Thursday, July 09, 2009

Bose Pacia: "After Color"

There is something striking about black and white photography. The lack of hue punctuates the separation from reality. It's a reminder that what is being viewed is a representation. Yet, it allows the viewer to observe qualities that might otherwise be lost, such as the contrast of the deep shadows and the bright lights. There's a level of abstraction that allows the artist to direct perception and emphasize certain details.

After Color is an exhibit at the Bose Pacia gallery which examines the use of monochromatic photography through different styles, subjects, and formats. Although a number of artists were commissioned for the exhibit, the number of work by each was kept minimal. Possibly due to the limitation of space, this nonetheless helped contribute to a tight, focused exhibit that tantalized viewers rather than overwhelm them.

Arthur Ou's oversized trio of photos was the most immediately impactful work. The Untitled (Test Screens) portrayed various beach settings which were obscured, almost violated, by large blotches and splatters which were apparently applied in darkroom. The effect was dramatic, reminding the viewer that what were observing is several layers removed from reality.

Michael Vahrenwald's photos of lightboxes punctuated the idea of light and dark, further emphasized in black and white. In what I'm not sure was deliberate or serendipity, the photos were framed in highly reflective glass, creating another layer of light play. With such dark material displayed, the glass allowed for a great amount of reflection of the viewer and the environment. At certain angles, the photographic subject would be obscured by the viewer's own reflection, in essence creating a black and white version of the viewer. Again, luck or genius... I'm not sure. I'm possibly reading into things too much.

Matthew Gamber's reproduction of scarred and weathered chalkboards seemed to make the biggest impression on viewers. On one level, the viewer is left to imagine the countless words, numbers, and drawings once recorded on the boards, only to be wiped away, sometimes leaving a permanent trace of their existence. One could also stare into the dark void of the images and conjure up anything at all. The black abyss was like an empty canvas for the viewer. The patches of scratches and smudges were the only guides, sometimes creating allusions to x-rays, black cloudy skies, mammography, or video static.

I thought the exhibit overall was impressive, limited in size but not scope. Which parallels the exploration of the absence of color: that restriction can also become a liberation, allowing for more interpretive freedom.

The exhibit is up from July 8 through August 21.

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