LOOK CLOSELY A Jonah Freeman work invites inspection.
Portland summers can be a time of scarcity for art lovers seeking conceptually challenging artwork, or a selective sampling of widely exhibiting international artists. Cue the annual visiting-faculty lecture series and accompanying exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art.
The works of the four artists in "Magnify" scrutinize our social structures, forms of communication, and value systems.
The culmination of a week-long "Collage Party," spearheaded by Canadian artist and curator Paul Butler, overwhelms the front gallery. Emphatic in its imperfection, scraps, clippings, and overturned magazines are littered, concealing the floor and creeping up the walls. The "Party" was exclusively attended by MFA students last Monday and Tuesday, and then opened to the public for the rest of the week. The walls are covered with a collectively applied mash of imagery, which spills down the corridor leading us to a more traditional, pristine gallery setting. This disjuncture is exactly the point. Butler's raw presentation illustrates his exploration of alternatives to the art establishment, traditional pedagogical hierarchies, and the assertion of the ego in art-making with studio and gallery experiments relying on art as social exchange.
An a cappella rendition of Madonna's "Live to Tell" beckons from a side gallery, featuring two of Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay's videos dealing with the integrity of personal expression under the hegemony of pop culture. The projections form a dialogue, facing each other from opposing walls. In the Canadian artist's 2009 collaboration with Aleesa Cohene, "The Same Problem," the artist earnestly cries recognizable pop song back-up harmonies to a stormy sea. The camera intimately focuses on the artist's emotive face as he develops a call-and-response with a vast and distant ocean, ironically suggesting that the melodies are universally communicative — to the extent that even a landscape might feel inspired.
Works from Jonah Freeman's projects "In the Kaleidoscopic Room" and "The Franklin Abraham" employ a fictional landscape in a parallel history to examine what meaning can be culled from our rapidly expanding and decaying infrastructures. A sample of Freeman's thorough archive of his fabricated urban world is on view in the Lunder Gallery. Digital prints and etchings chronicle the expansion of the busy and futuristic metropolis, the etchings torn from a book, The Radiant Century, which serves as a human account of the city and its inhabitants. Three pieces of wallpaper that backdrop the prints are actually high-resolution images of degraded sheetrock. Freeman presents a series of frames from which to understand the urban landscape, and frustrates our idea of what could be most honest. Like Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, Freeman relates that no matter the viewer's familiarity with characteristics of a city and its inhabitants, our contemporary landscape remains an elusive and subjective construction.
Jane Wildgoose is the Keeper of the Wildgoose Memorial Library, a collection of found and made objects and ephemera informing her research on mortality and the social constructions and behavior surrounding the themes of life and death. The focus of her study on view here is a hair from the head of Lord Horatio Nelson that was purchased by Gregory Whitehead on eBay. Wildgoose collaborates with Whitehead on a looping audio documentary considering the responsibility of the owner of such a relic; particularly given that Lord Nelson wished all his hair to remain in the possession of his mistress, Emma Hamilton. In the gallery a theatrical tent shrouded in black curtains becomes a cabinet of curiosities containing books on death and mourning, on Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton, estate jewelry, portraits, and most importantly, a shrine that might just contain a single hair.