Josh Louchheim at Shade Gallery (May 2015)

Anyone with knowledge of Phoenix’s art history may look at Josh Louchheim’s work and call him a Philip C Curtis imitator, and they might mean this negatively.  But, Louchheim is not an imitator, he was deeply influenced by the man he knew personally as a family friend, a man who founded the Phoenix Art Museum and has an entire room there devoted to his work.  Josh admired Philip as a young boy and was drawn to his awkward sense of perspective and Surrealist southwestern landscapes, with elongated figures in strange but familiar spaces.  Louchheim has continued the legacy of Curtis, and in many ways modernized it.

Josh Louchheim “Old Timer and a Penny – Farthing” 2012

Because this was the artist’s first major solo exhibition, it was fitting that some of his older paintings were included, which proved as examples of his growth and the development of his style from one of imitation to a personal voice.  We see direct influence in style and subject matter in paintings such as “Old Timer and a Penny-Farthing”, in which Louchheim’s stretched Victorian figure rides an early 20th century bicycle through a desert wilderness.  He expresses the oddness of the desert city of Phoenix with paintings such as “Desert Oasis II” with a single swimming pool set in a scant desert scene–a modern oasis in the tortuous, primitive climate.

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Josh Louchheim “The Great Separation” 2015

 

 

More recently, Louchheim has developed his style into a modern voice of a young man living in a world filled with angst and uncertainty.  He employs more vintage Surrealist techniques and oddities with a much darker palette, seen in paintings such as “Primordial Woman” and “The Great Separation.”  He adds a post-apocalyptic feel to the work that intensifies the anxiety of the figures, and the outlook he expresses about the current state of humanity.  Not without irony, the exhibition was titled “From the Outside Looking In.”  Not a truer statement could be made about this show.  Moving through the space felt like watching the artist grow, as many do, from an apprentice to a sole craftsman, and we look forward to his continued evolution.

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Josh Louchheim “Desert Oasis II” 2014

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Josh Louchheim “Primordial Woman” 2014

**All images courtesy of the artist.

Cherie Buck-Hutchison at eyelounge

DSC06625No art exhibition is perfect, but Ms. Buck-Hutchinson’s feminist revision of the biblical story of the Lot’s wife, Adit, is as close as one may come for many years. Adit’s Ode: A modest revolt is more than an art exhibition; it is an immersive, multi-sensory experience employing interdisciplinary techniques and a vast resource of media and themes that lead each visitor through an exploration of their own values and belief systems. The entirety of the show is constructed as a poem—including a poetic projection broken into three acts, such as is traditional in an ode, that correspond with the three sections of the installation.

The first room, Act I, is a vineyard of hanging IV bags with vegetation of various nutritional strains (strawberries, sweet potatoes, squash, green beans, etc.) growing from within.  The artist introduces the first of many “prayer balls,” salt crusted spheres with medical syringes protruding resembling medieval flails.  Adit announces her arrival in modern times in an audio/video projection cast through the vines of plastic.  Escalating into Act II, we are confronted with hanging wall vessels crusted with salt, a young ram’s head filled with wheat grass accompanied by an IV drip.  Prominently displayed is a dismembered arm, again caked with salt, from whose hollow center protrudes a flutter of pink chiffon.  Adit’s ode turns to her fatal moment as she is changed and broken.  Stepping into Act III, the poem reaches its climax and Adit describes her leaving the worldly realm.  A bright white x-ray light blasts clarity to the small room and we are surrounded by the left over syringes extending from its, and nearly every surface.

DSC06624Adit’s Ode is a visual and literal poetic revision of a classic tale from religious mythology.  Feminists often employ revisionist methods to protagonize subdued female figures.  Buck-Hutchison’s work clearly reframes Adit as a tragic figure, oppressed by the male dominated culture of Old Testament tradition; demonized as the polar sinner to the male hero much like that of Eve to Adam.  The artist’s feminist approach to the religious subject is undoubtedly influenced by her rebellion against her own patriarchal religious upbringing.  She confronts the misogyny of biblical mythology head-on and poses the critical question, “What if?”

