A review of a group art show at G. Gibson Gallery that asks poignant, puzzling questions about how we live. Artists involved include Eirik Johnson, Lori Nix, Julie Blackmon and Thuy-Van Vu.
Where do we live? Where do we dream of living? And how precarious or delusory are those dreams?
“DWELL,” the new show at G. Gibson Gallery, addresses those questions from a variety of angles in a variety of media: paintings, drawings, photographs and one very large installation.
The installation, Eirik Johnson’s “A Waypoint to Crescent Lake,” is the most straightforward representation of what a dwelling can be.
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, Tuesday by appointment, through Aug. 15, G. Gibson Gallery, 300 S. Washington St., Seattle (206-587-4033 or ggibsongallery.com).
It’s an actual salvaged mushroom hunter’s cabin — the surviving framework of it, anyway — enhanced with ambient sounds from the Oregon forest where the cabin originally was located and the auction house in Japan where the gathered mushrooms were sold. The makeshift furnishings — chopped firewood, a small shelf made from a cut-open fuel can — cannily evoke the mushroom hunters’ rough existence. Two photographs document the locales where these cabin ruins were found.
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In other photographs, however, “shelter” is not at all what it seems.
Take Lori Nix’s witty, eye-deceiving archival pigment print, “Living Room.” It seems at first to be a candid shot of her chaotic home studio. Instead it’s a photograph of a miniature diorama she and her partner built, meticulously recreating her studio’s chaos. The power of “Living Room” stems from how real it initially appears to be, and how fragile and artificial it actually is.
Julie Blackmon’s “Patio” similarly subverts expectations. It reads, at first glance, as a casual shot of outdoor suburban living on a hot summer’s day, with the house’s glass-window reflections revealing its various patio activities. But the closer you look at it, the more its logic dissolves.
That pigtailed girl staring at herself in the glass — why is her hair braided in the reflection? That sunbathing mom reading “New You” magazine — why does her rattan chair seem to be a chaise-lounge in the reflective glass? And why is the coiled garden hose on the concrete missing in this “mirror”?
An unsupervised crawling baby, an untended barbecue fire and an odd scattering of bright rubber balls add to the sense that this seemingly relaxed domestic world is full of riddles and hazards.
Thuy-Van Vu plays similar visual tricks. Her watercolor, “Westport Observation Tower,” explores Mobius strip-like impossibilities, as the tower’s staircases ascend within its four vertical beams in ways that defy spatial sense. Her oil-on-canvas, “Untitled (North Seattle),” is equally eye-befuddling as it depicts an apartment house under construction that seems more bandaged together than building-code compliant.
Smaller, quieter pleasures can be found in Michael Kenna’s delicate black-and-white photographs of greenhouse-frame traceries against snowy Japanese landscapes and Mark Thompson’s mixed-media drawings of sharp-edged structures being worn to softness by encroaching drizzle or snow.
Other offerings in the show, including paintings by Susanna Bluhm and Cable Griffith, have a faux-naïf appeal in their renderings of would-be dwellings. But it’s the technical wizardry of Blackmon, Nix and Vu that makes the biggest impression.
Note: If you check out “DWELL” this weekend, don’t miss Jane Hammond’s photographs almost next door at Greg Kucera Gallery. Hammond likes to take found photographs, digitally scan them and arrange them into surreal scenarios, then print them using traditional darkroom methods. The result: quirky unsettling environments for the eye and mind to inhabit intensely. The show closes Saturday.