The “(Dis)Connected” exhibition captures the strange dynamic between us and our electronics, and what we miss when we pay more attention to devices than people.
The glowing little screen you hold in the palm of your hand can make you feel linked to realities that leapfrog oceans and continents. But for the companion sitting beside you, your focus on your smartphone’s brightly glowing attractions can look like a total communications shutdown.
Result: We inhabit a reality where being present in the flesh is no guarantee of being part of the picture.
Kayla Harriel captures that strange dynamic perfectly with the title she has given the group show she curated at Kirkland Arts Center, “(Dis)Connected.” Most of the artists in the exhibit explore canny variations on Harriel’s chosen theme. The work ranges from paintings and prints to sculptures and installations. The quality is uneven, but the best pieces hit home with a vengeance.
11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays, through April 29, Kirkland Arts Center, 620 Market St., Kirkland; free (425-822-7161 or KirklandArtsCenter.org).
The printmakers provide the strongest entries, using their technical prowess to highlight the junctures where cyber-reality and carnal impulse collide.
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Ben Moreau’s lithograph, “Built for Sin/Lost to Apathy,” portrays a virtual-reality couch potato slumped in his armchair, listlessly engaged in some autoerotic pursuit. Another lithograph, Valerie Syposz’s “A Love Affair,” portrays a male-female couple whose facial features are a ghostly blur but whose handheld devices are in hyper-real focus. The lovers shown in Martin Langford’s mezzotint, “Remote,” are kissing passionately — but the man’s main focus is on a TV remote he’s operating behind his lover’s back. The sense you get in all three pieces is of sexual intimacy being gate-crashed by some high-tech interloper.
Some of the painters match the printmakers’ technical facility and invention. Igor Kashinskiy is a special standout. In “Energy Grid,” a mixed-media piece, a nude humanoid form is warped and distorted in an undulating mesh of lines that evokes some kind of force field. The fluidity of form and color suggest a Francis Bacon influence.
Kashinskiy’s “Love Triangle” is, at first glance, a more delicate, pastel-hued affair — the better to deliver its barbed message when examined more closely. Two nude lovers sprawl in bed, presumably after a moment of intimacy. But while she sleeps, he is busily typing on his laptop: the third wheel in their relationship.
Patrick McGrath Muñiz’s symbolist paintings draw stylistically from Russian icons (“Gen-X Daily Meal”) and Christian Madonna-and-Child imagery (“The Creed”). But he packs these venerable forms with paraphernalia of the digital age. In “The Creed,” the babe in arms holds a smartphone up like it’s holy scripture. Behind his head is a Holy Trinity featuring a hamburger, a white-winged Coca-Cola angel and a Mickey Mouse hat. The Madonna herself is just a regular loving mom dressed in T-shirt and jeans.
Some paintings are more striking in concept than execution. The faux-naïve technique of Nancy Her’s acrylics on canvas, for instance, seems an odd match for the subject she’s satirizing.
On the sculpture front, Humaira Abid’s “Fountainhead,” a carved-mahogany laptop with a pouring faucet projecting from its raised screen, is a masterpiece. Ries Niemi’s powder-coated steel “Cell Phone Bugs” are just as eye-catching, with flip-top and smartphone torsos.
The installations of Troy Gua add a final provocative note to the show. In “Your Face Here,” 24 blank Facebook portrait templates include a gap that beckons the viewer to become Face No. 25. Gua’s “Modern Parlance” is a pair of faux-Egyptian tablets, their reflective surfaces neatly inscribed with emojis. Our narcissistic impulses, he suggests, may make communication all but impossible.