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Courtesy of Taubman Museum of Art
Detail from “Jason Salavon: A Seamlessness Between Things,” an installation exhibition with interactive remote controls.
Courtesy of the Taubman Museum of Art
In “Jefferson’s Secret,” Suzanne Stryk combines her sketches from nature with Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten notes.
Courtesy of the Taubman Museum of Art
“Her Stories: Fifteen Years of the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective” includes sculpture, pictures, video and books.
Sunday, June 23, 2013
On first perusal, the four newly opened summer exhibitions at the Taubman Museum of Art seem far removed from one another.
One consists of mixed media collages of Virginia maps and sketches of our state’s flora and fauna. One involves experimenting with remote controls and video projections. One includes surreal paintings and drawings of alter egos and alternative realities. The last is a collaborative installation by 43 artists who are women of South Asian heritage, exploring aspects of their lives and culture from a feminist perspective.
Yet Taubman Deputy Director of Exhibitions Leah Stoddard said all four shows have unifying factors. Each was created by living artists and has to do with identity and flux. Each asks questions, Stoddard said, about “who we are and what is our place in the world?”
Of the places examined through art, “Suzanne Stryk: Notes on the State of Virginia” hits closest to home.
Originally from Chicago, Bristol-based Stryk moved to Virginia about 30 years ago. Even then she was an admirer of one of the state’s most famous residents — Thomas Jefferson.
“Notes on the State of Virginia,” the only book Jefferson published while he was alive, includes sections cataloguing plants and wildlife he observed, and evocative descriptions of landmarks such as Natural Bridge. The book also contains sections in which Jefferson expounds on his theories of government and views on slavery, but it was his roles as naturalist and scientist that inspired Stryk’s interest.
Like Jefferson, “I love trying to find the special quality of specific places,” Stryk said. For years she had an interest in creating her own personal version of “Notes,” and in 2010 had the inspiration to use her sketches from nature as the basis.
Assisted by a $5,000 fellowship from the Virginia Commission for the Arts, she traveled all over the state to collect artifacts and make sketches representing the state’s diverse geography. The results are a series of colorful three-dimensional collages that make use of documents, maps, sketches and objects that represent physical places and include references to their history and in some instances the ecological challenges they face. Stryk’s exhibition will stay on display until Aug. 24.
You could argue that “Jason Salavon: A Seamlessness Between Things” with its abstract concept and interactive remote controls, stands at the opposite end of the spectrum from Stryk’s work. I want to note that despite the video game-like ambience of the show, it’s not for children. Sexually explicit imagery pops up in at least one of the installation’s 10 video projections.
Salavon, an art professor at the University of Chicago and former video game designer, created the show as a way of contemplating the effects of the Internet age. “I’m interested in these massive feeds of information that we’re sort of steeped in and how to use those aesthetically and poetically.”
The projections incorporate live television, an old Atari “Missile Command” game, Internet feeds, Facebook “Like” buttons and a color wheel. The buttons, joysticks and tracking balls on the control panels let the viewer alter what’s being projected, though sometimes what gets changed isn’t obvious. Salavon said the off-kilter controls represent how people participating with their own blogs and tweets can affect the world in unexpected ways.
He hopes visitors will come way thinking about “this data stream that we’re all collectively basking in from both a positive and a critical point of view.” The show lasts through Aug. 31.
“Her Stories: Fifteen Years of the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective” offers another worldwide perspective. A collaboration by female artists of South Asian origins living in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, South African and other countries, it fills the museum’s small David and Susan Goode Gallery. The exhibition was first shown in the Queens Museum of Art in 2012, and The New York Times said the show had “a feminist perspective, an activist spirit and a resistance to melting pot assimilation.”
“Her Stories” includes sculpture, pictures, video, henna patterns painted directly on the walls and even books. Some elements of the show constitute sharp commentary. For example, Jaishri Abichandani, the India-born Brooklyn artist who guest curated the show, has spelled “God is great” in Arabic on one wall, but the letters are made out of whips — though these representations of oppression are festively decorated — and she bluntly expresses the alienation she feels with a self-portrait representing herself the Borg Queen from “Star Trek.”
Not all the installation is confrontational though. Washington, D.C.-based artist Monica Jahan Bose, whose family originates from Bangladesh, contributes a still from a performance art piece in which she sits on a bed draped with saris and texts back and forth with her audience while reading.
“It’s about a woman autonomous in mind and body,” she said. “It’s about these moments of paradise in your life in the midst of all these horrible things that happen to women.” “Her Stories” closes Aug. 24.
The fourth show, “Alter Egos and the Magical Other: John Bankston, Amy Cutler, Jeremiah Johnson, Fred Stonehouse,” on display until Aug. 31, gathers four artists who in their surreal paintings and drawings imagine other selves and other worlds and use them to tackle issues such as race, gender and women’s roles in society.
The Taubman’s hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and Friday through Saturday; 10 a.m to 9 p.m. Thursdays. Admission free. For more information, call 342-5760 or visit taubmanmuseum.org.
Blindness and vision
Texas artist John Bramblitt lost his eyesight in 2001, but he taught himself to draw, paint and even do portraiture by relying on his sense of touch.His renown grew in 2008, when YouTube viewers voted a short documentary about him as the most inspirational video of the year. Later videos show him preparing to paint a portrait by touching his subjects’ faces, and judging which paints to mix and how much based on their texture.
On Tuesday, Bramblitt will arrive in Roanoke to take part in Vision Awareness Days, a week of events organized by Voice of the Blue Ridge, a Roanoke nonprofit that helps convert printed material into audio form for people with vision impairments.
At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, he’ll give a talk at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine at 2 Riverside Circle titled “Healing Through Art.” At 1 p.m. Saturday at the Taubman Museum, Bramblitt will join pianist Cara Modisett and violinist Benedict Goodfriend for a genre-blending concert in which he’ll paint in reaction to the music they play. Both events are free.
For more information and a complete schedule, call 985-8900 or visit www.vobr.org.
On the Arts blog
See short videos from a tour of the new Center in the Square and read about a new Science Museum of Western Virginia exhibit with a farmland feel at blogs.roanoke.com/arts.
Weather JournalMix on Sat AM; coming blog changes