Joanne Lefrak:

Pasatiempo - - Art - Past as Pres­ence, Box Gallery, 1611-A Paseo de Per­alta, 989-4897; through Oct. 2

Look­ing at Joanne Lefrak’s new body of work at Box Gallery, one won­ders if she honed her artis­tic chops us­ing an Etch A Sketch. Her scratched-on-Plex­i­glas, light-gen­er­ated shadow draw­ings have sim­i­lar­i­ties to im­ages cre­ated with the Ohio Art Com­pany’s two-knob draw­ing de­vice, at least in terms of line qual­ity and limited tonal range. But this state­ment is not a slam against Lefrak (or Etch A Sketch, for that mat­ter), for she has de­vel­oped a di­rect and more so­phis­ti­cated aes­thetic than the clas­sic toy al­lows.

Tech­ni­cally, Lefrak’s pieces are pro­duced in a very straight­for­ward man­ner. With a sty­lus — or any other tool that scratches the sur­face of a clear sheet of acrylic — she gen­er­ates a line draw­ing that, in turn, is ren­dered vis­i­ble by shin­ing a light through the etched piece of Plex­i­glas. With­out the light, the draw­ing does not ex­ist. From an oblique an­gle, one can see the marks scratched on the sup­port, but as a co­her­ent draw­ing in and of it­self it doesn’t make sense. Fur­ther­more, if some­one blocks the light source, all or por­tions of the cast draw­ing dis­ap­pear — the same way in which a cloud pass­ing in front of the sun oblit­er­ates nat­u­rally cast shad­ows. Con­se­quently, the work is about process and in­stal­la­tion lo­gis­tics as much as it is about sub­ject mat­ter and con­tent.

Lefrak’s art­work in this vein was first seen in sin­gu­lar pieces as part of two in­vi­ta­tional ex­hi­bi­tions: Al­ter­na­tive Spa­ces, which opened in Fe­bru­ary 2009 at the New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art, and The Won­der Sa­lon, which opened in Novem­ber 2009 at Linda Durham Con­tem­po­rary Art. Her cur­rent one-per­son show fea­tures 10 draw­ings in a pris­tine, white­washed en­vi­ron­ment, an in­stal­la­tion so asep­tic that I felt in­clined to scrub up be­fore pe­rus­ing the work. But Lefrak’s del­i­cate, ephemeral im­ages lend them­selves to a min­i­mal­ist space; in fact, the walls func­tion as sup­ports for her shadow-cast im­agery. Not only does her work hang on the wall — in some cases it is bolted to it — but the tex­ture and color of the wall are for­mal el­e­ments in­te­gral to each piece.

Desert land­scapes, an aban­doned vil­lage, play­ground equip­ment, one in­te­rior, and a nonob­jec­tive draw­ing are fea­tured in the ex­hibit, the last of which is an anom­aly among the rep­re­sen­ta­tional pieces but also the most in­trigu­ing. Ac­cord­ing to the ex­hi­bi­tion check­list, Re­mem­ber­ing Sol Le­witt (2010) was “ex­e­cuted as per in­struc­tions; in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Sage Som­mer, Zoe Black­well, and the Book and Dish Club.” Small in com­par­i­son to Lefrak’s other works, this par­tic­u­lar piece in­vites con­tem­pla­tion — not so much for its scratched, wavy lines cast on the wall, but for its cast shadow-box ef­fect. The three-di­men­sional il­lu­sion jux­ta­posed with its two-di­men­sional coun­ter­part is re­ally fun and forces one to think about shape and form as cre­ated by light. Imag­ine how the shadow-cast box would change in shape and in­ten­sity over the course of a day if in­te­grated with the arc of the sun. (There is no need to be concerned about fad­ing, as Lefrak’s ma­te­ri­als are in­her­ently archival.) The cast draw­ing would fade nat­u­rally as the sun sets and then be au­to­mat­i­cally recre­ated — or turned on — at sun­rise. With a bit of strate­gic place­ment, this piece could do dou­ble duty as a sun­dial.

Demon­strat­ing her in­ter­est in the his­tor­i­cal and present as­pects of the Trin­ity Site — where the first atomic bomb was tested, south­east of So­corro, New Mex­ico — Lefrak has in­cluded two iso­lated land­scapes de­pict­ing the no­to­ri­ous lo­cale. To the un­in­formed, Trin­ity Site (At the In­stru­men­ta­tion Bunker) and Trin­ity Site (On the Out­skirts of Ground Zero), both cre­ated this year, present them­selves as sim­ple stud­ies in desert ter­rain, punc­tu­ated with a fence and al­most Zen-like in tone and mood. But the im­ages are loaded, not only as vis­ual an­thro­pol­ogy — in a then-and-now con­text — but psy­cho­log­i­cally and emo­tion­ally. Sixty-five years later, Trin­ity Site still reg­is­ters low to mod­er­ate lev­els of ra­dioac­tiv­ity and is mon­i­tored by the mil­i­tary.

Of less in­ter­na­tional no­to­ri­ety but more pic­turesque in its ren­der­ing, the sub­ject of Jail, Santa Rita, NM (2009) is an aban­doned adobe jail­house and an out­build­ing. As an etched, shadow-cast draw­ing, it works well. Like a sun-bleached 19th-cen­tury al­bu­men print, much of the de­tail has been lost, but just enough vis­ual in­for­ma­tion has been re­tained to make it in­ter­est­ing. His­tor­i­cally, the soft-toned im­age ref­er­ences a by­gone era of the Old West and fron­tier jus­tice. It also re­sem­bles a Hollywood set piece that might have seen the likes of John Wayne or Ward Bond in a John Ford Western. But this par­tic­u­lar im­age also dis­plays Lefrak’s eye for good com­po­si­tion, with the two struc­tures sit­u­ated in a per­spec­ti­val man­ner that leads the eye into the pic­ture com­fort­ably. One won­ders if Lefrak’s orig­i­nal pho­to­graph — upon which her scratched draw­ing is based — is as strik­ing.

In as­so­ci­a­tion with a few pieces, one can don head­phones and lis­ten to a male speaker rem­i­nisce about par­tic­u­lar sites rep­re­sented in the artist’s work. A to­tal of six au­dio tracks re­late to four pieces and run from just over a minute to six min­utes each. Un­for­tu­nately, the in­for­ma­tion shared by the speaker isn’t so much en­light­en­ing as it is chatty about fam­ily and grow­ing up. For in­stance, Cabezon Butte (2010) has two au­dio tracks from which to choose: “Night Owl” and “Owl Gold.” Cabezon Road (2010) of­fers per­sonal com­men­tary in “Rat­tlesnakes” and “UFO,” nei­ther of which are as com­pelling as their ti­tles im­ply. Too bad Lefrak did not re­cruit a va­ri­ety of speak­ers, male and fe­male, to share their sto­ries, or some­one from the govern­ment to talk about these sites from an of­fi­cial per­spec­tive. The spo­ken word can be a dy­namic in­gre­di­ent, and Lefrak may well find the right com­bi­na­tion of oral his­tory and vis­ual con­tent in a fu­ture project, but one hopes it will not come at the ex­pense of the del­i­cacy and quiet drama of the cast draw­ings them­selves.

— Dou­glas Fair­field

Joanne Lefrak: Cabezon Butte, 2010, scratched Plex­i­glas and shadow, 37 x 49 inches

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