A panoramic camera can only do so much; the machinery to capture the entire universe in a single shot, or a single object from all possible angles, does not yet exist. Instead, a photograph is a selection of the world, giving a narrow slice of a vast reality. There is always another way of looking at things.
Paul Hopkin, curator of the Pilsen gallery Slow, embraces these multiple perspectives in Slow’s newest show, “the low down.” The exhibition, a tribute to the subjectivity that colors our lives, features the work of photographers Caroline Allison and Danica Favorito and sculptor Jeffrey Grauel. Their works demonstrate a truth about truth. Which is to say, everyone has a different view of what the truth might be, their own version of the “low down.”
Caroline Allison’s work treats “the low down” with a sensitive grace. Her large color photographs are serene and scenic, and yet their even composition and sharp focus creates a foreboding tension: there is something discomfiting about the tidiness of the subject matter. Take, for instance, the room depicted in “Estelle Faulkner’s Air Conditioner, Rowan Oak, Oxford, Mississippi.” A brief background to the image is given underneath the work’s title (a more literal ‘low down’): “William Faulkner refused to allow air conditioning in his house, Rowan Oak. On July 3rd, 1962, one day after Faulkner’s death, his wife Estelle installed a window unit in her bedroom.” A bedroom window, white-framed with sunlit panes, is central to the photo. An air conditioner seems almost ceremoniously perched on its sill, like a plastic obelisk. While the window unit is consistent with the airy dÃ©cor and the room’s patterned wallpaper, the background information beneath the image lends it a sinister quality. Because its very presence is contingent upon the author’s death, the unit seems to have replaced Faulkner himself. Marred by the photograph’s eerie back-story, the quaint suburban aura of the photograph is dissolved.
Although she exhibits a similar interest in the transformation of the quotidian to the theatrical, Danica Favorito’s work tends more toward the confessional than Allison’s. Concerning itself with interior dialogue and private longing, her intimate subject matter befits her work’s informal presentation. Allison’s photos are large, vivid, and framed–Favorito’s, on the other hand, are of low resolution, printed on computer paper, and fixed to the wall with strips of masking tape. Luckily, her strong composition can withstand such unconventional packaging. In her photograph “I wish I had a travelling van,” a woman in a parking lot aims a camera at a parked van heaped with furniture. The subject’s desirous gaze seems to lust after a different reality as she seeks to capture it on camera. The title’s adoption of the woman’s voice shortens the subject’s distance from the photographer and the viewer’s distance from the subject. The photographer seems to be expressing the wish of the photographed woman, and we, as viewers of the photograph, are mimicking her prying gaze. The roles of subject, photographer, and viewer are inextricably linked by a desire for a separate reality.
Grauel, the lone sculptor of the three artists, appears to have the group’s best sense of humor. In his piece “She told me she couldn’t see good when she was spinning,” he fashions a small set of venetian blinds from sliced beer cans; perhaps drunkenness is a kind of subjectivity too. Grauel’s work can also be startlingly opaque, as is the case with “Molly and I went to the circus. Molly got hit with a bowling pin. We got even with the circus. We bought tickets but we didn’t get in.” The work is a finely rendered miniature baseball bat hanging from the ceiling, the title of which is written near the door. This sculpture, while visually appealing, seems wholly dissociated from its title. Here we are asked to abandon the notion that art should produce accessible meaning. Instead, we must embrace Grauel’s resistance to easy comprehension, however difficult to penetrate.
During the opening a small boy in a Little League uniform weaved through the room before toying with Grauel’s beer can blinds. His mother chided him and apologized to the curator, who responded with, “Don’t worry about it. We’re the casual guys.” And he’s right–they are. Behind the exhibition space there was a cozy dwelling out from which the Little Leaguer emerged, yelling, “There’s pizza in the kitchen!” People smiled and migrated away from the art and towards the smell of food, a reassuring reminder that–even when viewing a show that exposes differing viewpoints and conflicting truths–there are some things that everyone can agree upon.
Slow, 2153 W 21st street. Through May 28. Saturday, 5-9 pm. (773)645-8803. facebook.com/pages/Slow/157109257009