“How We See What We See”

Kate Graves curates an exhibit at Artworks that examines the allure of language and form.
Friday, October 5, 2007 2:54 PM EDT
By Susan Van Dongen

Talk about re-arranging someone’s face.

Photographer and journalist Lauren Otis has collected headshots of various anonymous members of the business community, cut them up and woven them back together, creating an eerie but somewhat humorous end result. In Mr. Otis’ “woven portraits,” the warp is the straight side of the subject, showing the upstanding, exemplary member of the community. In the weft, however, he’s used photos of different individuals, lined up almost perfectly with the features of the other subject. So it looks like a typical, static headshot, but perhaps one that has been handled by Dr. Frankenstein.

Look at the man in the navy blue suit and striped tie, then look at the strips of someone else’s photo woven in, and it’s as though there’s been an invasion of this fellow by another personality. It could be his feminine or shadow side. A viewer might imagine that when the square-looking man in the suit goes home, he changes into one of his many vintage Frank Zappa tour T-shirts and rocks out. Or the perfectly coiffed woman dances the tango when she’s not being a regional vice president.

We never know or see everything about a person, even in an intimate relationship. Same with the people in Mr. Otis’ woven portraits.

It’s just one comment on unusual ways of seeing, which is the focus of the new exhibit “How We See What We See” at Artworks in Trenton through Oct. 12. "Vision is a complex relationship, an ongoing reciprocal act,” writes sculptor Kate Graves, who curated the show. “The works included in this exhibit are still points in the ever-changing stream of time, made by people who use the flux of our local environment.”

In addition to Mr. Otis, who lives in Trenton and is the editor of The Princeton Business Journal, published by The Princeton Packet, “How We See What We See” features new work by Ayami Ayama, who creates sensual abstract sculptures in stone. Ricardo Barros, who lives in Princeton and has a studio in Morrisville, Pa., has put together a series of photographs of African art which bring a new perspective through manipulation. Monika Broz, an artist from Poland based in New Jersey, finds a quirky compositional balance both in intimate photographic interiors and anonymous roadsides.

Rory Mahon, who lives and works in Hopewell and is married to Ms. Ayama, takes photography in a new direction of pulsating abstraction. Sarah Stengle, who lives in Princeton and has a studio in Trenton, brings new visual meaning to the printed word. Photojournalist and commercial photographer Cie Stroud, who is based in Morrisville, Pa., uses photography to find visual richness in parts of the landscape our eyes too easily pass over. Andrew Wilkinson, who lives and works in Titusville, creates “photo-visions” that expose how society often fails to see its true relation to popular totems within it.

Of the eight artists, many use photography in their art and all are situated close by the Delaware River.

“A common thread is that everyone involved lives or works within a 15-mile radius, but beyond that their style and vision is diverse and exciting,” Ms. Graves says.

Mr. Mahon has contributed a new body of work, having his model ape, pose and adorn herself as insects — a firefly, grasshopper, ladybug and cocooned creature waiting for metamorphosis. The mud dauber is especially interesting, with the model covered in mud — including her “antennae” — gazing out at the viewer with luminous eyes you’d never see on a wasp. Because Mr. Mahon and Ms. Ayama live in a relatively rural area, insects and their habitat often inform their work. In the exhibit, Mr. Mahon has a close-up shot of a wasp’s nest with a little surprise in store for the careful viewer. Ms. Ayama found a tiny wasp’s nest in the stone she used to create “Venus,” but left it there as an organic element of the sculpture.

“We tend to anthropromorphize, to give animals human qualities,” Ms. Graves says. “But Rory is doing the opposite, giving humans insect-like qualities.”

Ms. Stroud has captured the absurdity of a cell phone tower “sequoia tree” which dwarfs the real trees beneath it. She also muses on Coke versus Pepsi and male pattern baldness in her color photography.

Devotees of Holga cameras — famous for their ethereal light leaks — will enjoy Andrew Wilkinson’s “I Pass You By” and “You Pass Me By,” large works that muse on seeing, in this case from the viewpoint of a bird and cow.

Color photography is also represented by Ms. Broz, who is exhibiting four evocative shots taken in her home country. A fetching self-portrait of the photographer dressed in a parka conjures the chill of winter in Poland. A close-up shot of pierogies and mashed potatoes is a self-deprecating joke about the cuisine at her family’s table, and has the super realistic, quirky quality of Nick Waplington’s photography.

A large body of new work was created by Mr. Barros. Inspired by neighbors who enjoy traveling to Africa and collecting traditional art and sculpture, Mr. Barros photographed their home, filled to the brim with treasures — masks, animal sculptures and tapestries. He deliberately sharpened the images in some places and blurred them in others, perhaps to enhance the mysterious essence of the pieces but also just for practical purposes. Some of the things are enormous and their uppermost points became naturally blurry.

“But it’s completely controlled,” Ms. Graves says. “The images are altered but they make the reality of the subject more clear. Even with the fuzzy and incomplete boundaries, your brain will fill in what Riccardo doesn’t make clear.”

In contrast to his woven portraits, Mr. Otis, an avid kayaker, has photographed various stops along his regular paddles down the Delaware River. Toting a tiny film camera and hand printing in his home darkroom, he’s captured a series of bridges and structures on the body of water, as well as natural phenomenon. A shot taken at an extreme low tide reveals the murk and textured stones on the bottom of the river. A long exposure casts a softness on the concrete form of the I-295 bridge which spans the river near Bordentown. The lights along the bridge and docks look like the flames of torches.

Neither photography nor painting and not exactly sculpture, Ms. Stengle’s pieces fuse old light fixtures and hardware, tool handles and other detritus with hand-crafted woodwork. She’s known for taking old books apart and reconstructing them as well as perceiving the potential for new possibilities in old photographs, illustrations and engravings. The light bulb and hardware assemblages incorporate this side of Ms. Stengle as well, and several are carefully coated with printed text recycled from vintage publications.

”Everybody contributed some new work, which is a real compliment to the show,” Ms. Graves says. “These are some of the most interesting artists in the area and I wanted to give them exposure. Everyone who comes to the show also participates. (Seeing) is a reciprocal relationship.”

“How We See What We See” is on view at
Artworks, 19 Everett Alley, Trenton, through Oct. 12.
Opening reception featuring DJ Kornelius, Sept. 14, 5-8 p.m.
Gallery hours: Sat.-Sun., noon-4 p.m.

Tel: (609) 394-9436
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