- "Ambulance Accident," by Roe Ethridge, digitally enhanced photograph.
The impatient might want to skip Stutter. Stutter, the quietly revealing show at Shaheen Modern and Contemporary Art, because these works, by four New Yorkers and one Ohioan, don't yield instant MTV gratification.
First glances disclose pale canvases, soundless video of a man waving, a photo of a wreck, and what look like spots on the wall -- nothing to get too excited about, at least not right away. But given time, these works reward visitors willing to pause in the large white-walled gallery and wait politely for their sensibilities and the show to interact.
That's what the exhibit's instigators, Gareth James and Blake Rayne, had in mind. The two New York artists see stuttering as a metaphor for the difficulty people have in expressing ideas -- a difficulty that creates tension until its pent-up force bursts forth. They wish, in the words of gallery co-owner Brett Shaheen, to "destabilize the works' relationship with the viewer." In practical terms, this means they want people to puzzle over the pieces until something understandable emerges.
This is especially true in James's works. He takes chances with paper, working toward "neoconceptualism" by fashioning what he describes as an "amateurish, over-elaborate form of origami." In the past, he's made origami rooms with origami furniture, each piece cut from only one sheet (albeit a large sheet) of paper. For this show, he has two offerings. One, a two-panel paper sculpture titled "Drum/Drill," in which paper frames surround faint sketches of books falling apart, fails to make much of an impression. The flat sketches lack the dimensionality necessary to demonstrate the potential beauty of destruction.
His other piece, however, shows wit both in itself and in its placement. "Siamese Super Collider" is a full-sized white paper crutch mounted alongside a full-sized paper gurney bed with a newspaper clipping about a two-headed Siamese kitten tacked on one end. It engenders thoughts about chance, the uselessness of medical marvels in the face of life's chaos, and reflections on mortality in general. What could be more ephemeral than a paper crutch and a paper gurney?
James's gurney/Siamese conclusion that life can be a messy, ironic business is enhanced by its placement on the wall next to the most accessible and dramatic piece in the show, photographic artist Roe Ethridge's "Ambulance Accident." In essence, the useless paper crutch and gurney are placed next to a useless ambulance. Ethridge captures (and manipulates digitally) a New York City street scene as cars and cabs freeze in a primary-colored dynamic circle around a wrecked ambulance. The viewer looks over the shoulders of gawkers in the foreground. This bright photograph radiates fascinating details, such as the grace of the Lycra-clad female jogger, slim and blond, and looking for all the world like the long-haired women of Botticelli's "La Primavera."
Rayne's two 20-by-24-inch oil paintings resemble sunlight reflected on water. One has faded blue, the other pale yellow tones, each overlaid with thick white brush strokes; both suggest Gerard Manley Hopkins's poem "Pied Beauty" and its homage to the mixture of light in dappled surfaces.
Rayne's installation built for the gallery site is even better. Generated from a photograph of a snowfall, "Snowblind" (black background, white snow) reproduces the magic inherent in natural forms -- even when that pattern/photo is silk-screened, cut into various squares, and pasted on the wall.
Christian Marclay's contributions play off the absence of sound. Two works consist of framed Beatles White Album covers from 1968 -- one embossed with the phrase "I Hear the Clock a'Tickin," the other with "No One Will Be Watching Us." This album generated a lot of heat in its time, its stark white plainness so out of sync with the gaiety of preceding ones. The dark tone of some of the lyrics (Charles Manson's gang liked "Helter Skelter") made people wonder what was happening with the Beatles. The album cover -- plain, blank, and white -- obscures its contents and defies easy decoding, thus satisfying the show's theme of complicated communication.
Marclay also shows an enchanting DVD called "Mixed Reviews," in which a male figure gracefully translates a music review into American Sign Language. Even non-signing viewers will recognize "trombone" and "clarinet." Marclay, an artist known for involvement with music, turns silent here, thus dismantling music's easy accessibility and making it fit with the shaded communications proffered in the show.
Laura Lisbon, the only Ohio artist, attempts a bold gesture: She recycles sheets of parchment-like material that she used to cover up sections of large works as she spray-painted them. So here, the viewer doesn't see her actual works, but the leftovers she might otherwise have thrown away. The results look like flaky white pie crusts that have been singed a bit on the edges. Such a "waste not/want not" attitude is commendable but not necessarily compelling art.
Overall, this is an engaging show that surprises with the complexity of its simplicity.