SOEX’s Alchemy Show
April 28, 2010

I meant to post about Southern Exposure‘s show earlier, but alas, I had to jet out of town and wasn’t able to get this done prior to its closing.  This show is the second I have seen at SOEX’s new space, the first show I hadn’t noticed my biggest pet peeve about the space:  too sunny.  That’s right, the light is too nice in this space, any work on the walls that are framed with glass have such extreme reflections that it is hard to view the work.  Aside from this flaw, the space is really nice.  My suggestion is window coverings or investing in anti-glare glass for framed work, maybe my advice will be heeded…

The show that just closed on April 24th was titled Alchemy, and my viewing partner and I had a long conversation about whether or not the show worked as a whole.  In a nutshell he said yes, I said no.  I find it too easy to slap the word alchemy on a show in which nothing really works together, it was far too disjointed. That being said, the highlight of the show was a piece titled Grizzly Peak at Summit, 2008, by John Chiara.

Grizzly Peak at Summit, 2008, John Chiara

Chiara uses a customized camera obscura that he built in a flatbed trailer in order to create his large-scale cibachrome prints.  The process reminds me a little of the way Jo Babcock works, who has converted everything from a mint tin to a VW bus into pinhole cameras.  The results the two photographers get are very different, however.  Chiara’s cibachromes have a nostalgic feel for me, this is completely a personal response to the landscapes that were on display at SOEX.  They remind me of the mural-sized wallpaper of a forest in the kitchen of the first house I grew up in, wallpaper that has contributed to my own execution of photography.  There is a second layer of reminiscing involved here, which is the cibachrome paper itself, as it brings me to a place of old photo albums…  and the edges of the paper, torn and unpredictable, as if once thrown away.

The Seven Wanderers, 2009, Christopher Sicat

The most peaceful aspect of the show was Christopher Sicat‘s The Seven Wanderers, 2009.  At first I thought these were cast pieces, but the small grouping is composed of actual Redwood treetops that are coated in graphite.  This piece and Chiara’s were the only two elements in the exhibit that made sense thematically.  Having placed them under the skylight was brilliant, as the trees gave a sense they were growing and the light really highlighted the sheen that the graphite created.

Lastly, I wanted to mention the back space of the gallery.  I am not sure if SOEX considers this a second gallery space or what, but the way it was set up for this show made it hard to separate it from the other works previously mentioned.  The first time I visited SOEX’s new space this area was made into a second room for viewing a video piece.  This time the only thing distinguishing it as its own room was the color of the wall, a neutral gray.  Viewing partner and I were perplexed for quite a long time before we came to the understanding that it was a second exhibit.  This second exhibit was an installation by Alison Pebworth titled America, Beautiful Possibility, 2007.  More information can be found here on the show, as there are events, publications and a public art project involved with the installation.  I found the paintings and the clothing to be rendered and sewn superbly, and there is a wonderful essay in the exhibition catalog written by the beautiful Rebecca Solnit to accompany.

America, Beautiful Possibility, 2007, Alison Pebworth