The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
At Knight Arts grantee Vox Populi, October is divided amongst four artists of very different predilections. Becky Suss examines representational painting and its effect in recalling her deceased grandfather and his subsequently demolished home. Fellow Vox Populi member Piper Brett utilizes the idea of a ‘punctum’ or wounding and altering qualities than an image can effect upon the viewer. Two visiting artists – Wes Heiss and Todd Arsenault – present faux trade fair inventions and layered abstract paintings, respectively.
In “Still Life,” Becky Suss depicts views from her grandparents’ Long Island home. The largest painting, “76 Meadow Woods Road” takes up an entire wall of the space and looks out into a lush garden through a number of large picture windows. It is the focal point in the room and offers both an interior and exterior perspective. In front of the windows sit houseplants and statues collected by her grandparents.
These reproductions of familiar scenes help to preserve a part of Suss’s personal history now that the house itself is gone. Other smaller paintings including a pillow and a wartime photograph of the artist’s grandfather serve to delve into the psyche of American generations past as well as a family with which most viewers are wholly unfamiliar. This room is part historical record, part eulogy and entirely personal.
Also obsessed with the personal is Piper Brett in her show “Psychic Punctum.” Brett takes a queue from Roland Barthes in his concept of a ‘punctum’ which he defines as a photo which strikes and ‘punctures’ the viewer in an emotional way. The pierced observer becomes agitated in a way that the image sticks in the mind, not necessarily in a visual way, but remains to stir the psyche nonetheless.
Brett takes a rather liberal view of the term and includes a number of images which have, for one reason or another, resonated deeply with her. In the show there is a scratched picture of cats, a small baggie of cocaine behind glass, a large, black crystalline form on a stool and a backlit cell phone photo of litter. The artist explained her reasoning for the selection of these particular inclusions, but with such a deeply personal effect, much of the emotional content is lost in translation; only objects remain.
The cats are a pair that she inadvertently inherited from a friend who skipped town. The cocaine is representative of a bag she saw sitting on the ground in the subway. It seemed out of place and nagged her until she decided to find some to purchase and ultimately included in the show. The experience of someone else is impossible to fully grasp and we are left to wrestle with the ephemera of another’s memory. Particularly interesting is the imprint that these punctums leave on gallery visitors so that they too are left contemplating.
Wes Heiss has a very ambitious and thought-provoking project called “Chariot.” The industrial designer has constructed a very intricate model of an escape pod for airplanes along with promotional material for the non-product. A post-9/11 mentality fed the initial idea for a way to bail on a flight, but the concept proceeded to encompass the fascination with personal safety paranoia or being able to buy one’s way out of danger. Clearly the product would be exorbitant in cost, catering to only the richest of passengers. This classist slant reminds one of the Titanic and the privilege of wealth.
Todd Arsenault’s fascination with technology led him through the path of digital imaging back to the physical realm of painting. His large, layered works speak to the web-like connections in modern society and the sometimes overwhelming amount of information we are bombarded with daily. The canvases are chaotic and colorful, much like the play of eye-catching advertisements and internet inundation that is an increasingly large part of our daily lives. For the viewer, these paintings offer a way to relate, and for the artist, perhaps a way to release.
The four artists will have their concurrent shows on display at Vox Populi through October 28.
Vox Populi is located at 310 North 11th St., Philadelphia, on the third floor; firstname.lastname@example.org; voxpopuligallery.org.