Artists play with perceptions of place in new shows
“You Are Here,” the title of the latest group show at the New Art Center, refers to the orienting dot or arrow on a map. But there are many ways to signify or conjure a site, and this exhibition takes routes to places through history, theatricality, abstraction, and poetic detail.
The exhibition was organized by Pam Campanaro, Montserrat College of Art’s associate curator of exhibitions and programs, who tapped artists for whom place is a state of mind. The exhibition roots us with two site-specific installations.
Emma Hogarth’s lyrical “Compound Vision,” an interactive video installation, layers passages of video shot around the New Art Center — close-ups of the former church’s stained glass windows; steam rising outside its stony façade — with live video picked up by cameras in the gallery. These latter ghostly images read like shadows and patches of light, and don’t show up in real time, but a few moments later. The whole feels familiar yet disorienting, ruminative yet wonderfully specific, like a dream you can’t shake after you wake up.
The brash wall painting “From Holy to Holey” by Mark Hoffmann, a metaphorical portrait of the building, dives into its history — specifically, the loss of a bell tower in the 1938 hurricane. Hoffmann paints a figure with a colorful fingerprint whorl for a face, and beside it, pulsing white lines indicating barometric pressure, and significant dates. The dating is heavy-handed, too concrete, but the imagery — place as person, place as identity — resonates.
Other works take us elsewhere. Kevin Frances, inspired by stage flats and props, builds “Our Bedroom on Westminster Street” out of screen prints and foam core, making just enough of it 3-D so that when you walk into the installation, you feel as if you’re inside a cartoon. Darek Bittner’s intense little collages evoke the Adirondacks with scraps of aged paper arranged in formal abstractions that push toward pictures.
And Dan DeRosato’s crackling good “Marfa, TX” video uses glitching — disrupting the video image into stuttering pixels — to turn a bland Texas roadside into a shimmering, painterly scene. So it goes with any landscape, any place: It can be mundane, or it can resound with meaning. It just depends who you are and how you got there.
Neil Leonard spent time in Matanzas, Cuba, recording the chants of street vendors for his installation “Pan Verdadero (True Bread)” at Boston Cyberarts Gallery. They had only recently emerged, full-throated, on the streets after Cuba softened policies toward small businesses.
Leonard, a composer and musician, is the mastermind behind the sound component for “Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons: Alchemy of the Soul,” his wife’s show at the Peabody Essex Museum, which also features layered recordings made around Matanzas.
“Pan Verdadero” comprises 10 speakers and two videos. The vendors’ voices compete and occasionally harmonize as they sing out about their soft bread, their cakes, and more. Leonard braids in instrumentation, deep and humming like singing wine glasses. The sound is enveloping, alive, comforting; the vendors repeat their chants as monks might, but with the inflections of salesmen.
We don’t need the videos — it would be marvelous to sit in a darkened room and just listen — but they add personality and show us where we are. They follow vendors through the sunny streets, through areas that look like rubble and others neatly painted in spritely tones. A bread seller all in white pushes a silver box perched on a dilapidated wheelchair, engaging with passersby. Another vendor, selling God knows what, passes in a rigged-up, pedal-driven buggy. “Pan Verdadero” is economics at its most basic: how street jingles and a smile put dinner on the table.
“RB: Gap, Gaping I,” a solo show at kijidome, avoids many trappings of commercial art. The artist is anonymous; he offers no resume, no means by which to chart his career. Nor is there any explanation or context for his art — something one usually finds in wall text or a press release. Paring all that out, RB leaves the viewer with the art, and a gallery sitter happy to converse about it. It’s an unsettling, provocative, and enlivening approach.
“Gap, Gaping I” is an installation of three boxwood bushes installed in a dim yellow room on a yellow platform under yellow lights. The lights flatten everything; it’s hard to cast a shadow. To one side, a small blue pot contains a selection, partly chosen randomly each day, of sprigs of azalea, juniper, oak, gingko, and crabapple.
RB attends to details. There’s a dodecahedral dip in the floor below the platform, and on top, concrete walls scaled to the heights of a chair and a curb.
Plants in an art gallery toy with notions of art, decoration, landscape, and landscaping. These bushes, alive and close to human scale, defy you to look at them as art. Yet the flat light and the care with installation stir the sense that you’ve walked into a particularly drab landscape painting. That’s a daring dialectic: “Don’t look at this as art!” trips into “This is bad art, and you’re in it.” And it’s good.
YOU ARE HERE
At New Art Center, 61 Washington Park, Newtonville, through March 26. 617-964-3424, www.newartcenter.org
NEIL LEONARD: Pan Verdadero (True Bread)
At Boston Cyberart Gallery, 141 Green St., Jamaica Plain, through Feb. 28. 617-522-6710, www.bostoncyberarts.org
RB: Gap, Gaping I
At Kijidome, 59 Wareham St., through Feb. 14. www.kijidome.com