When two or more artists are shown together under one roof, the pairing is more often a matter of scheduling rather than aesthetic or thematic considerations. However, sometimes artists paired together converge on similar ideas and values, even while pursuing unrelated projects.
SPACES, Cleveland's global venue for conceptual and experimental art, is the site of such a happy coincidence. Davor Sanvincenti's Before the First Light is a photography exhibition aimed at making a private experience communal. Jeff Williams' 9 Week Interval (Al/Bi/C/Ga/Fe/Na) is a meditation on the openness that accompanies our ignorance of the future, by way of contorted industrial materials. The two artists are working in different media and philosophical spaces. Yet each, in his own way, draws attention to the limits of a creator's agency, and the active properties of chosen materials.
The work of Sanvincenti, who is based in Zagreb, Croatia, came to Cleveland via Space's World Artist Program (SWAP). In his pictures, Sanvincenti aims to capture landscapes untouched by human presence in the moments just before dawn. By capturing this time between sleep and waking, the photographer hopes to make a shared experience out of something usually viewed in private, on insomniac nights or during early commutes.
Sanvincenti has shot in his home country as well as France, New York, and green parts of Cleveland. His equipment remains the same wherever he goes: an antique Polaroid camera. Most of the film he uses is long expired. Sanvincenti's vintage commitment stems from a self-described interest in the "anthropology of visual culture." He takes one picture a day, and does not retouch anything. All the effects are in his intention, and whatever quirks the camera adds.
Stationary trees, even whole landscapes blur as if in motion. In one image, thin branches wave their leaves towards the camera. Patches of leaves that should be the same color shift between shades of gray. Another photo is almost entirely black, except for a few points of light. All the images would suggest ghost stories if the viewer didn't know dawn were about to break.
The "nine week interval" of Williams' title refers to the length of time his objects will reside in the gallery. This run-time is important to the artist, because he does not expect his pieces to survive that span. At least, not in their present form.
One untitled work consists of a four-by-eight sheet of steel, rolled into a scroll and squeezed between a clamp. This was no small task; with the help of a gallery worker, Williams spent three hours wrenching the clamp to its current tightness. He expects the competing forces of compression and tension to deform the work over time, though it's impossible to say exactly how. Williams is waiting to see, and wants us to do the same.
A similar experiment is playing out in "Column," wherein two 17-foot-long steel beams have been tilted at an acute angle between the gallery floor and ceiling, and clamped around a wooden pillar. Will they shift and fall? It's nail-biting to contemplate on the first visit. And the pillars do shift; come back, and you see something new every time.
Pursuing their own interests, the artists have managed to broach the same topic, each in his own language. Williams lets tensile pressure and gravity dictate the final form of his works. Sanvincenti trusts the unexpected results of his antique equipment. Both techniques underline the active role a material or a machine's properties play in the process of creativity.
Artists do not so much command their materials as compromise with them. These two have the clarity and courage to admit it.