One of the great joys of writing about art in the Greater Washington area is the discovery once in a while of an exhibition that, unexpectedly in most cases, just takes your breath away with its impact, presence and lingering ability to elicit thoughts and responses long after you’ve left the gallery.
In this case, the gallery is Target Gallery, inside the Torpedo Factory, and the exhibition is “In 2Words: Numbers,” a national exhibition juried by Washington firebrand curator Sarah Tanguy.
Let me show my cards early: This is the best Target Gallery, show that I’ve ever seen in the twelve years that I have been regularly covering the Greater Washington visual art scene for newspapers and magazines.
A bit about the premise for the show: “In 2Words: Numbers” is the first of a pair of national exhibitions that focus on the use of digits, mathematics and formulas in contemporary art. The second exhibition (titled “In2Words: Words”), juried by Krystyna Wasserman, Curator of Book Arts at the National Museum of Women in the Arts opens July 24, 2004.
The employment of digits, mathematics and formulas as the driving and unifying theme in the show appealed to me through a couple of sensory inputs – the first as an artist, and the second as a Mathematician. As an undergraduate student at the University of Washington in beautiful Seattle I managed to graduate with a double degree: one in Art and one in Mathematics - odd uh?
Anyway, the sixteen artists selected by Tanguy all managed to create artwork that cleverly manage to revolve about this rather unusual theme. In a group show, any group show, there are usually standouts, weak entries and a majority of forgettable artwork in the majority. In mathematical terms, the first two would be the out layers and the rest the median.
In this case, I can honest find few out layers – simply because the quality and cleverness and creative thought employed in nearly every entry surpasses most expectations. But let’s discuss some of them.
Judith Larsen, a photographer from Cambridge, Massachusetts has three digital photographs on exhibit. In all three instances, Larsen has a female figure that has been decorated with numbers and formulas, like a modern digital Pictish princess. At first one would think that this may be a heavy handed way to crack open the door to “fit” the competition’s theme. And yet, Larsen disarms that negative pre-impression by the marriage of the mathematical tattoos with interesting poses by the model coupled with an unusual digital color palette. The combination of numbers, formulas, poses and colors all add up unexpectedly to deliver quite interesting photographs.
Still in the realm of photography, but pushing the envelope a bit more, at least as far as the receiving medium, is Jayson Taylor from Hays, Kansas. Taylor’s “Running Thoughts” combines silk, muslin, and etched aluminum – all coupled with a photo transfer process – to produce a visually interesting work that requires the manual lifting of the silk or muslin to get to the various stages of the actual photograph. Combining a series of numerical finite layers with interaction from the viewer has given Taylor a huge advantage in probably being the most creative of all the interpreters of the theme selected by Tanguy.
On the floor of the gallery, there’s an unusual and visually entertaining piece by New Yorker Frank Raczkowski (with a sign letting you know that it is OK to step on it – carefully). Titled “Point Five,” it is made of rubber, steel and level vials all aligned to look like one of those floor mats made up of old tires. He is what art BLOGger Tyler Green would dub a "Wal-Martist." I like this piece partially because of the inner tension that it creates in inviting me to step on it.
Step on artwork?
Geez… we’re not even supposed to touch it, right? But Raczkowski must be pretty sure of his construction to ask us to step on it (carefully). But Frank, what about all those little level vials, filled with that strange yellowish fluid with the bubble in the middle (what is that stuff?). No thanks – but it works wonderfully in making me look at the work, study it, praise it and avoid stepping on it. Congratulations, you pass.
At the risk of being verbose about Mr. Raczkowski, his second entry on display is made up of 148 digital prints of someone’s skin, prickling with short stubble hair. We’re told in the catalog that there are 75,080 counted hairs.
OK, now I am interested. First of all, what part of the anatomy has Raczkowski photographed, sometimes it looks strangely sexual, other times it looks like maybe a shaved animal skin (a pig?), and others a made up alien landscape. Eventually the dutiful gallery assistant or gallery director Claire Huschle will tell you that they are photos of Raczkowski’s shaved head.
Even after this information is disclosed I am having trouble pinpointing any of the 148 prints, arranged salon style in a corner of the gallery space, to anything resembling a human landscape on anyone’s head. I am even having more trouble comprehending why anyone would want to count all the hairs – but someone did (or is telling us they did) and I sort of like that in a mathematical way.
As Tanguy eloquently describes in her juror’s statement, “[in this show] process is paramount… As intimations become revelations, the works transform us from passive recipients to active explorers.”
I believe Raczkowski and I ain't even beginning to think to count the hairs - but I was tempted!
The show is on display until July 18, 2004. Target Gallery is the national exhibition space of the Torpedo Factory Art Center, displaying artwork in all media from artists across the United States and abroad. Located on the ground floor of the Torpedo Factory Art Center, Target is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday, 12 noon to 5 pm and other times by appointment. Contact the gallery at (703) 838-4565, ext. 4.