Material dreams at the N'Namdi Gallery

arts / Article

If you haven't visited the N'Namdi Center for Contemporary Art since it opened in the Sugar Hill Arts District last October, now's an excellent time.  The splendid, 16,000 square foot facility is currently hosting its first curated show, New Departures and Transitions: Medium, Materiality and Immateriality.  (Additionally, there are three other shows by individual artists on display in auxiliary galleries, each of which is worth a look.)

Curated by critic and College for Creative Studies instructor Michael Stone-Richards, New Departures and Transitions exhibits work by more than fifteen artists, some local, some national.  (It's interesting, though, how the show succeeds in breaking down geographic distinctions; Industrialization, shown below, is by the New York artist Chaikia Booker, but its chaotic texture and sense of post-industrial anxiety look like something straight out of the Cass Corridor.)

The many, disparate works on display are unified by a shared sense of self-conscious materiality.  They insist that you consider the materials used in their construction (tires, cable ties, encaustic paint, video, papier-mâché, and much more) as essential components of their meaning (or, in some cases, as their meaning).

Consider Vagner Whitehead's wall-sized multimedia installation silvercode: TANGO. Made with acrylic paint, ink and graphite on paper, it includes five drawn hands that spell the word "tango" in American sign language and several figures frozen in mid-dance.  Projected onto it (and beyond its paper boundaries) is a video of what looks like a drawn figure, variously multiplied and magnified, slowly enacting atomized tango steps. The elegant motion of the video forms a beautiful counterpoint to the still hands and figures.  This delicate balance suggests that while this piece is clearly about movement, it's also about the opportunities and limitations of representing movement with different materials and in different media.

Tucked into the corner of a dark, intimate room at the back of the space, you'll happen upon DUMMY PILE, one of Scott Northrup's compelling video installations.  It's composed of six small digital video players arranged (almost) haphazardly on the floor, each continuously looping a short piece of found 8 mm footage. The footage captures children at play who have been turned, through Northrup's manipulations, into ghosts, each suspended in a recurring moment. But by mediating these forgotten films through sleek, contemporary digital video players, Northrup simultaneously conjures the inexorable forward flow of time, and the result is haunting and profoundly resonant.

Detail of Scott Northrup&squot;s "DUMMY PILE"

Don't take my word for it, though.  To really appreciate these pieces, and the many more that currently fill and illuminate this extraordinary space, you should see them for yourself.

New Departures and Transitions is on display until June 4, 2011, at the N'Namdi Center for Contemporary Art: 52 E. Forest, Detroit; (313) 831-8700; nnamdicenter.com/.

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