In the Bible Adit is only referred to as Lot’s wife, and she is only mentioned two times—once when she is turned into a pillar of salt, and later by Jesus.  A combination of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic texts provide her name and a fuller written history of Adit.  The inhabitants of Sodom were known to be inhospitable to visitors.  Lot had spent time with Abraham who influenced him greatly, especially with his generosity.  When two travelers came to Lot’s home he invited them to stay and offered them food, which bothered his wife greatly.  When he asked her to retrieve salt for the guests she went door to door asking for salt and telling her neighbors about the visitors.  Later in the evening a lynch mob came to Lot’s home and demanded he turn over the two travelers.  Unknown to Lot the two men were angels sent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and they warned him to leave the city and save his family, but they insisted none of them were to look back.  Lot, Adit and their two youngest daughters fled, but outside of the city Adit turned around to look back upon her home and she was turned to a pillar of salt.  The salt represented the nature of her sin and became her demise as she viewed the wrath brought upon the twin cities.  Some texts state that was her punishment for seeing God himself.

In Buck-Hutchison’s research she found that the ancient Hebrew word for “salt” is very close to the word “angel,” which is problematic in its translation.  The artist offers a scenario where Adit’s poor health caused a heart-attack during a time of great stress causing her to fall towards the city and disobey the warning not in unfaithfulness but accidental fashion.  The transformation creates a new reading of the context in which the artist offers that Adit became an angel and now visits the 21st century, critiquing current socio-economic situations relating to food and medical treatment for the poor.  The contents of the exhibition could lead to an entire dissertation on religious mythology, gender issues, history/herstory, and modern social issues related to poverty and health.  The story Buck-Hutchison unveils is only the means to open the discourse.  She hits on so many topics that any single visitor can take away at least one eye-opening aspect, which makes this such a successful endeavor.

– by Justin Germain

Adit’s Ode: A Modest Revolt

Part One

I have moved through to now, to you.

The salt of a former marriage still clings

like halos around my ears. I am not the woman you

thought you knew. A form tossed up from the sea, distinct,

there are many. Did you beseech my sisters

as to where I dared to evaporate like angels?

I am Adit, Eldith, Lot’s wife, mother

woman, healer, daughter, ageless.

I have plaited roots, incensed over balsam.

What remains unknown when arms stretch through golden sundials?

Part Two

I know loss. My other daughters’ younger

faces still frequent my closed eyes. I paced the shade under our

pomegranate trees where we snapped summers

gone, mulled raisin wine, milling hours

into love. But the angel wrenched my arm

until I am a fig tree shimmying

caught between two needs. My eagle heart

is caged, talons splintering my chest as I implore

my people: My herbs! On the table – my Hawthorne berries!

I sacrifice money to the slick mud as I reach

squalling for help –for I taste my heart and see the blue in my buckling knees.

Part Three

I recall nothing more. The basalt

heaved by wind fuels a fire. I lasted

an hour. Now I anoint seeds on altars.

for what has fasting brought to pass?

I ask, who has salted these fields?

In what minute is a decision consummate?

Varied are the branches you have for yield.

Do not worry of me. Wind does not abate.

My eyes are gusts, my bones flux.

I have long left my crystalline matrix.

– Cherie Buck-Hutchison    2014

Lauren Strohacker at Hot Box

Strohaker 2nd domesticationBrightly painted jagged shapes on wooden panels of various sizes hung at random intervals and heights on the three walls of the gallery.  Some monotone with little detail other than the shape itself, some with multiple colors suggesting depth or texture.  One might initially say, “Oh feathers!” or even, “Oh leaves!” as identifiers.  In the center towards the rear of the space a single image placed on a pedestal at waist height to be viewed from above—a seemingly dead bird held by a latex-gloved hand.  Insight assumes that the shapes on the walls are definitely feathers.

The bird in the photograph, titled Second Domestication, is a rosy-faced lovebird “killed on impact by the invisible barrier.”  This victim of the evil magic that is the man-made window was part of a feral population of the species that spawned from domesticated escapees in the 1980s and made Phoenix its home.  Artist Lauren Strohaker studied the factors that allowed the species to flourish in the valley, mostly due to the artificial paradise created similarly to their native home in Southwestern Africa.

