The lips are just graphite on paper, but maybe because of the cigarette dangling from between them, they convey a sense of iconic allure and danger. You want to draw the rest of the face. Maybe it’s a classic dame from a film noir movie. But maybe it’s nothing so stylized as that, just a woman on her lunch break, or waiting for the bus. Or maybe she’s sneaking a smoke after dinner. Whatever it is, neither the allure nor the danger can be shaken.
That kind of forthrightness — and ambiguity — permeate “Lovestruck,” an art exhibition up on the walls of mActivity on Nicoll Street from now until Feb. 28.
Curated by Dan Mims, the editor of the Daily Nutmeg, “Lovestruck” — just in time for Valentine’s Day — is selected from Artspace‘s flatfile, a collection of artworks on paper by over 120 artists from New Haven, the region, and the country. Artspace adds to the file every year through a juried open call (the deadline to submit a piece this year is Feb. 15).
Mims’s picks show how an exhibit’s theme can affect the interpretation of the pieces in it. Whether the artists intended that interpretation is beside the point; primed to be struck by love, you might see things in the images you wouldn’t otherwise.
It starts with Yukui Gu’s “Chorus,” which really just shows two men in uniform with their eyes and mouths half-open. The title gives them immediate context. They’re singing, and presumably two of many individuals to be doing so. If the image’s camera were to zoom out, maybe we’d be at a ceremony of some kind, even in a church. But Mims’s putting them in a more erotic context works. We see how the ecstasy of singing might not be only spiritual, or communal, for the singers. Something a little more primal might be stirring in them. This also makes the soldiers more human.
But as soon as we get comfortable with the idea of the subjects of the paintings being aroused, things get complicated. Petra Szilagyi’s “Hostess” might be a celebration of casual female sexuality of not for the man who has made himself a little too comfortable at the windowsill, gazing in. If we’re quick to judge that man, though, it makes us the target of the woman’s own gaze. We don’t like the man in the window? Her gaze directly out at us reminds us that we’re watching too, just like he is. Is she calling the shots in this scene? Is he? We’ll never know.
And then there’s the gaze of the 42nd President of the United States, presented in all its equivocal glory in David Borawski’s “Untitled (Slick Willie).” What exactly are we supposed to do with the expression on his face? He’s a powerful man who was caught with his pants down. He’s a man who still has something to hide. If you keep looking at the image, the former president looks somehow guilty and accusing, dumbfounded but shrewd. Is that a gun he’s making with his fingers? Is he trying to shush us, or keep his own mouth shut? And then we remember that this kind of obfuscating equivalence was the air he breathed, and perhaps still does. We remember that part of the defense of his statement that nothing had been going on between him and Monica Lewinsky was that “it depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” And look who we have in office now.
But the exhibit isn’t there just to ruin Valentine’s Day. It reminds us to think a bit about our emotions, our desires. It reminds us that things can get tricky.
It’s possible that with love on the brain, Dorothy Powers’s “Vortex (Red)” is a little on the nose. But it’s also a gateway to the other abstract pieces that Mims has included in the exhibit, ones that, as Mims puts it in the notes to the exhibit, serve as a Rorschach test for our own feelings about being struck by love.
Are the figures in Aspasia Patti Anos’s “Trace Movements” isolated from one another or are they commingling? Are they couples flitting through the fog or people lost in the snow? Are they people at all? If not, then what?
And Colin Burke’s “Tubes 1” manages somehow to convey crackling electricity and cool detachment at the same time.
Yet things get complicated again with James Duval’s “Squared 5.” Mims describes the piece in his notes as “frenzied” and “orgiastic,” and it is that. But there’s a suggestion of violence there, too. So we return to where we began with Marsh’s piece: the allure and the danger, though by the end of our tour through the images, both concepts have been thoroughly put through their paces.
And it’s all on one wall of the main hallway in mActivity, opposite artwork by several of the fitness center’s members. That mActivity is interested in showing art that challenges, rather than art that reassures, is a real credit to the place. Though in another way it makes all the sense in the world that people should be provoked regarding their feelings about love as they head in to hit the exercise equipment. Is there a better reason to stay in shape?
Check out the Arts Paper’s article on the opening of Lovestruck last week.