s ongoing project about his parents’ long-distance relationship shuttling between New Jersey and Hong Kong, often doesn’t show the pair. In this series of photos, there’s his mother’s carry-on bags, or the sky over Hong Kong. They capture the environment of the marriage, using signifiers for the people. I found myself concerned, wanting to know they’re all right. Then they show up: In one titled “Gem, Hong Kong” his father strokes his mother’s cheek. All is well.
The collaborative Houseboat Press offers three spiral-bound books by individual artists. Each sets up a wandering narrative arc — through, say, a college town in Dylan Nelson’s “Dedicated to Tom.” The unfortunately disjunctive backdrop — walls of images from all of the books — pulls the viewer out of the individual stories into a confounding larger one.
For “Flight Series,” Georgie Friedman sends a camera tagged to a helium balloon into the atmosphere, sometimes as high as 90,000 feet. The balloon pops, the camera parachutes down. The grids of photos of sky, clouds, and even the curvature of the earth convey the epic vistas in staccato morsels.
It’s an irony that the still center of the show was shot at home. In Friedman’s video “Snow Study III,” illuminated snowflakes dance against a dark sky outside her house. They pelt, pivot, float, and whirl. There’s no predictability to their dance, no snow bank for them to land upon — it’s just midair, black as night, tiny bright specks moving. As we do, through life.
Turning bullets into décor
I should have been prepared for Daniela Rivera’s show “Shooting Skies” at LaMontagne Gallery. I knew she likes to disrupt, even damage, her paintings, spilling liquids on them. I knew the show had to do with guns. But when I saw that Rivera had riddled her paintings with bullets, I was dismayed and horrified. That, no doubt, was the response she intended.
She didn’t shoot just any paintings. Rivera’s pieces are self-consciously sublime. They depict moon-bright clouds scudding through an inky night sky. In the tradition of sublime nature paintings, they speak to the purest, most wide open parts of ourselves.
Lucio Fontana slashed and punctured his canvases from 1949 into the 1960s, but the slashes were his abstract marks; he did not interrupt a picture when he cut through the surface. That was in itself violent. This, with its illusion punctured, is more violent.
Rivera went to a shooting range in New Hampshire, propped these gorgeous panels on a wooden brace, and put several bullet holes through each. A video delineates the process. After each shot, the artist pauses and collects herself. Is she thinking compositionally — where to put the next hole? Is she struggling emotionally? Or is it just the gun’s blowback that she has to recover from? Probably the last, says gallery owner Russell LaMontagne. A .45-caliber pistol has quite a kick.
This work is not about the sublime. It’s about violence. A great curtain of bullets strung together hangs across the gallery between the video and the paintings. Turning bullets into décor speaks to how ubiquitous they are in the United States. It’s chilling.
Rather than depicting trauma, Rivera’s work embodies it. What makes “Shooting Skies” so effective is that she utilizes pictures, and the dreams they stir, to drive home her point.
At: LaMontagne Gallery,
555 East Second St.,South Boston, through April 5.
Cate McQuaid can be reached at email@example.com.