Strohacker defines the foundation of her artistic explorations as her realization that contemporary human interactions with animals are for the most part manufactured.  Suburban life produces artificial interactions in media or regulated experiences with living creatures.  As a Phoenician, she could not help but notice the development of land destabilizing the natural world in the name of human comfort and progress.

Using a spectrophotometer, Strohaker converted the hues of the rosy-faced lovebird feathers to interior house paint colors, which were applied to the cut shapes resembling the feathers themselves.  The final product is her take on reimagined domestic décor, a longer-lasting, and easier to control, rendition of the exotic pets themselves.  The work makes broad statements about the treatment of wild animals as commercial products, and the unforeseen effects on the animals when they are introduced to new surroundings and human encroachment.  Strohaker’s work also touches on the suburban need to fill homes with luxurious treasures from the far reaches, capitalized on by chain stores such as Target or Cost-Plus offering mass-produced exotic merchandise.

The body of work is strong in relation to the concept, although some of the cutout shapes are a bit rough and could use some finish.  If they are meant to resemble high end massed produced decorative works then a fine attention to detail would increase their sophistication in the suggested showroom.  Round-sanded edges and a high-gloss resin finish would make these pieces a hot item and cause a bourgeois wrestling match at Pier 1 Imports on Black Friday.  A few of the green monochrome shapes are very similar hues and they are hung in a row, which made them seem more like leaves than feathers.  More detail in these works along with separating them in the installation would have made them stand out for visual merchandising. The artist’s social statements are more important than the actual sales of the object in the commercial capacity, and they are bold if nothing else.

Strohaker

Peter Brian Klein at Drive-Thru Gallery

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Drive-Thru Gallery – a unique space resembling a carwash or storage unit just south of Roosevelt St in between 5th and 6th streets in downtown Phoenix, AZ

 

It is often stated that photography is an art of capture, not creation, which leads some to disregard it as a fine art altogether.  Peter Brian Klein’s latest exhibition Abstractions in Design proves that capturing images of the world around us can definitely create great artwork.  The show features 12 monochromatic architectural images inkjet-printed directly on brushed aluminum.

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Peter Brian Klein “Denver Art Museum” – Inkjet Print on Brushed Aluminum – 32 in x 21 in

These images are not your typical architectural photographs.  Klein pays primary attention to geometric patterns and iconic features of unique buildings, such as The Arizona Science Center in Phoenix, The Denver Art Museum, the United Steelworkers Building in Pittsburg, and Chase Tower in Phoenix.  Klein’s focus on specific details and patterns, along with the monochromatic print quality, creates abstract geometric images that rival modern abstractionists.  He removes the whole of the architecture and allows one to lose their sense of place in the geometry.  Klein then grounds the images in reality with organic elements, such as trees jutting into the frame, maintaining a balance of industry and nature.

Klein’s unique perspectives of the urban environment activate the viewer by allowing them to admire the aesthetic of both the image and his subjects.  He asks the viewer to participate in examining the imagery and recognizing the intimate detail of architectural forms.  As a result the images awaken a connectedness to elements in our surroundings, even the buildings that many ignore daily.

 

 

Drive-Thru Gallery Klein

Everything After: New Art from Cindy Schnackel and Jared Aubel at R. Pela Contemporary Art

Upon entering R. Pela Contemporary Art in March one might get a sense of what it was like to walk into an exhibition in Europe or New York in the early 20th century and find work by Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dali, or Man Ray.  In Everything After both artists recall the highbrow/lowbrow aspects of Dada, Surrealism, even Pop and refresh them with their unique blend of whimsy and social critique.

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Cindy Schnackel “The Little Girl Who Loved Horses”

Schnackel defines her body of work as “Humorous Surrealism” in which she allows real life to seep into her creations and develops what entertains her.  She wants the viewer to know that there is nothing to “get” and it should be enjoyed for its absurdity.  The work on display at Pela is poignant in that it breaks away from the idea of a statement and allows some fun to come into play.  For the show she created a whole series of mashups, classic art prints she found at thrift stores embedded with her quirky creatures.  The works are reminiscent of Duchamp’s “L.O.O.H.Q,” in which he penciled a mustache on a print of the Mona Lisa.  But, Schnackel goes further, she seamlessly inserts her otherworldy beings into the masterpieces and if you didn’t know better you would think they were there all along.

