Wednesday, May 13, 2009

CLOSING and Review

SUNDAY MAY 17, 7-9pm
For those of you who have not yet had a chance to experience OFF THE WALL, I invite you to come to the 3rd floor of the H&H this Sunday evening to see this widely popular show before it comes down. It is truly a joy to hang out amongst such imaginative sculpture and installation!
Check out the great review in the Citypaper...

Well Hung
Group show shirks the traditional gallery wall for works that sit on the floor and descend from above
Liz Ensz and Matt Gemmell's roller skate parachutes.

By Bret McCabe | Posted 5/13/2009

Alzaruba's "Within" takes up an entire corner of the Whole Gallery's front big-room exhibition space, and it is impossible to ignore. For one, it's huge: An ungodly amount of colored plastic is knotted, piled into hanging bundles, distressed and suspended, and otherwise hoarded into a foreboding fa├žade that appears to hide some dark, chthonic force inside. Ceiling-mounted desktop fans rotate in half circles and gently move the plastic, as if branches ruffled by the sleeping breath of some extremely large monster. A light fades in and out, intermittently illuminating the interior of the plastic environment and amplifying a sense of potential threat. Winding through the hanging sheets, which is like trying to wind in an out of a small compact thicket of Spanish moss-lined oaks, you arrive at the piece's interior heart, where the installation subtly morphs into an environmental space. Viewed from inside, the moving colored plastic feels less cave-like than improvisational rococo fabric treatment, as if decorated by an itinerant New Orleans bordello madame. A sofa sits against a wall and is lined with flowers. The fan stirs the hanging plastic with a casual nonchalance, as if a cool breeze were coming through an open window lined with a tulle curtain. And the fading in and out light gives this slightly domesticated pocket an invitingly seedy undercurrent, as if you've come to a place to enjoy something you know you shouldn't.

"Within" also succinctly captures the best and worst aspects of Off the Wall. As curated by Whole collective member Emily C-D (an occasional City Paper contributing illustrator), the 20 artists here created works that took the title at its word: C-D's submission call went out "looking for art that does not live on the wall, but grows from the floor and drips from the ceiling." And everything does just that, from Jeanne-Marie Burdette and Ellen Nielsen's floor-installed, plant forms, which felt like some exotic species of ancient ferns, to Gina Denton's "Fsitula," a fabric sculptural form that sits on the floor with a tail--neck? pseudopod? other?--that extends off the floor up to the ceiling, to the aerial performance piece that Elisa Urtiaga delivered at the opening, suspending herself from the ceiling. Everything here is a curveball of ideas, directing the eyes up and down to take in.

Many, though certainly not all, of the works here have a bit of scavenging involved, creatively repurposing materials. Liz Ensz and Matt Gemmell made a pair of parachuting roller skates. Two white skates appear to be floating toward the ground, and they're each attached to the dome of a chute--each a patchwork of what looks like the beige, suede-like roller skates you rent at the roller rink. Kaitlin Murphy's hanging staff of a sculpture appears to use a series of articulating umbrella structure to a vertically stacked group of wings that extend when a cord is pulled. And Edward Knapp's sculpture turns a kitchen sink of miscellaneous objects--antlers, animal skulls, costume jewelry, blinking lights--to create a totem-pole like roadside attraction.

The most impressive repurposing comes from Jill Greenberg, whose "The Fountainhead" is an impressive, visually strikingly, clear plastic sculpture suspended in the air. Made entirely out of plastic food and cosmetics packaging--such as the rectangular forms in which lipstick might be housed at the drug store or six-by-six cupped rows in which some eggs are packaged--"The Fountainhead" is a large, architectural piece, looking a bit like a floating chandelier city of the future or a shiny headdress/helmet from some ancient armor system. And its translucence lends it an ineffable mood. Ornately pieced together and intricately arranged--Greenberg forms curves and draped extensions out of these rectangular plastic shapes--the piece looks like it should be more dense and physically resolute, yet because you can see right through it you experience it more as an imposing ghost.

Liz Zacharia's hanging, interactive white and black globes are playful in a different way. They look like ordinary hanging lamps, but they don't emit anything. In fact, you wear them over the head like a mask: inside the black one, tiny pinpricks of holes in the surface turn the object into your own personal planetarium, while inside the white one, which is lined with a reflective surface, becomes like standing inside a disco ball--and it is probably a world of interactive fun after an entire bottle of wine.

That whimsical spirit becomes the show's dominating theme, which is both a blessing and a curse. A sense of fun in a gallery is never a bad thing--see Jen Kirby's string installation running between a pair of walls, which practically begs for you to stand against the wall beneath one side and be surrounded by strings--but it become a tad distracting with this density of glee. When everything is unorthodox--see Melissa Webb's impressively ambitious four-story rooftop installation, "The Temporary Nature of Ideas," which premiered at Transmodern Festival and incorporated performers, props, and lights and works better at night--the overall effect mutes the works' creative individuality, leaving only the impish impression. And it's an impression that you can't escape: When the work leaves the wall in favor of the floor and the ceiling, it radically reorganizes the gallery experience, the most interesting byproduct of the show. Off the Wall has transformed the Whole Gallery form the usual white-wall exhibition space into a helter-skelter jungle gym to be navigated, a maze of artworks that doesn't so much invade personal space as make you feel like you're invading its quirky turf.