Bearing a politically charged title, Ossuary is a traveling exhibition featuring the works of three hundred artists in many different media. The project was in fact “developed in response to the repositories of bones” that can be found in “countries like Cambodia and Rwanda.” But this exhibition does not issue a direct response to acts of genocide—were such a thing even possible. Instead, it presents what Laura Beth Clark, the project’s founder, describes as “poignant counter-images to mass violence.”
Kim Benson’s Spotted offers that and much more. The only oil on canvas in the exhibition brings us to a daunting threshold, beyond which the yet unexplored possibilities of this traditional medium await discovery.
Situated in an unstable borderland between abstraction and representation, Spotted evokes more of the actual dream sensation than a surrealist-like rendering of a “remembered” (and thus edited and stylized) dream. It does so because the non-geometric and suggestively biomorphic forms undergo a process of mutation the longer we focus on any one area of the richly layered canvas, which at moments has the look of a triptych with collapsing panels, as seen from an off-centered perspective.
The merging, muted shades of red form an archway of sorts that, given the exhibition’s title, may remind us of cancerous lung tissue, a flayed carcass, or molten rock. However, in keeping with the sensation of a dream, an embroidered, royal bed curtain also becomes discernible, along with the head of a dog on a pillow. Here “the sleep of reason produces monsters” that materialize toward the upper left corner (perhaps to the alarm of the blurred, hastily retreating hooded figure in the upper right), where they appear poised to enter the corridor of a “house” (or consciousness) which is itself perched on a precipice hovering above a fossilized cityscape.
Benson draws us into a disquieting world that, like many of Sigmar Polke’s mixed-media works, awakens a desire to see beyond seeing. In this vein, Spotted captures the spirit of collaboration that animates the exhibition as a whole and Jonathan Rattner’s What Do You Want Remembered in particular.
A minimalist black and white photograph of a cratered landscape that stretches out to a misty vanishing point on Spákonufell Mountain (located in Skagaströnd, Iceland) covers the front of a “postcard.” Visitors are invited to take one from a small stack, write what they “want remembered” on the back, and then drop the card into the slit of an unadorned wood box. This “installation,” like several of the short videos (screened on small monitors and audible through headphones) included in the exhibition, succeeds in carving out a quiet space of contemplation in which, with defenses lowered, you might find yourself inspired to write down what suddenly strikes you as a precious and/or endangered memory. This private moment will then, at least symbolically, form part of a public ritual next July, when all the postcards will be “burned and the ash will be scattered over Spákonufell Mountain in Skagaströnd, Iceland, at the tip of the Greenland Sea.”
That isolated, remote, and sparsely populated site (about five hundred and thirty residents live in Skagaströnd, a fishing village) underscores the extent to which the act of public mourning has been transformed into a private and often incommunicable experience capable of producing devastating consequences for those affected by loss.
Loss on a literally global scale is registered in Annette Arlander’s six photographs: four still life “portraits” of pieces of wood that resemble bones, a medium close-up of Arlander seated with her back toward us and a piece of wood tied to her shoulders, and a depiction of that same scene in Arlander’s absence.
Refreshingly devoid of irony, the title, In Remembrance of the Ice, efficiently conveys Arlander’s eyewitness account of climate change, as she looks out at the thinning sea ice off the Eastern shore of Harakka Island in Helsinki, Finland.
Marq Switzer’s contribution to the exhibition consists of a confrontational, Barbara Krugeresque statement that juts out precisely because such blunt images, in a fine balancing act, prove the exception rather than the rule. Specifically, Switzer takes aim at the fashion-cosmetic industry’s abuse and killing of animals (e.g., in the laboratory and on the fur farm).
Chanel is thus renamed Charnel (as in the Charnel House) and branded an “accessory to murder” who sports the remains of its countless victims on a model’s pair of designer sunglasses (presumably a doctored photograph).
Downtown Gallery; 106 South Gay Street; Through October. 26; open Wed-Fri: 11-6; Sat: 10-3.