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Ann Arbor Art Center, Gallery Project collaborate for 'Unseen' exhibit

John Carlos Cantu | Ann Arbor News 10-4-2014


There's the world we that see. But there's also a sizable part of the world that's left "Unseen".


It's this latter part of reality that's the focus of the latest collaboration between the Ann Arbor Art Center and Tree Town's most ardent proponents of 21st century visual ideas: Ann Arbor's Gallery Project.


This Art Center-based "Unseen" (the exhibit was on prior display at Detroit's Eastern Market) plays off the peculiar tension of what's seen and not seen. For the fact is we all miss the larger part of what's going on around us. And it's neither from sloth - nor from a lack of trying. Rather, we're seemingly incapable of constitutionally taking in all at once everything that there's to be seen.


There's therefore an uneasy psychological tautness to our day-to-day affairs (or sheer lack of comprehension) that serves to shield us from life's outer edges. And it's the self-appointed purpose of Gallery Project to bring this sort of thing to our attention.


Gallery Project co-directors Rocco DePietro and Gloria Pritschet have certainly bitten off one of the most conceptual of their always wildly artful schemes with this third Gallery Project-inspired exhibit at the Art Center.


"There's a whole category of contemporary art that's full of technical and creative surprises", say DePietro and Pritschet in their exhibition statement. "These works might involve hidden images, inference of the presence of the objects and content when they are not there, and movement that alters the visual and perceptual field. Some can only be fully realized with the participation and imagination of the viewer".


The Gallery Project duo then follows up this challenge with the most intriguing of qualifications: "The quest to see lies at the heart of human urgency. To breach the barrier between the visible and the invisible is compelling, emotional, informative, and even magical." This process of discovery", continues DePietro and Pritschet, "has always driven thinkers and image makers: artists, scientists and philosophers, from astronomers to nanotechnologists, from documentarians and data analysts to planners and prognosticators. As the unseen becomes seeable and seen, a pivot occurs, revealing and demanding irreversible change. No one who has "seen" is ever the same".


It's this transformative aspect that makes "Unseen" so potent. For its undeniably seeing the "Unseen" in this display that's going to impact the discerning gallery viewer.


The reason why is broached by DePietro and Pritschet in the most of elemental terms. "The invisible may be unseen for many reasons", they conclude "may be purposely covert for socio-political or military reasons, or to hide corruption or actions contrary to the public good. It may be inadvertently unseen because of the limits of technology or its applications, or the limits of human perception or comprehension. It may be willfully unseen from lack of curiosity, imagination, salience, awareness, or limitations of perceptual processes".


And we're now down to Gallery Project's chosen task. Each of these "Unseen" artworks is supremely challenging and quite formidable as an aesthetic, philosophical, and/or social proposition. And this intensity suits the Gallery Project just fine.


Ann Arbor talents include Heather Accurso, Lea Bult, James Cogswell (and collaborators Greg Tarle, Jason Eaton, Brian Nord, Stephen Rush, and Simon Alexander-Adams), Ruth Crowe Justin Joque, Michael Nagara, Marianetta Porter, Colin Raymond, Nathan Rice, Kate Robertson, Ellen Wilt, Robin Wilt, and Nick Zagar; as well as curators DePietro and Pritschet. Regional talents includes Seder Burns (Allen Park); Bethany Shorb and Anna Schaap (Detroit); Tohru Kanayama (Dexter); and Brian D. Ottum (Saline).


But this list is only really scratching the surface as the show also provides a forum for other artists on east, west, and third coasts; Rome's Art is Open Source; Menlo Park, CA's B612 Foundation; Google Earth Outreach, with the additional participation of faculty and students from Fresh Eyes, NM; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston; the Rhode Island Training School; and the Green Hill School of Chehalis, WA.


As aforementioned, this confrontational display wants to hit as many "Unseen" as seemingly possible. And nowhere is a lack of seeing more on display than in a corner of the Art Center upstairs gallery turned over to incarcerated youth. Through video and photographic evidence, the artists concerned with this topic address the issue of contemporary society's desire to lose these youths as quickly as possible irrespective of whether or not their offenses warrant such banishment.


Like their questionable status "and in more ways than one", seeing photographs of these young adults is harrowing in both its appearance and meaning. Of these atworks, Olympia, WA photographer Steve Davis has contributed an archival inkjet print, "Captured Youth Series: 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14, Intensive Management Unit, Green Hill" where the digital composite of young faces placed on the door of solitary confinement cells gives this banishment a disturbing visage. No longer "Unseen" this photograph questions such routine punishment.


Two formal mixed-media artworks play with the notion of "Unseen" through their clever use of artful absence. Ann Arbor's Colin Raymond has contributed a "Coinflip" assemblage where more than 200 laser-cut paper pennies are suspended from the Art Center gallery in a mathematical model of permutations based on a flipped coin. James Freeman of Manitou Beach, MI, on the other hand, has added a 100 ceramic, wood, and glass "Phalanx" mixed-media sculpture where ten shelves consisting of ten darken jars each conceal as much as they reveal while sitting placidly on the gallery wall.


One of the Gallery Project's signature flourishes is to find provocative videos for their show. Among these works that illustrate what we can't see is an inspired video work by MIT artists-technologists Sebastian Seung, Amy Robinson, and Alex Norton entitled "The Map Makers: Tracing the Neurons of the Brain" where a color-coded mapping sequence illustrates neurons floating through an image segmentation. A bit more accessible; but equally clever, is NYC videographer Josh Begley five-minute high-speed "MLK Boulevard" that moves at break-neck velocity along the many American highways and byways named after Dr. Martin Luther King.


But perhaps the single most interesting "Unseen" in this always eye-catching show is B612 Foundation's tracking of the cataclysmic consequences occurring from not seeing enough soon enough. This group dedicated to finding killer asteroids before they find us have contributed "Asteroid Impacts, 2000-2012", a wall map locating such strikes that have penetrated the Earth's atmosphere through this latest period of time.


Marking these impacts (from one to 600 kilotons), "Asteroid Impacts, 2000-2012" shows us where these rogue asteroids have recently hit land and sea. And as the map vividly shows us, some of these strikes are indeed quite close to home. Crafting homage to perhaps the ultimate "Unseen", B612's "Asteroid Impacts, 2000-2012" gives Satchel Paige's tongue-in-cheek observation, "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you", a whole new unnerving inverse twist.