No Dead Artists 2016 at Jonathan Ferrara

Cosmosis: Video by Ben Long and Jack Schoonover

We all live in outer space—the earth is but a minor planet of a lesser star in the depths of the universe. We also live in inner space—everything we experience comes to us through the senses that are part of the neural systems of our body and mind. Artists work with inner and outer space and everything in between. Every year for the last two decades, the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery's No Dead Artists exhibition has featured the work of artists not yet part of the entrenched interests of the global art world to exhibit their own fresh perspectives on the ever-changing world around us. The results have often been striking for their originality and sometimes for their prescience. Now it its 20th iteration, this 2016 edition continues to intrigue with its insightful exploration of a world transformed by technology-induced changes in which everything can seem closer yet elusively distant, more enlightened in some ways yet more violent in other ways, and where the micro and macro perspectives often can seem to overlap as the disruptive forces of globalism and digital communications forever alter the way personal identity and sense of place are defined.

Today cities and towns are paradoxes in which the traditional and the modern assume new guises or meanings as electronic tidal waves of data overwhelm mere mortals through digital devices that turn even the most prosaic words, gestures and activities into electronic artifacts that can live eternal lives in cyberspace, so what was once a world of things becomes a world of abstract patterns. Lithuanian-born Chicago artist Alex Braverman, gave up a high tech career to explore this kaleidoscopic reordering of the way we perceive the built environment through his shimmering geometric cityscape photo-collages based on the striking architecture of Chicago, Vienna and other iconic world cities, images that reflect the dizzying perceptual vortexes in which all of us are increasingly immersed.

At first glance, Nate Burbeck's bucolic oil on canvas views of spacious Minnesota vistas seem to almost suggest a deadpan update of Norman Rockwell's America, a place of modest suburban enclaves and the harmonious relationships between their mild mannered inhabitants and the state's fertile green expanses. But there is a sweetly surreal, almost virtual-reality quality about some abandoned party balloons on a suburban front lawn,  and the stark, graffiti-tagged pillars of an elevated expressway slicing through a verdant green prairie in a world where nature slowly yields to man made abstractions.


Advanced technologies transform the way we live our lives but time and nature always have the last laugh, or so we might infer from Beth Davila Waldman's acrylic and ink jet paintings of urban ruins, places where the dreams of empire of past ages have come to rest and now exist as architectonic relics in societies on the cusp between new capital-intensive digital dreams and crumbling analog realities. Built environments are inevitably rendered transitional and artifactual by changing times, and by the way new concepts shape the daily lives of the people who inhabit them. Jenny Day's landscape paintings reflect a macro approach to the ever-shifting contours of places and spaces “eroded through conceptualization and use.” Incorporating satellite images of Superfund Sites along Western interstate systems, she explores the fragmented spaces of technologically mediated landscapes and the effects of environmental degradation on our sense of place.

Anyone following news reports in 2016 inevitably encounters accounts of mass displacement and forced migrations. But displacement takes many forms, and MaryLou Uttermohlen's photographic documentation of the shantytowns inhabited by those who fell through the cracks of a society ruled by disruptive capital and its concomitant societal fragmentation, presents us with a striking visual narrative of social abandonment. Here homeless encampments in Miami and New Orleans take us to America's own internal refugee camps in a 21st century dystopia of our own making. But of course the most horrific forced mass migrations were caused by the 18th and 19th century African slave trade in numbers that made genocidal 20th century fascists look like amateurs. Crimes against humanity that vast are hard for most of us to even begin to comprehend and it comes as no surprise that they still echo in the form of the structural racism that Ti-Rock Moore endeavors to address in her dramatically confrontational works based on the pop icons of social malaise and grievance, neon embellished nooses and the like.   

But not all displacement is migratory, and the ever-shifting boundaries of what constitutes identity can create zones of unsettled ambiguity in periods when social and cultural change can sometimes seem to occur at warp speed. Christina West's mostly nude sculptural figures, as she puts it, “walk the line between pleasure and distress” in “psychological scenarios about the complexity of being human.” Here the quirks from the recesses of the psyche are sculpturally extrapolated as the virtual narratives of micro-mythology. Of course, those secrets from the dark corners of the soul are rarely revealed under ordinary circumstances because most of us employ a variety of subtle adjustments to buffer potential collisions between what society expects of us and who we really are. For Jason Willaford, that means masks and camouflage tactics that can either mitigate or exaggerate the way we are labeled in a world with little time for complexity. His colorfully dimensional works on paper represent identity as a kind of sculptural Kabuki theater in which personality types are represented as abstractions cobbled together like patchwork quilts, ad hoc concoctions resulting from the mythologies of particular cultures and societies rather than the inner paradoxes or mysteries that our external personae inevitably conceal. 

Clues to the deeply personal inner lives of individuals, or even entire societies or cultural epochs, are often revealed within the privacy of our homes. Sarah Knouse's intriguing and surreal sculptures are based on the notion that even traditional domestic objects like the woven household doily, a decorative item originally created to protect furniture from human messiness, can be “an object of inheritance” that functions as “a second skin, or membrane between these conflicting realms of romanticism and reality” that functions as a keepsake of our shared intergenerational humanity. Similarly, Larry Simons deconstructs discarded domestic furnishings and utilitarian objects that he mines for their clues to who we are and where we come from as a culture, and reassembles them according to the compositional harmonies that their diverse forms suggest, thereby extending the aesthetic purview of Louise Nevelson and other pioneering assemblage artists into a new century. The reduction of physical, mental and cultural information into abstract digitally ordered systems constitutes the essence of the reordering of consciousness taking place in the world today as machine languages increasingly merge with human neurology.

For Korean-born, North Carolina-based Mia Yoon, the inherent poetry of that process can be expressed as colors that assume the form of oversize pixels of tangible, dimensional pigments arranged in compositions that illustrate the synchronicities between mathematical and musical harmonics--in works that suggest musique concrete expressed as prismatic minimal sculpture.

The unsettling existential dilemma posed by the digitalization of everything—a process that imprecisely mimics the atomic-molecular structures of the physical world—can be seen in the difficulties people are having adjusting to a time in which nothing is quite what it seemed in the past when the Newtonian universe of tangibly physical, mechanical relationships appeared to define the world as we knew it. The fluid forms of Christopher Rico's paintings reflect his interest in “the mysterious and unknowable” and his acceptance of the fluidity of the phenomenal world as the basis of wonder, and our capacity to intuitively connect with universal mysteries greater than ourselves.  

The most profound sages of all ages have invariably suggested that the macro and micro realms are one and the same that the universe is a divinely intelligent energy continuum that exists in each of us and that inspires our interpretations of the infinite forms that surround us. That sense of universal energies as the mother of all forms--known in in different cultures by names ranging from the “House of Thunder” to the “Dharmakaya” -- is evoked in Ben Long and Jack Schoonover's rhapsodic video, Cosmosis, top, a kind of micro-macrocosmic space odyssey that evokes a 21st century creation mythos--a lyrical extrapolation of Shiva's dance transposed over the vastness and minutia of the cosmos.

The works by these thirteen artists were selected from over 2500 submissions by 500 artists. This year's jurors were Director of the Perez Art Museum, Miami, Franklin Sirmans, Associate Curator at San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum, Anastasia James, and noted collector Lester Marks. ~Bookhardt / No Dead Artists 2016, Through Sept. 17, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471.