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Cleveland, OH 44113
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The Plain Dealer | Steven Litt | November 25, 2018
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Like Pop artist Robert Rauschenberg, Cleveland artist Sarah Kabot apparently hates to throw newspapers away.
Instead, she turns them into art.
The newest batch of exhibitions at the nonprofit Spaces gallery in Ohio City is headlined, pardon the pun, by an impressive body of collages by Kabot based on pages of The New York Times and The Plain Dealer.
Rauschenberg fashioned newspaper and magazine illustrations into turbulent mashups of current events in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Examples include “Signs,” a 1970 print on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art in the exhibition “Who RU2 Day” that includes high impact images of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Janis Joplin, the slain Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and a moon walk.
Kabot, an associate professor and chair of the Drawing Department at the Cleveland Institute of Art, has a different, more intimate take on the raw material provided by print news.
Her show, called “Forgetting Lessons,” includes large-scale installations that turn enlarged and fragmented slices of newspaper articles into abstract arrangements punctuated by bits of text, or that dissect photographs of political rallies, demonstrations or other events.
Of the two approaches, the photographic dissections in “NYT 2015,” are the most impressive examples of Kabot’s work at Spaces.
For her main piece, Kabot removed photographs from 52 consecutive A sections of the Sunday New York Times in 2015 and subjected each one to a cutting process in which she excised all highlighted areas but retained the dark areas.
Given that some of the photographs are quite small and detailed, Kabot’s cutting is intricate and lacy.
She then fastened the cutouts to folded blank sheets of newsprint approximating the size of an open newspaper.
The excised areas in the cutouts function both as “negative space” in artistic parlance, like holes in a spider’s web, and as integral parts of the images to which they belong, in the sense that the describe interior highlighted portions of bodies, faces, clothes and other details.
In a very real sense, the cutouts are a form of drawing. They show how Kabot has refused to take newspaper photographs for granted, glancing at them quickly and then turning the page.
Instead, but pouring attention and labor into each image, she transforms each one into a statement about how newspapers can promote a deeper understanding and engagement with the world.
Kabot’s process squeezes out much of the original news content in the photographic images because it neutralizes the recognizability of faces and other details. At the same time, Kabot’s engagement with the photographs emphasizes universal aspects of human suffering, political protest or expressions of military force.
She also turns something easily discarded into something that attracts and rewards prolonged attention. That’s what you’d call the alchemy of art.
Also on view at Spaces is “It’s Not What It Looks Like,” a series of six restrained and minimal installations by South African artist James Webb, that provoke unsettling meditations on science, religion, politics and psychology.
One piece, “Infinite yearning met with a finite world,” consists solely of small loudspeaker mounted into a gallery wall. It plays an amplified recording of individual heartbeats of a mother and her unborn child in a way that makes a gallery wall vibrate like an architectural womb.
Webb’s piece certainly evokes America’s bitter debate over abortion rights, but it doesn’t take a position. It simply goads a viewer – or listener in this case – into considering how technology provides stunningly immediate access into life’s most intimate processes.
In an equally provocative manner, Webb embeds a loudspeaker inside a mass-produced statue of the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus, which turns its back to viewers and faces toward an adjacent wall.
As if in communication with another world, the statue vibrates with an amplified recording of electromagnetic static produced by the Aurora Borealis. In other words, a figure of mercy and compassion emanates beeps and chirps of solar energy smashing into the roof of Earth’s atmosphere.
To some, the work may evoke battles between science and faith that have been going on for centuries. For others, it may speak of the connection between religion and mysteries of the larger universe around us. Webb leaves it up to us to decide, but his piece, entitled “Wanderer Above The Sea of Fog,’’ certainly flings such questions at his audience.
In addition, Spaces is showing six delightful video animations by New York artist Dustin Grella, whose works were featured in the Spaces 40th anniversary show last spring.
Grella crowdsources ideas for his animations by taking prompts from participants who call his animation hotline and leave voicemail messages with short narratives.
One such story focuses on a caller who describes her favorite memory of visiting Spaces, which involved attending a party at the gallery in which she and her boyfriend, now husband, attended as Hugh Hefner and a Playboy bunny, reversing gender roles.
The Spaces story, like all of Grella’s colorful and cleverly drawn animations is lighthearted, amusing and generous in spirit.
It’s the perfect coda for a terrific suite of exhibitions at Spaces. The gallery, which acts as a site of experimentation and research for participating artists, is beautifully living up to its role in Cleveland’s art ecology.
What's up: Three shows at Spaces by artists Sarah Kabot, James Webb and Dustin Grella
Venue: Spaces gallery
Where: 2900 Detroit Ave, Cleveland
When: Through Friday, Jan. 11, 2019
Admission: Free. Call 216-621-2314 or go to spacesgallery.org.
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