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Topographic musings

MECA's second Alumni Biennial
By ANNIE LARMON  |  September 9, 2009

“SPECIMEN 001” LightJet print by Cole Caswell, 2009.

"Aggregate" is Maine College of Art's second themed Alumni Biennial at the Institute of Contemporary Art, showing work chosen by a jury from among recent work by BFA and MFA graduates. While the artists represent a range of mediums, graduating class ('97 to '08), and experience, the integrity of the selected works is consistently impressive. The jurors' hands have ensured that each piece not only represents aggregation but also forms part of a coherent whole.

But a less intentional thread binding the paintings, installation, and photographs exhibited is the exploration of the way we perceive, organize, and prioritize a sense of place. Whether through fantasy, illusion, amplification, or re-appropriation, these artists intimate their approach to the contemporary landscape.

Eric Hongisto's "Island Tops" theatrically introduces the show, charting abstracted horizons in a kaleidoscope of vivid pastels. The painting consumes two walls in the front gallery, encouraging the viewer to retreat to the farthest corner of the room to indulge in its entirety. Painted directly onto the wall, the work conjures a less-rigid Lewitt, with elements of Matthew Ritchie's sprawl. Organic forms that vacillate between micro and macro, amoebas and mountains, build toward a peak in the joint between the two walls, while solid and dotted lines seem to have sprung from road maps, creating arbitrary boundaries and connections.

Hongisto's scale and palette provide a stark contrast to Cole Caswell's black-and-white LightJet prints of mold colonies. Magnifying specimens found in a basement, Caswell unveils a graceful view of a generally unappealing subject, and even renders the forms anthropomorphic. They are best appreciated in the group of five displayed in the back room of the gallery. Viewed together, the glowing configurations read like ghostly constellations, or stills from a choreographed dance.

Straying from Caswell's hyperreality, puppeteer and performance artist Vasilios Gletsos waxes straight-up fantastical with "Baconface in Candyland," an installation displaying a papier-mâché cast of characters inhabiting a world of apparent naive gluttony. The set appears to have been abandoned mid-performance, and clearly begs for Gletsos to complete the experience with his presence; but the weight of a puppet clad in McDonald's yellow and red suspended above a cardboard forest is engaging enough to imagine a narrative. A book of great Guston-like paintings accompanies the stage, providing a rough storyline, but the paintings are hard to appreciate as shown, and might be better displayed on the wall.

Shannon Rankin meticulously cuts and splices maps to play with language and form as related to nature and its processes. Her minimalist works on paper are both clever and beautiful in their delicate execution as well as their sensitivity to color relationships and geometry. She extracts the sculptural and topographical potential of the maps, folding and overlapping, to draw connections between natural and constructed systems. The most impressive of these, perhaps, is the installation "Germinate" in the back room of the gallery. Five feet in diameter, "Germinate" is a perfect circle consisting of hundreds of smaller circles cut from maps, pinned directly to the wall. The circles are perfectly distributed, with ochres, blues, and greens creating a wallpaper effect.

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Institute of Contemporary Art, Institute of Contemporary Art, Institute of Contemporary Art,  More more >
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