by Barbara Morris
Haruki Murakami's magnum opus, 1Q84, centers on a character, Aomame, who one morning abruptly exits a taxi, descending an emergency stairway to emerge into an altered reality. Murakami draws the reader into a hypnotic and disjointed world where poetic passages and profound insights are interspersed between harsh episodes of violence and sex, the prosaic routinely abutting the surreal. That book, along with John Coltrane’s recently released 1963 album of lost tracks, Both Directions at Once, provide both the title and the inspiration for this show, comprised of works from eight participants in Kala’s 2017-18 fellowship program. Their works confront and interrogate a world not unlike Murakami’s, a world in which illusion and reality vie for attention and dominance.
Take those of El Salvador-born Lorena Molina. After witnessing her country’s civil war, the artist escaped to the US with her mother and brother at age 14, and her video installations reflect that experience. El Playon, a piece that brings to mind the performance works of Ana Mendieta, shows the artist reclining nude on an expanse of lava rock, a site where bodies were dumped during the war. Wanting to “be marked” by that history, she presents herself with volcanic rocks strewn between her breasts, an act that renders her both vulnerable and accusing.
Iran-born Golbanou Moghaddas filters her experience of assimilation into works inspired by Persian miniatures: monochromatic etchings, with chine collé and/or spit bite, presented in a carefully arranged installation on a royal-blue wall traced with delicate gold motifs. Several convey in literal terms the show’s theme with two-headed beasts. Torn for Attachments, for example, features a bicephalous ram flanked by architecture from two disparate cultures: symbols, perhaps, for the divide between East and West. Imbalance, where an eye peers out, nipple-like, from a breast, recalls the surrealist works of Remedios Varo.
Robert Minervini’s trompe l'oiel paintings on paper, of succulents, vases and statuary, evoke antiquity and Greek myth and, in one instance, fluid gender roles – posing questions about representation and artifice. Rachel Livedalen gives classical ideals a feminist slant. Her wall installation, comprised of etchings and other works placed alongside wall pieces made of refractive rainbow-hued stickers, taps into a longstanding strategy of using kitschy craft and doodling to reclaim “grrrl” power; however, her uneasy marriage of lowbrow materials and formalist/minimalist aesthetics never quite gels.
Brooklyn-based poet/painter JoAnne McFarland fares better with Fugitive Deck. It’s a grid of 24 small mixed-media works on paper whose elements (sewing notions, fabric, thread and glass beads) place the work in the feminist tradition of recontextualizing traditional craft media. “Deck” in this instance means deck of cards. Fugitive she defines as “a runaway” and a “color that fades fast.” The relevancy of these terms rests with the fact that this piece — about slavery — contains racial epithets stenciled on white rectangles; the letters fade from dark black to near-invisibility, inciting strong sentiments and just quickly defusing them.
Tyler Starr and Yuki Maruyama take the show into alien realms. For Starr it’s Freetown Christiana, a hippie community in Copenhagen best known for its open cannabis trade. He uses it as a backdrop for ten mystically tinged works containing geodesic domes and other structures, the result being part hobbit, part psychedelia. Maruyama creates a portal of sorts with Neither Here Nor There, a dizzying installation of red and blue stripes in a three-sided space. The shapes alone are disquieting; don 3D glasses and they become stranger still, hovering in an indeterminate, layered space.
Jennifer Basile presents relief cuts on rice paper. Florida Gator, at 10 ½ feet, lurks as a menacing, swampy presence. It, along with other works, speaks to the perpetual conflict between man and nature.
What unites these disparate artists? Here it helps to consult the Coltrane album. From the liner notes we learn that Coltrane once told fellow saxophonist Wayne Shorter “…about starting a sentence in the middle, and then going to the beginning and the end of it at the same time…both directions at once.” The eight artists in this show, pushing and pulling in different directions, tugging at the fabric of consensus reality, do precisely that.
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Both Directions at Once @ Kala Art Institute through September 22, 2018.