East City Art Reviews—Dialogues at Stable

By Claudia Rousseau, Ph.D. on February 5, 2020

STABLE’s inaugural exhibition opened last fall showing the work of thirty-two artists who are working in the studios and shared spaces there. Titled Dialogues it is slated to be the first and last of its kind as the organizers plan never to repeat this group show idea, nor use the ample gallery as a “vanity space” reserved for in-house artists alone.  Indeed, the founders—Caitlin Teal Price, Tim Doud and linn meyers—intend to look for outside curators and exhibition proposals, although the process for doing that has not been worked out at the time of this writing.

Located in Eckington, a residential/industrial area in NE Washington, the building was completely renovated to accommodate 21 separate, climatized, bright and locked studios, and a large room called the “Post Studio” where artists of different kinds, including literary artists, can work with 24/7 access for a monthly fee, although there is a limited number of these permitted.  The modern build-out also includes a furnished living room area, a sort of conference room that is also a quiet work room, and a kitchen open to everyone.

At a time when so many artists, particularly visual artists, are being pushed out of Washington by rampant real estate development of the neighborhoods and buildings where they once worked, it is more than refreshing to see such a wonderful space created for this purpose.  The organization’s mission points directly to this aim:

STABLE’s mission is strengthening Washington DC’s contemporary visual arts community by providing affordable and sustainable studio space…[thus] fostering an engaged, diverse [art] community in Washington, DC.

The artists working within STABLE have the opportunity to expand their professional practices while connecting to the unique cultural assets, creative communities and institutions based in Washington, DC.[1]

Artists from both the studios and shared space are represented in the current exhibition.  And they are most definitely a diverse group—not only in style and practice, but also in age, race, ethnicity and gender.  The first thing that strikes a viewer is the variety of concept, media and expression represented here.  As indicated by the curator, Dr. Jordan Amirkhani, in her statement accompanying the show, “with thirty-eight works, from site-specific installation to paintings, this exhibition…emphasizes what is possible when an arts organization commits itself to the support of practices as diverse as the cohort itself….For STABLE is much more than a place to make work, but a site where art and dialogue manifest and cohabit.”[2]  Hence, the title of the exhibit.

With so many works, I will touch on a few that stood out to me as particularly interesting.  On walking into the gallery, the first work to catch the viewer’s attention is a large installation by conceptual and performance artist Emily Francisco. The Tran-Harmonium: A Listening Station, begun in 2011-12 and ongoing, is comprised of a modified piano with each key connected by wires to a suite of old clock radios on the floor.  This means that if you hit two keys at a time you get a loud clashing of the audio.  But few can resist making “chords” like that, and with more than one person “playing” the piano, it’s a cacophony of sound.  As installation, it’s both entertaining and ingeniously constructed.

Emily Francisco, The Tran-Harmonium: A Listening Station, interactive sound sculpture, dimensions variable, 2011-12, ongoing. Photo Yassine El Mansouri, used with permission.

Also, near the entrance, up in a corner over the doorway, is Ying Zhu’s A is for… (2009,2019).  The work is site-specific, blossoming out of the corner in a radiating pattern of cut-out cardstock letters A.  These are glued to the wall, standing upright with the points of the A’s upward.  When the artist first came to this country, she was fascinated by the Latin alphabet which she had never seen before.  Just as one might think of Chinese calligraphy as graceful and beautiful, so Zhu saw our letters, especially the letter A.  The work transcends a typography assignment by the sheer mastery of its creation, as well as the beauty and sense of growth and movement in the arrangement.

Ying Zhu, A is For…, site-specific installation, cardstock, glue.  Dimensions variable, 80” max. 2009, 2019.  Photo Claudia Rousseau for East City Art.

On the wall opposite Zhu’s work are three untitled drawings by linn meyers in ink and pencil on found graph paper.   At 15 x 12.5 inches, these are small scale for the artist, but their density and undulating patterns make an elegant complement to that of the wall installation they face.  Meyers’ ability to create texture and movement with her minimalist but intensely difficult technique is well known.  What is striking is that even on this small scale, her work evokes a strong emotional response, and begs the viewer to spend more time following her carefully traced lines.

