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Review Archive

'Identity' Exhibit Provocative Works Range from Playful and Accessible to Ambiguous

By Roger Green

Ann Arbor News Bureau, Sunday, February 04, 2007

Jack Summers' cut-and-fold paper cubes digitally superimpose photos of his own face onto bodies derived from historic paintings and sculptures. Collectively titled "Jack on a Box,'' the colorful cubes survey discrepant role models that can shape an individual's identity.

"Jack on a Box'' is the most playful, and accessible, of the many works assembled in the group exhibit "Identity Expression,'' at Gallery Project through Feb. 11. Curated by Nicole Parker and Dan Gay, the exhibit includes additional works whose pronouncements about developing and expressing identity are relatively straightforward. However, ambiguous, open-ended works also appear, raising more questions than they answer.


Squarely in the former category are black-and-white photographs by Miguel Gandert and woodblock prints by Shaque Kalaj. Gandert, a New Mexico native, photographs the formative, sacred and secular rituals practiced by Indian and Hispanic people in the Southwest. Particularly striking is Gandert's portrait of "Theresa Gutierrez,'' whose naked back is overspread with a tattooed likeness of the Virgin of Guadelupe.

Kalaj's equally striking "American Woman'' is a set of black-and-white prints covering both sides of a partition wall; the one side supports the carved and inked woodblocks, the other side, reverse impressions on paper. In both displays, stylized portrayals of women combine with smaller images of models that affect women's consciousness of identity - among them Aunt Jemima, Marilyn Monroe and the Venus of Willendorf, a Neanderthal fertility figure.


Accessible too are works by Elaine Lok and Karen Sanders. Lok seeks her own identity in vintage photos of family members, with whom she was never close in life. Her cut up, collaged photos are cyanotypes, products of a printing process that generates images in shades of blue, and that was long used - appropriately in light of Lok's quest - to create blueprints.


Sanders pairs familiar graphic symbols with historic photos downloaded from the Internet. The internationally understood symbols - a simplified female figure, for example, signifying ladies' lounge - are indicators, Sanders' artist's statement says, of shared assumptions that shape collective identity. Yet historically, race, class, religion and other factors have excluded millions of people from the collective mainstream. Thus, the ladies' room logo opposes and old photo showing a door marked "White Ladies Only.''


Less coherent as explorations of identity are works by Phoebe Gloeckner and Joe Namy. Gloeckner, a well-known creator of graphic novels and a University of Michigan professor, is showing "I Kill Dogs,'' a vertical arrangement of five color photographs with lettering. The aggressive and rather horrific photos (the title "I Kill Dogs'' says it all) actually are of posed dolls, onto which live models' faces have been digitally superimposed.


According to her statement, Gloeckner drew inspiration for the work from foto-novelas, those inexpensive, photo-illustrated novels whose melodramatic stories are hugely popular in Mexico. Yet while foto-novelas doubtless have impacted many dreamy Mexican girls, the illustrated stories are highly moral, with justice and love triumphing in the end. So what exactly inspired love of killing dogs?


Namy's video installation, "Cartoon Red Phone Transmitting Subtitled Recollection of Occupation,'' combines clips of fighting and destruction in the Middle East with snippets of color cartoons. Namy, who is Arab-American, speaks intriguingly in his statement about creating identity from selected, never-experienced histories. But what does that mean with regard to the video? What are Namy's feelings about the war on terror?


Unanswered, these questions may frustrate viewers, or possibly encourage them to confront unpleasant truths. Whatever the case, the exhibit "Identity Expression'' tackles a provocative issue thoughtfully, as visitors to Gallery Project have come to expect.


Gallery Project is at 215 South Fourth Avenue. Hours are: Tuesday through Thursday, noon-6 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, noon-9 p.m., and Sunday, noon-4 p.m.. For more information, call 734-997-7012 or access To contact Roger Green, call 734-994-6955 or e-mail