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Damn it, I left my contacts in: Jennifer Hines’ Anger & Frustration: A Personal Inventory.

Quite the Characters
By David Brickman

Visual-Text: The Other
Fulton Street Gallery, through Jan. 29

Troy has been full of sur-prises lately, and here’s another: an international juried art exhibition at Fulton Street Gallery. The unsinkable member-supported gallery has survived 10 years, and this show is a good indicator of its continued vitality.

Juried by Albany performance poet Kevin Thayer, Visual-Text: The Other includes 18 artists from as far away as Chicago, California and Australia and as near as Delmar, Rensselaer and Castleton. Unlike many such diversified offerings, Visual-Text: The Other holds together rather well; though the theme helps (all the work incorporates both words and images), it could just as easily have been a disaster (think bad art plus bad poetry equals horrible exhibition).

No, this is good art, some good text and a nicely handled installation that uses the space of the gallery well without overcrowding (another common pitfall of juried shows).

Not surprisingly, much of the work in this show is mixed media, and there is a lot of collage in particular. Among those I like best are Berkeley, Calif., artist Heidi Tarver’s two news-inspired pieces, titled Weekend News and Mind of a Terrorist. In both, Tarver employs skill and curiosity to open up interpretations of what we see in the mainstream press (in this case, The New York Times). In one, she delves into one of the harshest realities of our era; in the other, we get a child’s fresh perspective. Both are outstanding.

Equally strong are a set of digital collages by Chicago-based Naomi Pridjian titled Pailoun’s Story. Selected from what must be a magnificent long-form visual diary, these six images combine real and imagined scenes to evoke the almost universal tale of immigration and family history that Americans experience century after century. They are complex yet clear, lush and beautiful personal images.

Another collage artist with just a few pieces out of a much larger body of work is also from California. Stephen Anderson, of Huntington Beach, presents five collages out of a series of 1,000 on very small (3 1/2-by-4-inch) blocks of wood. This “burned fingers” series favors surrealist-style details taken from old engravings, combined with more current visual sources. They are worthy of the close attention they demand.

Also striving to create a larger story out of linked images is New York City-based Ronald Parisi, whose three L’Histoire de Jillian photographs illustrate a fantasy biography of a princess born without legs. His model, a striking legless woman, appears to be a full collaborator in this quirky, ambitious project in which she dresses up in tastefully bizarre Elizabethan-era garb and gear. The text panels tell the story; the pictures are hard to ignore.

Among the three-dimensional work in the show, local artist G. C. Haymes’ Your Mother Loves You is a witty, tender assemblage of a rusted metal box containing a child’s wooden blocks that spell out the contents of a lunch lovingly packed by Mom. Also evoking family is Chicago-based Jennifer Hines’ Closet: password(s), an airy vertical construction of handmade-paper letters descending from above a pile of shredded documents. Careful perusal will reveal the sibling rivalry spelled out in this piece.

Hines’ other piece in the show, Anger and Frustration: A Personal Inventory, features a long handwritten scroll listing every little thing that ever bothered the artist (or any one of us). Her complaints run from the personal to the universal: “falling asleep with my contacts in,” “when someone parallel parks, taking up 2 spaces” and “conspiracies, or conspiracy theories” among them. Below this list lies a pile of hardened dough blobs bearing the impression of a squeezing hand—gallerygoers are invited to pick them up and repeat the gesture, sharing in the artist’s sense of frustration and release.

In a similar personal yet playful vein, Stockbridge, Mass., artist Ali Herrmann has included two artist’s books in the show. One, A Waitress’s Diary, cleverly employs an American Express padded check/credit card holder from a restaurant as its covers, between which unfolds an accordion of customer and insect aggravation. Her other book uses reductive and additive processes to alter the text of a potboiler romance, adding a postmodern twist but leaving in the stickiness.

Three paintings by local artist Robert Longley (whose studio is just upstairs from the gallery) are less explicit, and gain from the mysteriousness of their quasi-legible texts. His red-tinged large canvas Fancies and Goodnights (Ghosts in the City) has been given pride of place on the gallery’s back wall—and it deserves it. Longley has mastered the use of wax to give his images a great degree of depth and translucency; this new painting extends a wonderful body of work.

On the furthest edge of this show’s offerings (geographically as well as technically) is a pair of DVD films by Australian Christopher Holton. The one titled Rendezvous takes the annoying bumpings and scrapings of cheap chairs on a hard floor and turns them into a hilarious dialogue, complete with subtitles. This may be the most “other” insight of the show—a window, perhaps, into the mind of a paranoid schizophrenic.

I confess, I hadn’t heard of Thayer before this, but he deserves a lot of credit for choosing a broad range of work in many media with a consistently high level of quality. He also apparently did a pretty wild performance at the opening; his pedestal-mounted sculpture with jars of pigs’ feet and a window installation remain as vestiges of that event.


Reality Show

The Arts Center of the Capital Region, through Feb. 27

Arts Center curator Gina Oc chiogrosso has put together a fairly diverse group of eight artists who “study, capture and comment on the real world.” Not surprisingly, photography is a significant presence, but painting dominates this selection.

In usual ACCR fashion, there is a combination of artists from near and far (including Chicago and Los Angeles)—and, as usual, the hometown team more than holds its own. Hudson Valley painters Deborah Zlotsky (Delmar), James Dustin (Coxsackie) and Phyllis Palmer (Tivoli) each apply sound thinking and consummate technique to their respective series of a child’s drawings; architectural space and light; and back-view portraits. All three are first-rate bodies of work.

Also in usual ACCR fashion, there are pedantic exhibit notes written by the curator that attempt to instruct the viewer in how to interpret the art. I suspect I am not the only one to find this practice particularly annoying.

Yet another fine local painter, Dave Austin, is represented in a sidebar solo exhibition in the President’s Gallery as 2003’s selected Fence Show artist. Austin’s prodigious 2004 output shows he’s growing into an intriguing and skilled interpreter of paranoia and alienation in contemporary America. Definitely one to watch.

—David Brickman

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