By Cole Tracy
Newton, MA- “The Country Between Us,” on view at the New Art Center in Newton through December 20, takes its title from Carolyn Forche’s book of poetry that focuses on her personal experiences as a journalist dealing with violence in El Salvador. The show, curated by Ariel Freiberg, whose work is joined in the exhibition by Resa Blatman, Susan Still Scott and Zsuzsanna Varga Szegedi, takes on a political position.
While this work does not come out and make a definitive statement, it addresses perceptions of the body as well as the changing landscape, two crucial facets to our modern identity. The show is cohesive due to its questioning of painting, with each artist pushing the medium to fit their needs.
Freiberg confuses the genre initially by painting images she has already collaged, which originated in high quality magazine advertisements. The decontextualization of these lush advertisements are critical of our modern existence, with the floating body pieces beginning to resemble carcasses, their displaced and confused shapes creating a violent tension. Textures and tears juxtapose against what clarity exists. Freiberg rips apart the American psyche by looking at today’s commonplace imagery.
Zsuzsanna Varga Szegedi’s work is based around images she paints over. Through erasing the image by applying large amounts of white, she universalizes landscapes, emphasizing its mechanical nature. Szegedi focuses on images of trams, bridges and other forms of architecture, covering the majority to leave strange remnants of concrete and metal floating within a white frame. The machinery depicted floats in landscapes that are unplaceable but commonplace, a dream or a memory. By removing the context of normality with which we view them, one is able to glimpse a closer reality to objects we view as second nature.
Susan Still Scott creates sculptural painted objects. She uses recycled canvases, fabrics, staples and wood and meshes them together into new forms. They recall Duchamp’s readymades in the strange context that a gallery space places them within. By mixing art mediums to create strange forms, it tears the art object out of its hierarchical context. She uses the materials with a serendipitous freeness not commonly applied in such stern rolls that have been attached to them over centuries. She furthers these ideas by placing them nontraditionally throughout the show: leaning against a wall, sitting on the ground and on a pedestal with a rolled canvas on top.
Resa Blatman’s landscape-based paintings look surreal, even computer designed; these depictions focus more on beauty and less on specificity of place. Each is an odd ephemeral background of what appears to be sky with vines intersecting at various angles. She then creates laser cuts and breaks the canvas; there are also objects jutting off the image, reminiscent of the vines on the picture plane. The break makes one navigate the sublimity of these images in a different way, an inventive approach to address contemporary issues in the land; this makes a point of the destructive qualities of nature. By splitting up the planes of the image and adding three-dimensional structures coming off of the painting, Blatman brings the genre into the future by utilizing modern technology in her classical landscapes.
Freiberg’s work seems the most outright political. In one, a mixture of dirt and spices are swiped on the floor to resemble a landscape, which is littered with human ears. The surprise of finding these ears floating in a brightly colored mass of texture is indefinable; several references immediately came to mind.
The human pieces within the dirt show a landscape of war similar to that portrayed in Susan Meiselas’ photograph “Cuesta Del Plomo”, which documents the turmoil during the overthrow of the Somoza Regime in Nicaragua. The lush green landscape is contrasted by a decomposing body in the foreground, the person’s jeans leaving the lower half intact, while only remnants of a spine are intact from the torso, the body leaking into the land. It’s hard to point out the relationship between the landscape and human violence of war — both successfully evoke this. Finally, I can’t help but recall that surreal shot from David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” whenever I see an ear in dirt.
I’m challenged to sum up the show — there are paintings that leak onto walls, a video installation within a silhouette of a face and a dirt painting on the floor, a curation that challenges the viewer but does not force them to a specific point of view. However, the show is brilliantly inquisitive and can be appreciated by bystanders and art historians alike.
(“The Country Between Us” runs through December 20 at the New Art Center in Newton, 61 Washington Park, Newtonville. For more information, call (617) 964-3424.)