The Center on Contemporary Art's annual juried exhibition in Georgetown includes artists who use such varied materials as plastic bags, grapefruit flesh, Matchbox cars — and more "mainstream" media, like digital and video works.
You might expect a lot of wires, monitors, video and sound art to infuse an exhibition curated by Gary Hill, the critically acclaimed artist known for new media work that is both technically and conceptually complex. But Hill, invited by the Center on Contemporary Art to be the juror for its 22nd annual juried exhibition, cleverly selected artists whose work reflects a gamut of materials from painting to photography to found objects (plastic bags, grapefruit flesh, Matchbox cars) to, yes, digital and video work.
Hill’s artistic proclivities are more subtly evident here. As in Hill’s art, the 15 artists in the show offer open-ended, evocative narratives, palpable moods, and a tendency to layer and accumulate materials, meanings or perspectives. New Jersey-based artist Erin Endicott, for example, uses found vintage fabrics, which she embroiders with crimson, ivory or gray thread, designing forms and tracery that suggest organic growth or decay.
She also stains the fabrics with walnut oil, exaggerating the idea and effect of the yellowed marks often found in vintage fabrics, evidence of past spills and the process of aging. There’s a sense of storytelling here, our minds can touch on the past lives of these fabrics, but concrete meaning is elusive.
Swedish artist Conny Blom, the first-place winner selected by Hill, also plays with time and the reception of experience. At first, his sound installation titled “4:33 Minutes of Stolen Silence” seems like a straightforward homage to John Cage’s famous “4’33” (Silent Piece),” which involved a musician sitting at a piano, not playing, for 4 minutes and 33 seconds. Like Cage, Blom brackets a set of experiences, producing a heightened awareness of incidental sounds and the nature of creating and experiencing art.
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Unlike Cage, Blom does not highlight a shared, live experience. Perhaps Blom is referring to today’s filtered, layered reception of media, in the way he has “stolen” moments of silence in music recordings — the seconds in between what you’re supposed to be listening to. As you quiet down to listen, you are opened up to the environmental noises around you (as with Cage’s piece) and, simultaneously, drawn into the work itself, made aware of traces of sound within the piece (a hushed shuffle or the low hum of equipment). These are moments of “silence” that were recorded but never intended to be heard.
As with any juried show, it’s fun to quibble with the awards, mentally moving around the colored ribbons that let us know which pieces won first or second place, or an honorable mention. While I like the bold simplicity of Sara Overton’s second-place piece (which consists of a bit of color on a piece of slender wood on a small square of panel) and the bombastic mystery of Sean Johnson’s installation (which received an honorable mention), I would have liked to have seen a ribbon next to the video by Greek artist George Drivas. “Sequence Error” is a gorgeous, dreamy, psychological thriller with a vague plot that implicates all kinds of systems — capitalism, politics — and, ultimately, viewers themselves.
According to Ray C. Freeman, the president of CoCA’s board of directors, it was decided that there would be no theme for this year’s show, as there has been in the past, simply because the guest juror would have such appeal. The open call for entries resulted in submissions from 14 countries and 21 states out of which Hill selected 16 artists (15 of whom have work on view; paintings by French artist Jeremie Baldocchi have been held up in customs).
There are some rinky-dink, slapped-together exhibition effects, largely due to CoCA’s semi-itinerant status. Recently, CoCA has inhabited different spaces in the Seattle Design Center as they become available; Freeman hopes for a more permanent residence there.
But, after 22 years in different spaces around town, the Annual is still a worthy enterprise, proven by this year’s smart, varied show that draws you into the experience of making meaning. And I couldn’t agree more with Hill’s statement in the exhibition catalog: “Given the difficult times we are in and where undoubtedly we are headed, it’s inspiring to the spirit that people remain delightfully engaged in the mysterious practice of art making.”