Aubel’s hyper-realistic, technicolor portraits of iconic figures are a blast to the senses.  He creates

Jared Aubel "Audrey Hepburn Marge Simpson"

Jared Aubel “Audrey Hepburn Marge Simpson”

visual disbelief with his skillful mix of style and technique, to him nothing is off limits, and his sense of humor is spot on.  His “in your face art” is jarring yes, but so pleasantly that one cannot help but chuckle even when a poor Twinkie man is crucified.  In addition to mashup paintings like “Audrey Hepburn Marge Simpson” Aubel also presents a number of “Love Grenades”, three dimensional, colorful hand grenades that reflect the duality of good and evil.

The combination of the artists is masterful because they each re-imagine the original ideals of Dada and Surrealism and present them in a contemporary voice that makes sense.  They play with the ideas of absurdity, iconography, and do not hesitate to challenge the traditional notions of what art is, or is not.

Images courtesy of Pela Contemporary; copyright of the artist

Feminism Today at Shade Gallery (The monOrchid)

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Feminism Today at Shade Gallery (The monOrchid)

The announcement of an art exhibition focused on feminism these days may lead to an array of gasps and conjure mental images of militant, man-hating women.  But that is exactly why it is relevant, if not necessary—to change the perception of what feminism is today.  I myself was skeptical, wondering if I would experience a show about feminism or one simply including all female artists.  Nicole Royse, curator for Shade Projects in downtown Phoenix, had a spot open up in her exhibition schedule, last minute I am told, and she immediately went to work organizing the show focused on what feminism means in our current social landscape for March, women’s history month.  Impressively Ms. Royse selected 13 local artists, all female, whose body of work was feminist in nature or who she knew would create powerful expressions for the show.

The artists featured—Kristin Bauer, Christine Cassano, Cherie Buck Hutchinson, Mimi Jardine, Melissa Martinez, Monica Aissa Martinez, Constance McBride, Lara Plecas, Irma Sanchez, Mary Shindell, Beth Ames Swartz, Marilyn Szabo and Denise Yaghmourian—do not all necessarily identify as feminists, but as females they each step into that role every day and provide unique views on the women’s issues still prevalent in our society.  As such, each has their own definition of feminism and how it relates to them personally, which produced a diverse, thought-provoking exhibition that brings to light issues that are still too often ignored.

One of the reasons feminism is ignored is because its meaning is diluted and misunderstood by the younger generations.  This is evident in the Tumblr page “Women Against Feminism” that claims feminism casts women as victims and men as predators.  Pop stars are not helping the cause, such as singer/songwriter Lana Del Ray who calls herself a feminist as an excuse for her questionable behavior.   But almost daily there are news stories about salary inequality, access to birth control, and the pro-life/pro-choice debate that prove gender equality is still a relevant issue.  These are the issues feminism is concerned with and defined by according to the Feminist Majority Foundation, an organization that stresses equality, empowerment, and civil rights for women, as well as the LGBT community, and all groups that experience discrimination.

Some of the artists in Feminism Today relate to the second wave of feminism, which was closely tied to the civil rights movement in the 60s, but most of them identify with the current third wave, which is more global and seeking balance in areas ranging from religion to the sex-traffic market; healthcare to women’s portrayal in the media.  As a whole, the exhibition serves as a resounding, “Yes!” to the question, “Is feminism relevant today?”  I typically would not discuss every artist in a group exhibition this large, but in the spirit of inclusiveness I feel it is important to mention each of them and recognize their contribution to the discourse.

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Beth Ames Swartz

Beth Ames Swartz is a committed feminist since 1963 and has periodically implemented feminist ideals into her work, which mainly focuses on wisdom systems, compassion, and the sacredness of all life.  Her two works “Return of the Chalice #2” (1988) and “The Wounded Healer, Healing Our Sacred Wounds #3” (1992) speak to feminine (or non-masculine) energy as a protector, but also as a deterrent of violence.  Cherie Buck-Hutchison’s digitally manipulated, layered photographs explore public and private traditions that lack equality in decision making roles within practices in a society proud of its forward thinking.  Constance McBride’s ceramics portray her own personal experience with aging and its effects on the female body—not just the physical but the emotional effects brought on by societal obsession with youth, especially pertaining to women and the definition of beauty.  Her bravery in exploring such a personal topic is testament to the strength of an active, engaging female artist.

