Meeting Places

courtesy of Matthew Connors

With just six pieces hanging on the walls of DOVA Temporary, those who gathered to view “The Space of the Encounter” at the exhibit’s premiere on Friday night spent time carefully reflecting on the four artists’ representations of the idea of place.   

A group photography show, the “Space of the Encounter” examines everyday human interactions, the spaces in which they occur, and the relationship between each space and its inhabitants. Cassandra Troyan, co-curator of the exhibition along with Zachary Cahill, noted that the small selection of pieces in the show gives the viewer “room to breathe.” In contemplating the places captured in the photographs,  the viewer engages in a game of mimicry with the encounters illustrated in the pieces on the walls. The artists–Matthew Connors, Maria Perkovic, Rachel Herman, and Meredith Miller–are all alumni of the University of Chicago. In addition to their degrees, these artists share an interest in capturing the physicality and personality of places, be they California roadsides or Chicago patios.

The first photograph of the show is Matthew Connors’s “Tokyo, 2006,” in which passers-by are caught in a perplexing moment of confrontation. One woman raises her arm as if in shock and gapes at an unknown person outside the frame, a man glances sideways past her, and an open door in the foreground–as well as the shadows of unseen figures in the backdrop–all invite a sense of narrative mystery. Gallery visitors stood puzzled by this piece, leaning in closer as if to ask, who is encountering whom in this picture? What is each subject looking at that we are unable to see? By documenting an enigmatic moment in time and space, Connors draws the viewer into the photograph to piece together a story that can only be guessed at.

In Maria Perkovic’s “Route 62, #4,” a mailbox, a T-shirt, a pair of flip-flops, and a bottle of water all hang on a tall wooden pole covered with various license plates and road signs. This photograph of a roadside sculpture is part of series on Route 62, a short highway in southern California. Perkovic says the purpose of the project is to investigate “interrupted spaces, in which an anonymous public contributes to a growing archive of passage.” Documenting the tendency of people to leave physical markers as proof of their presence, the photograph also suggests that there is something inherent to the character of a place–like a light post in an otherwise bare landscape–that prompts such human action.

Set back from the main gallery is a dimly lit room with photographs by Rachel Herman projected on the wall. After issuing a call for her friends to meet her in the early morning at various locations, Herman snapped their portraits and invited them to take her own. The result is “Meet Me at Sunrise,” a series of about twenty 35mm slides projected two at a time alongside each other. The left image in each pair is Herman’s subject, while on the right is a photo of Herman, taken by her subject. Their faces lit by the morning sun, Herman and her friends recline in patio chairs or stand in front of the Museum of Science and Industry. The title of the series seems to be a call for renewed friendship, a reawakening mirrored in the freshness of the early morning.

In the most carefully composed photographs of the show, Meredith Miller’s two beautiful shots of sparsely furnished rooms investigate what she calls “the secret lives of rooms.” Though her rooms are totally deserted, Miller prompts the viewer to notice the traces of life that remain in spite of their emptiness.  In “Untitled,” a curtain billows in an otherwise still room, and in “Untitled (Bunnies),” two golden rabbit figurines sit facing one another atop a wooden dresser. These are signs of life that suggest that spaces have an essence of their own, and are not simply animated by their inhabitants.

The photographs in the “Space of the Encounter,” particularly those of Meredith Miller, invite the viewer to contemplate the places depicted in the image, but also the space of the gallery itself. This arena may be defined by the photographs on the wall, by the audience in the gallery, or–and here the show seems to prompt an answer–by the interaction between photograph and audience, picture and observer.

DOVA Temporary, 5228 S. Harper Ave. Through November 4th. Wednesday-Saturday, 12pm-5pm. Free. (773)324-2089. lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/dovatemp