ARTS Loud words meet photo sub­tlety

Robin Lau­rence

The Georgia Straight - - Arts - By

TWO NEW EX­HI­BI­TIONS at the Con­tem­po­rary Art Gallery could hardly be more dif­fer­ent in in­ten­tion or ex­e­cu­tion. Kamee­lah Janan Rasheed’s text works, in­stalled in the gallery’s Nel­son Street win­dows and off-site, at the Yale­town-round­house Canada Line sta­tion, ex­am­ine ways in which lan­guage may chal­lenge so­cial in­jus­tice and dis­rupt cultural com­pla­cency. Dove Al­louche’s seem­ingly ab­stract pho­to­graphs and photo-draw­ing hy­brids em­ploy an­ti­quated pro­cesses to de­pict and re­it­er­ate nat­u­ral oc­cur­rences and phe­nom­ena that are usu­ally hid­den from view.

An artist, writer, and ed­u­ca­tor, born in Cal­i­for­nia and based in Brook­lyn, Rasheed deploys words as her prin­ci­pal medium, whether through ex­hi­bi­tions, pub­lic art, per­for­ma­tive lec­tures, or pub­li­ca­tions. “Within these modes,” writes cu­ra­tor Kim­berly Phillips in the ex­hi­bi­tion brochure, “she uses ex­pres­sions of ev­ery­day ver­nac­u­lars and ex­per­i­men­tal po­et­ics to con­sider Black sub­jec­tiv­ity.” This is most ob­vi­ous in “How to Suf­fer Po­litely (And Other Eti­quette)” at the CAG’S off-site lo­ca­tion. Con­sist­ing of five large vinyl posters with ex­clam­a­tory black cap­i­tal let­ters on a yel­low ground, the bit­terly ironic work was made in re­sponse to sug­ges­tions that black peo­ple in Amer­ica (and else­where) not re­act with anger to the vi­o­lence and bla­tant abuses of power di­rected against them. Among other ex­am­ples, the posters ad­vise read­ers to “LOWER THE PITCH OF YOUR SUF­FER­ING” and “TAKE IT LIKE A MAN BUT DON’T TAKE IT UP WITH ‘THE MAN.’ ”

“An Al­pha­bet­i­cal Ac­cu­mu­la­tion of Ap­prox­i­mate Ob­ser­va­tions”, in the CAG’S win­dows, is more po­etic, more sub­tly provoca­tive. This work con­sists of some two dozen un­ex­pected and al­lit­er­a­tive pair­ings of ad­jec­tives and nouns, ex­e­cuted in hand­made let­ters. Phrases in­clude “Pudgy Power”, “Ag­gre­gated Apa­thy”, “Durable Dystopia”, and “Up­pity Uterus”. The words, to­gether with odd shapes that re­sem­ble of­f­cuts, are ren­dered in black and white and in­stalled against a back­ground of “Baker-miller pink”, a paint colour de­vel­oped in the 1970s as a pur­ported means of calm­ing ag­gres­sive or ag­i­tated peo­ple in in­sti­tu­tional set­tings. Again, irony is in­her­ent here: the work is an ac­tive call to passersby to con­sider what these phrases might mean while also drap­ing it­self in a form of pas­siv­ity-in­duc­ing so­cial con­trol.

Born and based in Paris, Al­louche cul­ti­vates a num­ber of old and of­ten de­mand­ing pho­to­graphic and sci­en­tific pro­cesses, from am­brotypes to he­li­ogravures. As Phillips points out, “the medium it­self be­comes the sub­ject.” For in­stance, in his “Pétro­gra­phie” se­ries, Al­louche has used thin slices of an an­cient sta­lag­mite as the pho­to­graphic neg­a­tive through which he has de­vel­oped his gelatin sil­ver print, cre­at­ing a char­ac­ter­is­tic kind of cir­cu­lar­ity, a tau­tol­ogy. At the same time, the rings of cal­cite ev­i­dent in the sta­lag­mite in­vite us to med­i­tate on the pas­sage of time. Time pass­ing is also an el­e­ment in his “Pétri­fi­antes”, 18 small images of drip­ping sta­lag­mites and sta­lac­tites shot over many weeks in un­lit caves, and sim­i­larly in “Déver­soir d’or­age”, 14 en­graved cop­per plates show­ing min­eral ac­cre­tions in the Paris sewer sys­tem.

Al­louche may also in­ter­vene man­u­ally in the pho­to­graphic process, in­sin­u­at­ing the mark of his hand us­ing graphite and al­co­hol, as in his Sur­plomb 7, or the swipe of his arm, as in Sun­flower 11. Here, sci­ence mar­ries ab­strac­tion with evo­ca­tions of mid-20th-cen­tury modernism. Still, a num­ber of Al­louche’s large prints read as grey-on-grey or beige-on-beige monochromes, and are so vis­ually un­der­stated that the pro­cesses of their cre­ation are of­ten more in­ter­est­ing than the images them­selves.

By con­trast, four works from his “Fungi” se­ries re­ally pop. Cre­ated by cul­ti­vat­ing an­cient fun­gus species in a petri dish, pho­tograph­ing them in colour, re­pro­duc­ing them as pho­tolithographs, and mount­ing them be­hind hand-blown crown glass, they are vis­ual mar­vels. As sen­su­ous as they are se­ri­ous, the cir­cu­lar forms and del­i­cate colours of the fungi are en­hanced by the shiny, un­du­lat­ing glass sur­faces. Here, the artist seems to care enough for his view­ers to draw our eyes to his work and—not in­con­se­quen­tially—to com­pel our full en­gage­ment with his com­plex in­ves­ti­ga­tions into time and mat­ter.

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