Irma Sanchez is typically known for her political art and feminism plays just a fraction of the whole of her body of work, in which she often refers to her place as a Latina in Arizona.  Well-versed in women’s issues she chose to contribute a work focused on the balance of the roles in the family, and how they are defined by gender.  Monica Aissa Martinez also identifies that her work naturally reflects her gender and heritage as a Latina, and like Sanchez who focuses on the female role in the family, Martinez includes the masculine with the feminine, in order to create balance.  For many years she has been developing her anatomical mapping system in her work, seen here in “Anatomy of Support Structures” (2015).  The painting masterfully uses polarities to balance the work along with the interaction of the roles women and men play in our world.  The balance between the male and female figures, a self-portrait with her spouse, displays support and mutual love in her own family while exposing the lack of such in our imbalanced society.

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Marilyn Szabo

Lara Plecas identifies herself as a strong, independent feminist, that’s how she was raised.  What that means to her is that she is equal and just as free as any man, including her husband.  “Our Journey I & II” (2015) are photo-encaustics using images taken while she and her husband were horseback riding together on their honeymoon enjoying the view and exploring together.  The images are a metaphor for the commitment they made to each other and represent the equality in their marriage, right down to the agreement that they each contribute 50/50 to all of their financial needs.  Marilyn Szabo’s three photographs of opera singer Maria Callas also speak to financial issues in feminism, specifically the challenges of a woman trying to get ahead in the entertainment industry during a lifetime that included struggles with her body image and the decline of her voice as she aged.

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Christine Cassano and Monica Aissa Martinez (photograph courtesy of Cassano)

Christine Cassano’s installation works speak to femininity and strength in the face of great physical pain as well as the use of her own body to create the elements of her artwork.  “Manumission” (2015) is a 9 foot high hanging installation made up of 200+ pieces of porcelain and small mirrors.  She formed the porcelain by shackling clay to her body very tightly with twine and releasing them.  The title of the work is defined as a formal emancipation from slavery, calling attention to the literal release of the porcelain from its constriction to her body as well as that of women from the grasp of a male dominated society.  Another of Cassano’s works, “Get Into Your Own Skin” (2015) is made of more porcelain pieces resembling abstract vertebrae or bone-like structures connected to a fishing net hung like a women’s fashion display.  Cassano’s use of porcelain is interesting as she refers to its use in dolls but also its fragile appearance and incredible durability.  Similarly, Mary Shindell’s intricate drawings of natural desert forms speak to the delicateness of the forms and the act of drawing, polarized by the strengths of nature’s ability to defy extremes.  Nature inspired Melissa Martinez’ work for the show as well.  Her drawing “The Snake, The Datura, and The Sphinx Moth” (2015) portrays the family unit as the masculine viper and feminine flower, both toxic in nature, feeding the child, a sphinx moth often associated with rebirth.  The simplicity of the image gives to a complex idea of gender roles in families and the mixture of them having the potential for both harm or good.

Like Shindell and Martinez, Mimi Jardine is also very concerned with the natural world and calling attention to the environment in her work.  Her latest project, The Office of Environmental Responsibility, proved an interesting collaboration for this exhibition about feminism as she claims she is “ a conceptual artist afflicted with a preoccupation with the existence of litter” and a card carrying member of the National Organization for Women.  The work, titled “The Litter Genderization Project” (2015) relates to the rejection of feminism by today’s youth based on semantics, not the root of the movement—gender equality.  Jardine’s work is interactive, it allows the visitor to select from a number of found objects (litter) lied on a table and asks them to assign it a gender by disposing of it in the assigned “male” or “female” waste basket.  She also provides a survey asking why they assigned the gender to that particular object.  Jardine’s hope is that the interaction will illuminate our need as individuals to categorize, and the flaws that come with that need.

