Wednesday, June 22, 2005

POOCS and Boston Artists

Saltworks Gallery, Atlanta
Curated by: Isolde Brielmaier
JUNE 11 - JULY 23, 2005
Jackson Fine Art, Atlanta
"Selected Works"
MAY 6 - JUNE 25TH, 2005

Do you remember the first time you saw one of your teachers outside of the school setting? I remember encountering Mrs. Herd, my third grade teacher, wearing pink sweat pants and buying fruit at the super-market. She said hello to me. I freaked out and ran away. Since then, I have acquired a taste for the nauseous Person Out Of Context Syndrome (POOCS) that accompanies re-assessing anything that I have become accustom to. The other day bumped into this guy in the mall and we both stood there for a moment, looking at each other, trying to figure out how we knew each other. Before I figured out that we rode the same bus to work, I blurted out that I loved the interaction and feeling of POOCS that I was sharing with him. He freaked out and quickly walked away.

Undaunted, I still seek out the feeling of POOCS. I've found one of my favorite feelings of POOCS is when I see a Boston based artist being shown in another town. I seem to see Boston based artists extremely frequently when I travel and it causes a strange simultaneous connection and disconnection between me and both the artist and their work. I suddenly have an overly excited desire to tell the person sitting in the gallery that I have seen the artists' work before and that I have even seen them at a few openings. At the same time, I begin to look at the work differently and in way that I could not have experienced in a Boston venue. The work has the ability to take on a new meaning when removed from the comfortable context that I am accustom to.

I recently traveled to Atlanta where I saw Lalla Essaydi at Saltworks Gallery. Essaydi has had a number of shows over the past year including shows at Schneider Gallery in Chicago, Laurence Miller in New York, Howard Yezerski in Boston, and her work is currently on display in the DeCorvoda Annual. It makes sense that Essaydi's work is being shown so much and in so many places, because the work is extremely complex and multi-layered,while at the same time, Essaydi has created pieces where the complexity is not alienating and each piece has many modes of entry. Essaydi's work delves deeply into issues such as Orientalism, gender boundaries, Islamic traditions, and many, many more contemporary social issues that I really only pretend to understand. However, at Saltworks in Atlanta, I was able to clearly see how Essaydi has provided deliberate modes of entry to her work which allow me as a viewer to learn about and grapple with larger and more complex social issues on a personal and relatable level.

At the majority of her shows, Essaydi has shown large photographic prints hanging on the walls of the gallery which I and other viewers would stand quite far back from, literally and figuratively. I had become used to the intellectual and academic discussion that surrounds Essaydi's work at most northern venues that inevitably revolves around a re-enforcement of my own notion of how open minded my friends and I are. However, at Saltworks, Essaydi created a maze of hanging photographs printed on silk that lead to video projection with her voice reading a narrative that begins, “I am writing …”. The viewer is drawn through the space and hanging images to see the video, like memories slowly coming into focus or fleeting concepts that can only be organized and understood with time. After watching the video and with a new understanding of the work, the viewer has to walk back through the images with a new and challenged point of view. While I was standing and looking at the work, I over heard two women with heavy southern accents enter the installation and one said, “Well, it's just good to see any work about the Middle East being shown in Atlanta.” When they emerged a few minutes later, one of them was saying, “Can you believe the struggle that woman has gone through?” Essaydi was able to take people who had a specific point of view about “The Middle East” and show them a personal and relatable point of view. In a matter of minutes, the negotiations between East and West, men and women, and all of these other complex issues were given a new face and new perspective that was not theoretical, it was personal and tangible. Only by traveling to Atlanta and seeing the transformative power of Essaydi's art could I have witnessed this capability of the work, and I was transformed because of it as well.


