There are four exhibits at Cove Street Arts worth seeing – and examining – but here only space and time will allow for a close examination of three.
If you can make it to the Portland Art Space before Saturday, you’ll also be treated to “Gargantua & Lilliputian,” a printmaking exhibition curated by David Wolfe, which brought together important and innovative works by artists from here and around the world.
Meanwhile, the visual display of text in “Things Seemed to Be Breaking” (until May 22) and the moving photography in “Séan Alonzo Harris: The Space Between” (until June 26) share the gift of powerfully distill the subjects to their absolute essence. . It is an important goal of poetry, and both are rich in poetics.
Finally, the Rockland-based Ellis-Beauregard Foundation, which provides resources to artists in Maine through grants, scholarships and more, showcases the work of its grantees in “Fellows & Residents” (until June 19 ).
“Things Seemed to Be Breaking” marks the release of Maine-laureate Stuart Kestenbaum’s outgoing compilation of “blackout poems” of the same name, in which he used a Sharpie to heavily draft the text, leaving behind fragments of words that have then informed the titles of the results “” poems. The exhibition features several framed versions, as well as collaborations between Kestenbaum and his partner Susan Webster, and a solo piece by Webster.
The ability of occulted poems to convey so much with so little is literally breathtaking. They are like haikus of haikus in their brevity, by turns tragic, politically charged and humorous. In one, Kestenbaum invokes the calamity of food insecurity by isolating the words “Dear God / the / famished” and then titling the poem “Biblical Studies”. In “Give Some Away”, he criticizes the emptiness of consumerism with “what is wrong. I have everything.
“We had all the authority we needed,” the words of a poem titled “How Problems Begin,” could they target Trump’s despotic presidency, the right-wing protesters who stormed Capitol Hill, police brutality or the blood-soaked Syrian of al-Assad. mass repression. The fact that it can be applied to any of them (and more) induces despair. This makes poems sardonic and erased like “Oxymoron” containing only the words “eminent poet”, a welcome comic relief. Visually, they explore the territory of Barbara Kruger, Christopher Wool, Glenn Ligon, and others who use language as art.
Collaborations are conversations that begin as impressions (Webster’s) that are passed on to Kestenbaum, who responds with poems from his impressions on the imagery, which he applies with stamps or handwritten letters. Webster then adds more elements or colors for the final work. Of these, “Adrift” seems particularly apt as we begin to emerge from what has been a very dark year: “In the air / drifting first / redness of spring / we are / live & / kicking. We should have been aesthetically and emotionally sterile so that the combination of Webster’s meticulous printing and writing skills and Kestenbaum’s words did not affect us on different levels.
For “The Space Between,” Harris spent five years taking black and white photographs around Portland. The monochrome reinforces the poetic distillation of their essence, sensitizing us to the spirit of the person or persons in each image (the color would have been troublesome).
There are portraits Harris intended to shoot in the homes of his subjects, but concerns over COVID-19 led him to change direction and shoot at an Indigo Arts Alliance studio in the square. They are imbued with dignity and presence. Frequently, a speckled light behind each model’s head conveys the notion of a halo, making them appear as beatific beings floating between worlds.
Their seemingly timeless existence involves a deep connection to their entire lineage of ancestors and all that flow from them. Each person is calm in their steadfastness, monumental in their demeanor and piercing in their gaze, which holds you so captivated that you feel reluctant to leave for each other.
Harris’ images exhilarate and arouse concern, crackle with physicality, and evoke emptiness and abandonment. “Dangling Keys”, a mother with her boys, is overflowing with tenderness and love. Next door, however, is “He’s Wanting,” a youngster with a wary and imploring expression asking if the world believes the message on his T-shirt: he’s wanted, broken, or together. American attitudes to race, opportunity, and immigration merge into one picture, their weight resting on this innocent soul.
“Point the finger” telegraph threat. A white person’s hand fits into the frame on the left, its extended index finger distinguishing two apparently terrified girls in a crowd; one white, the other black and dressed in an Islamic khimar covering the head and shoulders. They hang on, the white woman apparently protecting her friend, while police officers stand in the background. It is impossible not to detect the danger.
Harris shot numerous images at Kennedy Park, a low-income housing project in Portland’s most racially and ethnically diverse neighborhood. Photos of men playing basketball with athleticism: “Plate 129” is pure ballet grace, the sun-kissed skin of “Plate 334” exalts Black’s muscles as well as a flawless jumping shot. But “Hoop in the Rain”, although formally beautiful, arouses the melancholy of abandonment and extinguished joy.
The chain-link fences seem prohibitive (“Master Lock”) and the cages (“Fence # 78”, which confines a deprived habitat). Conversely, “Fence Opening” calls for emancipation and escape. The opening is reminiscent of a woman’s head on top of a 19e– century style dress. The indomitable struggles of black migration – from Africa to South, then from the North to freedom – seem, again, to be distilled into a single silhouette.
The “Fellows & Residents” exhibition of the Ellis-Beauregard Foundation is sure to make an entrance.
Occupying the central space of Cove Street Arts is “Volta,” a formidable wooden slat sculpture by Wade Kavanaugh and Stephen Nguyen suspended incongruously to the ground that is a visual tornado of implied movement. Externally, it recalls the organic forms of the environmentalist artist Patrick Doherty. But looking inside shows that it springs from a skylight, also reminiscent of the eye of “Roden Crater,” James Turrell’s transcendent earthworks in Flagstaff, Arizona.
It’s a difficult act to follow, but several works surrounding it do it convincingly. Reggie Burrows Hodges’ painting “Electric Mother” vibrates with intense vibrating brushstrokes. Dylan Hausthor’s beautiful and disturbing photos – “Bee Swarm” and “Barb’s Mistake” (a picture of a line of fire in the woods) – portend a stinging attack and natural disaster. “UnEarth” by Ian Trask is a huge sculpture in the shape of a planet made up of small spheres of recycled waste suspended from the ceiling. Its warning title implies an Earth slowly consumed by our recklessly thrown garbage.
Given the diversity of artists, the show spans the gamut of media and mood. Sophie Hamacher’s work explores, according to her statement, “the silences and gaps” of a variety of subjects. His folded and pen-marked Xerox crumbles an image to the point of impenetrability, leaving it to us to fill in the narrative. They talk about motherhood, but the painful distortions of the images – one reminded me of the emaciated portraits of Egon Schiele – make it clear that we don’t revel in her happiest and joyous aspects. Annika Early’s two gouaches deal with difficult subjects, miscarriage, with subtle lyricism. Their net-like markings represent both loss and healing as she pulls herself together.
It is not all heavy and heavy. Two videos, for example, ease the mood. Anna Queen’s original film of a primary color plastic sculpture in snow is feather light and at the very end can elicit a chuckle. It can also be a commentary on the ephemeral of existence, but it seems too spontaneous and charming for that. Erin Johnson’s “Lake” video is endlessly fascinating – a sort of ordinary person’s aquatic ballet filmed from above. Real bodies – against Esther Williams – come together on the surface to breathe and stay afloat in various graceful and less graceful ways. Their matching movements and body shapes make us appreciate the individuality as a whole.
The richness and diversity of the offerings evoked pure gratitude for Ellis-Beauregard, who helped make every piece possible and, by extension, Maine’s art scene all the more exciting.
Jorge S. Arango has been writing about art, design and architecture for over 35 years. He lives in Portland. He can be contacted at: [email protected]
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