The scenes aren't all they seem at Grizzly Grizzly

arts / Article

Photography, drawing and landscape representation take a turn for the abstract at Grizzly Grizzly through March. Victoria Burge and Millee Tibbs present the two-person show, “Extending in Both Directions,” with the subtle yet confident works that either distort our view of nature or slyly connect the dots of our subconscious to evoke form from thin lines and their circular adjoining points.

Millee Tibbs, "Mountains + Valleys (Yosemite # 1)."

Working from the starting point of scenic photographs, Tibbs folds and creases the physical pictures into Origami or overlays them with translucent shapes and then presents the final altered images as framed works of art beyond their representational value. In a more traditional aesthetic, these cliff faces, trees, valleys and so forth could be considered the pinnacle of beauty, but Tibbs skews the scenes just enough to dethrone them. Whether the slight geometric additions improve or degrade the original pictures is up for debate, but what is clear is that they are indelibly marked, and no matter how modest the changes, these components become the focal point.

Millee Tibbs, "Mountains + Valleys (Arches, Diptych)." Millee Tibbs, "Mountains + Valleys (Arches, Diptych)."

Robbed of their monopoly on truth or beauty, these monumental peaks of rock are betrayed for what they really are: photographic copies of the originals. Even if a majestic mountaintop holds sway over the imagination, these secondhand reproductions could easily have been found in the bargain bin of a thrift store or hanging over a booth in a kitschy diner. Their object-ness exposed, the artist's hand gives them a contemporary lift, effectively twisting the captures of ancient stones and distant visages into cultural ephemera and fodder for philosophical debate.

As the show's name implies, Victoria Burge tends to head off into the opposite direction of image making. Part constellation, part faceted gemstone, her mostly colorless works add dimension and near pure abstraction into the mix. In one piece, “Distance of Memory,” Burge alters a piece of sheet music much as Tibbs does her landscapes, but their process is otherwise quite at odds.

Victoria Burge, "Distance of Memory." Victoria Burge, "Distance of Memory."

The strange marks and symbols of musical notation are all but alien to those not trained in music theory, but Burge levels the playing field by breaking this language into an assemblage of figures that literally mean nothing. Left only with Burge's formal elements, we encounter a visual language all her own, and our interpretations, preferences, and understanding suddenly become relevant regardless of our grasp of music. A language of one is hardly different from a universal language, and in a democratic fashion, these shards of meaning stand out starkly against the notes covered in a hazy layer of white.

Victoria Burge, "Vega" and "Island." Photo courtesy Jaime Alvarez Victoria Burge, "Vega" and "Island." Photo courtesy Jaime Alvarez

In her other works, Burge slices a nebulous black field with a network of white lines. Here there are no connections to outside dialects, just her structures and compositions. With puffs of smoky gray-white in the background of flat black, these points clearly seem interstellar, and with a name like “Vega,” who would argue? But like Tibbs's photos, the map is not the territory.

Even constellations are human constructions – arbitrary interpretations of star formations by observers from earth. Elsewhere these distant groupings of stars would look completely different. This runaway relatively referenced in Burge's artwork imbues us with a humility and camaraderie in the face of a vast cosmos, and while these implications are all around us, and are by no means dependent on any artist, artwork or human invention, they ring true nonetheless. Like the points of light in the night sky, these marks on paper are merely a stepping stone to deeper waters.

Both artists will be showing their work at Grizzly Grizzly through March 29.

Grizzly Grizzly is located at 319 North 11th St., on the second floor, Philadelphia; [email protected]grizzlygrizzly.com.

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