After seeing Essaydi's work , I drove down “Peachtree Road” in Atlanta to see Abelardo Morell at Jackson Fine Art, far away from Bernard Toale Gallery where I had become used to seeing his work. I have always appreciated the opportunity to see Morell's work in Boston or in New York if I was able to make the trip. I also distinctly remember in 2003 when Morell and fellow photographer Laura McPhee were asked by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to give a lecture on 17th century painting. It may not appear logical for two contemporary photographers to lecture on dead painters, but there are many reasons why it makes perfect sense. Primarily, there is a strong visual link between Morell's work and Dutch still life painting, but more importantly, there is a strong philosophical link. 17th century still life painters painted whatever was in front of them in their daily lives, like the aftermath of a meal or a pile of books, and allowed the viewer the opportunity to look much more deeply at the scene in front of them. By taking the visuals of daily life out of context, they gain a new meaning. Similarly, Morell's still life photographs ask me to closely examine the poetry of my everyday life and to try to find meaning with just what is in front of me. Suddenly, my dirty dishes can have meaning in my life if I just view them differently (although my fiancé says that is not an excuse to leave dishes dirty no matter how much they look like a 17th century painting).

So, Morell's photographs are more than pictures of books or dollar bills. They are a recording of Morell's philosophy of seeing the world. When Morell looks at a book, he does not just see the images in the book, he sees the whole book. This includes the light that is falling on the book, the way the pages reflect off of one another, the way the ink is laid on the page, the way the pages bend, and a thousand other details that I over look when I see the world around me. Morell's work points out that I actually take most of my interactions with the world around me for granted. In my endless pursuit of seeing something new, I never really see anything.

When I walked into Jackson Fine Art in Atlanta, I noticed that feeling of Person Out Of Context Syndrome again. I had become so used to seeing Morell's work in Bernard Toale Gallery, that I had ironically stopped really looking a his work. For the first time in a long time, when I saw Morell's work in Jackson Fine Art, I really saw the work. I saw the lighting falling on his print of light falling on a book. I noticed the surface of his print of the surface of an image. I paused and spent time with his picture of an hourglass where I could see each grain of sand falling, and yet frozen in time.

Abelardo Morell's work makes me more aware of the world around me every time I see it and I re-examine those things in my life that I have begun to overlook. Suddenly the computer I am looking at right now has a new meaning to me as I notice the light falling on the keyboard and my hands. It is no longer simply a tool I use everyday, it represents and interaction in my life that has meaning and value. Morell has taught me the ability to re-examine part of my life in a new way has nothing to do with seeing something in a new context, it is about putting my mind out of context and then everything in my life gains a new meaning. Morell's work effects me not just while I'm looking at the work, it transforms the way I interact with the world in a positive way and it enriches my life on multiple levels.

I highly recommend seeing as many Boston based-artists as you can, both in town and while you are traveling. I hope that seeing work like Essaydi's and Morell's out of the context you have become accustom to, will shed light on some more of the complexities of the work. I also hope that you begin to relish the feeling of POOCS when you see both of their works and other Boston based artists out of context and don't run away. Stay and really look, not just at the work, but at value of everything little thing in your life.

Pieta by El Greco
30 x 40 inch
Gelatin Silver Print
Edition of 15
Abelardo Morell's “A Book of Books” on the author's notebook.

HEDA, Willem Claesz
(b. 1594, Haarlem, d. 1680, Haarlem)
Breakfast Table with Blackberry Pie
Oil on wood, 54 x 82 cm
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden
(active in the 1620s in Leiden)
Still-Life with Books
c. 1628
Oil on wood
61.3 x 97.4 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Book with Wavy Pages
30 x 40 inch
Gelatin Silver Print
The author reflected in Morell's “Book with Wavy Pages” at Jackson Fine Art.

Currently on view in the Boston area
DeCordova Museum, Lincoln, MA
"2005 DeCordova Annual Exhibition"
April 30 -July 31, 2005

Recently past show in Boston
Abelardo Morell @
Bernard Toale Gallery, Boston
New Photographs
March 29-April 30, 2005


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