Finances aside, what is the most important task shared by roommates? According to Nataly, one of 28 artists participating in Radical Joy, in the east gallery of Finch Lane, it seems it’s to create a common space of sharing and support. The casual intimacy enjoyed by the ambiguous trio in Nataly’s painting, “And They Were Roommates!” provides the community essential to all living things, but which too often remains out of reach. An essential part of human nature is the desire to be seen; just as children are born with the need to fit in and play a valuable role in their social environment, so we grow up craving recognition. Projecting identity can take the form of either a positive or negative force. The uses of art usually result in a better world, but not always, while the desire of politicians to control the behavior of others can produce greater social order, but too often leads instead to hatred and violence.
It’s not enough to make beautiful and inspiring art works; they, too, must be seen, which finally requires means of sharing them with the world at large. Enter the forces of repression and censorship. The same institutions that have assigned themselves the role of disseminating art — churches, governments, corporations, and commercial galleries among them — too often also perform the social role of censors, choosing what will be available to be seen and what will be hidden away or destroyed. It’s inevitable: the Internet came about as a means of freely distributing ideas and images, but today, the same website that promotes Neo-nazi ideology suppresses the cooperation and sharing of LGBTQ++ identities.
Enter — literally — the 28 artists showing under the aegis of SISTER, and the democratic staff of Finch Lane Gallery, which has chosen to take on an uncensored exhibition of artists and values unwelcome almost universally in the recent past, and still controversial today. The display takes three forms. On the west wall hangs a double file of more-or-less identically-sized, framed, broadsides, each a political or social statement by an individual artist. Shown in portrait format, several are actually landscape-format works, but were deliberately hung the “wrong” way, thereby providing a vivid, living example of how individual differences are often ironed out by rigid structures. We can imagine some viewers twisting their necks to view these and so discovering the often arbitrary difference between right and wrong ways of looking.
On the east wall, another ten works, again each the work of an individual artist, hang unframed and uncovered. On the end wall, two large, stylized profile heads by Shley, of laser-cut and painted plywood, straddle the fireplace, while the paper quilt that hangs over the mantlepiece, credited to SISTER, is titled “Finding / Fighting for Joy.” It appears to have been made of reclaimed activists’ slogans and statements, and recalls the sometimes thrilling, at other times terrifying commotion encountered at demonstrations, which are often the only way the dispossessed can claim their rights. Taken together, and in contrast to the chaos and danger that often accompanies public discourse, the calm and orderly presentation here by SISTER speaks to the ability of art to restore peace and civility to the discussion of often volatile issues.
It’s worth noting that the range of images here extend from a few very disturbing and mostly unfamiliar sights to more conventional, comfortable ones that share a welcome sense of the word “Joy,” but that none is what might be called “carefree.” Hannah Walter’s photograph unequivocally shows the reality behind today’s often superficial headlines, and once truly seen, may take take hours or even days of thinking and talking about to come to terms with. In “no joy without sorrow,” Emma Roberts relies on familiar renaissance masters to recall that there is little new in what is suffered by those still struggling today. Lily Gustave’s “Faerie Dance” is a lively and colorful panel executed in bright red, pink, white, and black, but it takes a moment of effort to locate and decode the title figure, as though like so many seldom-seen garden sprites, she hesitates to openly proclaim herself. Skills related to survival are not easy to give up.
Still, the exhibition’s title, Radical Joy, argues that these 28 courageous artists and their sponsors at SISTER have something in common: something more important than whatever may isolate them. Maybe whatever it is predates their arrival at Finch Lane, important as that is. The secret that keeps real artists working is that what happens in the studio is different, often better than what happens in the gallery. While the vital importance of meeting the public cannot be dismissed, it may well be that in SISTER they’ve already begun to build their community.
Radical Joy, curated by SISTER, Finch Lane Gallery, Salt Lake City, through Apr. 21
Geoff Wichert objects to the term critic. He would rather be thought of as a advocate on behalf of those he writes about.
Categories: Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts
Leave a Reply