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Denise Yaghmourian

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Kristin Bauer and Mary Shindell

Denise Yaghmourian is drawn to pattern and the connection between all things.  Her work “Imperfectly Perfect” is evidence of her preference for repetition.  It consists of hundreds of defective embroidered American flag patches attached to wood panels measuring in total 36 by 120 inches.  She views the imperfections as representations of the unique differences in us all as individuals.  The symbolism of the flag is a metaphor for the repeated ideals of American equality and freedom for all.  Kristin Bauer’s “Full Circle” (2015) also uses repetition as a key initiator in a dialogue on feminism.  It is a work of process art where the actual creation is as important as the final product.  Sixty-eight pieces of rectangular paper push-pinned to the wall in a perfect mandala, with the words “ONWARD” and “UPWARD” repeating back and forth in an infinite circle.  It represents the daily mantra, or affirmation, of women dedicated to growth and change, but still experiencing the effects of inequality.

A puzzling aspect of the show is that although not officially included, Christopher “Boats” O’Shana’s photograph “The Belt of Venus, Chapter 1” hung adjacently, near the east entrance of the space.  The image depicts a male prostitute (played by local artist Daniel Funkhouser) leaving a dingy hotel towards a Cadillac driving pimp, with a disgruntled john chasing behind.  Many of the artists included in Feminism Today agreed that there is definitely room for male voices in feminism, because it is about gender equality.  Some of them were unaware of the proximity of the photograph, some ignored it, but a few were adamantly opposed to its presence in the space.  It caused me to consider local male artists who could have been included; Daniel Funkhouser would have been a perfect fit based on his work challenging gender roles.

As I introduced earlier, I was concerned that the show was simply going to be female artists, which would not have been a bad thing, it could be considered feminist in that regard too, but thankfully all of the work did explore the roles of women and gender in our society.  Even more telling was the fact that there are so many artists that could have been included in this show.  I found myself wondering why certain others were not and I had a long list.  Then I realized that is a testament to the great representation and strength of female artists in the Phoenix area, even though many still feel they are underrepresented overall in the art world.  This exhibition is a big win for the city, my thanks to all the women involved.

Bonus – I recently came across a great opportunity for women artists.  Moore College of Art and Design has launched a brand new website for women’s history month MooreWomenArtists.org, an online destination for all women visual artists.  Those who provide content will receive a free contributor’s page where they can promote themselves and their work.

All photographs courtesy of Nicole Royse unless otherwise noted.

Luis Salazar at Modified Arts

In one pass through Luis Salazar’s Fugue in Dark and Light at Modified Arts in Phoenix the initial reaction from any visitor is going to be a sense of repetition, if not redundancy.  The gallery is not an enormous space, but it has multiple spaces within and Salazar’s photographs of whispy nude women dancing surrounded by darkness cover nearly every inch of the gallery.  At first glance the images all look very similar, even though he changes up the presentation with some long, thin prints, some tall life-size, and some small framed. A second walkthrough leads to a bit more depth, one notices shifts in the poses of the women and the different sizes and formats stand out more.  In many cases this would not be positive, but in this instance it is the intent.

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Salazar formulated the concept for the series about four years ago while watching numerous dance performances.  The contrast of the spot-lit performers with the surrounding darkness sparked the concept of a fugue, which in music is the compositional technique of introducing a melody or phrase at beginning of a song and then repeatedly imitating it at different pitches, even with different instruments throughout.  In photography terms, he sought to weave a repetitive pattern of light and dark in different aspects throughout an entire space.

A-IMG_9302 8 x 8        3FP in one-8 x8 WORK-4 FP (1)

As for his concept, Salazar achieved his goal and the individual images are hauntingly beautiful.  The challenge is getting the point across to the audience.  To the general viewer the repetition won’t deserve a second look.  Honestly I almost skipped part of the show until I read the artist’s statement.  I had to Google the word “fugue” because I knew it as a psychology term meaning the loss of awareness of one’s identity, but the musical definition made it click so I viewed it again with more understanding.  Each photograph has its own unique nuances and they are created well but again, in one glance they appear too similar.  Although a fugue obviously takes time to resonate, it likely comes much easier to the recipient in music, whereas it is more difficult visually when many will only make one pass.  More challenging is the fact that the whole exhibition is essentially one piece, purchasing one of the prints is like downloading a fraction of a song from iTunes.

Images courtesy of Modified Arts copyright of the artist