Mind Over Matter

New BLK group show explores dual nature of art

It was 17th century philosopher-mathematician René Descartes who first articulated a general theory of dualism stating that humans consist of a sort of mind-body dichotomy. Descartes attributed all animal or biological activity to the brain while crediting one’s thoughts and desires to the mind, a more elusive and spiritual faculty. Inextricably linked, this mind-body dualism has led to such speculation as “Reality is what the mind perceives it to be” and even “You are only as old as you feel.” While the latter is a mixed blessing, the former has had a profound impact on, among other things, the world of art, its function and justification. Besides its ability to entertain and enlighten, art can change one’s perception of the world and one’s place in it. Art as a Healing Force, an organization dedicated to such matters, says at its website that art and music alter attitude, emotional states, even pain perception. “Neurophysiologists [know] that art, prayer and healing … are all associated with similar brain wave patterns, mind-body changes that take us into the world of imagery and emotion, of visions and feelings.” Area artists Mark Gilbert, Mary Day and Leslie Iwai readily demonstrate the spiritual and healing power of art on a personal and social level. Others clearly demonstrate this dualism for different as well as similar purposes. An interesting mix of the above can be seen in a new group exhibit at the New BLK gallery, aptly titled Mind & Body. It features 36 paintings, prints and sculpture from a mix of established and emerging artists, including Mads Anderson, Eric Berner, Scott Blake, Larry Ferguson, Wanda Ewing, Andrew Hershey, Leslie Iwai, Matt Jones, Sora Kimberlain, Mike Loftus, Joey Lynch and Josh Powell. Mind & Body is curated by freelance arts contributor Kim Carpenter and gallery director Shane Bainbridge. Effort was made to include professional didactic materials for viewers, but bios and art labels should include dates and medium for the work, always appreciated. Given the show’s lofty theme, most of the work on exhibit lives up to what unites it, though the viewer may struggle a bit, as did this reviewer, to make the connection. Nevertheless, the short, pithy bios are a nice fallback; and the work, some of it new, some familiar, is always interesting and worth some face time. Given its Old Market location and hip, sophisticated vibe, the New BLK is in an excellent position to make its own singular mark on Omaha’s art scene. Omaha is hungry for contemporary visual art that not only takes risks but crosses over all mediums including architecture, video, 3D, graphic design, installation and photography. A few of these “type” of artists have shown at the New BLK, but many, many more in this area wait to be discovered. That said, Mind & Body has several pieces that live up to its thematic potential and a few others that impress on their own. In the former, we have the work of Ewing, Ferguson, Kimberlain, Jones, Iwai, Loftus and Hershey, and in the latter are Powell, Berner, Blake, Lynch and Anderson. The art in the first group is more personal and expressionistic and the second more abstract, detached and conceptual. Ferguson offers three sets of nude photos, each a matched pair of a model’s portrait and three-quarter torso, whether “Kevin,” “Phoenix” or “Netsai.” It’s a nice treatment of mind-body as the first two models appear quite satisfied with their self-image, and they should, while Netsai seems less assured and more reserved. Ferguson effectively varies contrast and tone to serve these variations of mood and attitude. Two “Hot House Flowers” from Ewing, each a mixed media print of a real voluptuous woman scantily dressed, is posed to mimic what the media and her mind perceive the perfect body to be. Though also totally self-aware, as with all of Ewing’s subjects, there is that ever-present ambivalence toward their muse and the impression they are making. Jones and Kimberlain also deal with the figure here, but his nudes, “Galatea” and “Beatrice,” subtle and ephemeral, appear to exist in a dream world, while her bold, action figures emanate from a more primal, preconscious state. The two styles are a nice study in mind-body contrast and would make an interesting exhibit on their own. With Iwai, Loftus and Hershey, the POV and approach to this connection is more subliminal and psychological. Most effective for Iwai is her ethereal installation featuring a broken heart of rose petals within a scrim occasionally occupied by the artist herself. Despite a conceptual medium, Iwai always wears her heart on her sleeve, such is her personal connection and commitment to the human condition. Loftus and Hershey share that commitment, but their connection borders on social commentary as well. In Loftus’ bold, colorful and enigmatic, toon-like narrations, especially the scary pregnant lady in “Mine, Not Yours,” one is tempted to respond, gratefully, “And you’re welcome to it,” while pitying the offspring of such as she. One also wonders at those never-to-be-seen beings that occupy the print dwellings of Hershey’s neighborhoods such as “Little Pink House #2” and “Night Falls Over the West.” Surreal and symbolic, they are lost and sequestered souls physically and emotionally. Though the mind-body theme in the remaining work is less evident, Anderson, with his cosmic abstract noodlings, especially the striking “Spine Whip” painting, and Berner’s imaginative sculptural pieces, each indicating a cosmos of their own, at least make the effort. More successful perhaps are the mixed media of Lynch and Powell, whose culturally embedded visual montages are nevertheless more satiric than personal. This is particularly true of Powell’s pointed “She’s a Hollow of a Girl” and Lynch’s “drippy” “Untitled” group portrait, a screen print of the next anonymous generation unable or too dumb to come in out of the rain. Yet leave it to one clever Scott Blake to steal the opening with his “Giant Penis” fabric sculpture along with his blasphemous video and photos of said phallus having sex with the repetitious public art O Project. Not exactly kosher, but nice screwing with a tired body of work. Talk about your mind-body connections. Mind & Body continues through Dec. 31 at the New BLK Gallery, 1213 Jones St. in the Old Market. Visit thenewblk.com.

posted at 12:12 am
on Wednesday, December 08th, 2010

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