NEW HAVEN - Every now and then an exhibit appears in which the concept, as described by the accompanying explanatory material, leaves me scratching my head as to just what it means.
"Confinement and the Art of Decoration," currently on view at untitled (space) gallery at Artspace in New Haven, is such a show.
Although the material elaborately ruminates on the various issues regarding aspects of confinement and decoration, one's own and that of others, from what appears to be a personal and cultural point of view, at some point the complexities of the overwhelming narrative leave one wondering whether, indeed, any visual forms can possibly be big enough to match them.
Despite the complexity of the words, the show is, however, of considerable interest. The works by Gloria Zein (Germany), Elise Martens (Norway) and Caterina Verde (U.S. and France) are sound and thoughtful, each artist exploring "themes of confinement and decoration through the metaphor of the object and movement," each addressing narratives in which person and place mingle, challenging the viewer to discover the relationship between the message and the means.
The most evocative work is Zein's installation, "philossphen betten (philosopher beds/bedding philosophers)."
After individual meetings with a group of philosophers, and studying their writings and philosophies, Zein crafted a series of sculptural beds of varied materials and styles reflective of each philosopher's concerns and ideas. On the walls beside the beds, Zein sketches drawings and text that refer to the associative narrative that inspired each piece. For example, referring to Friedrich Kittler's interest in mythology, Zein crafts a "Magic Mattress to see God."
"A Bed for Roberto Nigro" becomes an immovable object of reinforced concrete, a reference to his interest in a bed as a place for stability and security at the end of one's journey. In "The Fourth Bed of Ludger Schwarte," Zein offers him one more bed than the three he feels one needs, this additional extra-large bed something of a public space in which to share information and communication.
While the imagery retains its sense of "bedness," Zein's distortion of the objects' original function, gives them added meaning, relevant now insofar as they serve to document the phenomena that surround them, inviting the viewer to discover the affinities between the original confined form and its new decoration, as it were, reinterpreted by additional knowledge and experience.
Caterina Verde's video installation speaks to life's endless chameleonlike confinements.
By covering an entire gallery wall with a strip of artificial grass onto which she projects video images of her friend Bill traipsing through various locales in different seasons and costumes, Verde creates a narrative of repetitive words, acts and symbols through which Bill, an empty vessel, becomes the template for impermanent layers of decoration, his thoughts and actions variously defined by the confinements of the different times, places and cultures that dictate them.
Elise Martens uses tree boughs as the metaphors that speak to life's confinements and alterations.
In a series of highly chromatic digital photographs of boughs, Martens splinters the objects symmetrically to create variously patterned forms, their altered conversions appearing at once simple and difficult to entangle, the viewer challenged to contemplate the relationship between the concept of pure visual decoration and the symbolic suggestions created by way of their new entanglements.