Delightfully hanging from wooden beams in the ceiling is a part of Mojdeh Rezaeipour’s installation series titled On Matters of Resilience.  The artist was second place winner of the Trawick Prize competition last year, and the installation in the current exhibit appears to have been reassembled from parts of her work in the finalists’ exhibit last summer in Bethesda.  Concerned with identity issues, her work is both autobiographical and a commentary on the larger immigrant experience.  The disparate pieces hanging at different levels are meant to connote the “disembodied nature of the immigrant experience,” something that the artist has known firsthand as an immigrant from the repressive government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Still, one’s childhood home always holds sweet memories, and the colors of the work signal that.  As I mentioned in my review of the Trawick show, the predominance of the colors of turquoise blue and gold is not arbitrary.  In Islamic culture blue, and particularly this turquoise tone is considered a protective color and is found as the primary color of many mosques.  More interesting perhaps, is the fact that blue is the color identified as a guard against the “evil eye” and its use is widespread in protective objects used for this purpose not only among Muslims, but among all the populations surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.

Mojdeh Rezaeipour, On Matters of Resilience, mixed media, found objects, 2019.  Photo Claudia Rousseau for East City Art.

Speaking of memories of home, Andy Yoder’s series of draped cones, Maternicon, #1-5, reflects his memories of growing up in Ohio, his family’s protective home.  However, it also intends to evoke an idea of maternal overprotection.  Yoder found the blankets in thrift stores—they are all hand crocheted and colorful. Listening to the news about mothers (and fathers) who were paying enormous bribes to universities to have their children admitted prompted him to think about how maternal protection can go far over a reasonable level of protection and safety.  So, smothered safety cones became the vehicle for this idea.  Yoder’s cones are made with a wooden core and rice paper and foam around that.  He cut and stitched the blankets to wrap around them.   They stand as a group, although the artist lists them separately in the checklist.  Visually, Yoder’s cones have presence.  Each one of them stands out, but as a group they also pulse together.

Andy Yoder, Maternicon #1-5, crocheted yarn over rice paper, foam, paperboard and wood, each 36” x 17” x 17”, 2019.  Photo Claudia Rousseau for East City Art

Very striking, but also rather puzzling, is the work of Stephen Benedicto in this show.  Much of this artist’s work is done with digital software assistance and has an interesting metallic look that is easily recognizable as his aesthetic.  But here, Volatile is a work that so precisely evokes Frank Stella’s 1958-9 Black Paintings as to be considered a pastiche.  What is intended here is hard to gage.  Graphite on linen, it shows pale stripes in a rectangular pattern.  The surface is shiny, appearing varnished—although there’s no indication that it is so.   The graphite medium and the sheen do distinguish it from Stella’s paintings, but one might have appreciated some kind of statement from Benedicto explaining his intention.

Stephen Benedicto, Volatile, graphite on linen, 20” x 30”, 2019.  Photo Claudia Rousseau for East City Art.

Aziza Claudia Gibson-Hunter is one of the Post Studio artists at STABLE.  Her contribution to this exhibit is Potencha #13, a colorful and highly textured collage.  Layered and visually inviting, it glows within its box frame in the next larger room.   Leigh Davis’ deeply colored photo Debra, Room 104, from her series Residence 2001-2004, is a riveting example of this artist’s photography, and I laughed looking at Jean Jinho Kim’s Blooming Lotus (2019) that looks more like an unfortunate explosion in a garage than a flower!  It reminded me of works by Jean Tinguely, but is not likely to actually explode.

Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann, Crest 1, Acrylic, sumi ink and silkscreen on paper, 100” x 60”, 2019.  Photo Claudia Rousseau for East City Art.

A painting by Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann on paper was a nice companion to Gibson-Hunter’s collage and Rezaeipour’s installation in this room in terms of color and energy.  Mann’s Crest 1 is a new work made with acrylic paint, sumi ink and silkscreen on paper and it pulses with the gesture we are familiar with from this artist.  What is especially interesting is the “push/pull” aspect of the upper and lower parts of the composition, the straight lines in the lower half, and the contrast between the two.

All in all, the show is just what the curator spoke of: an exhibition of the variety and substance of the artists who are partaking in this new artists’ space.  Most of the art was probably not made here but indicates what is to come.  Let’s look for it.

DIALOGUES at STABLE, 336 Randolph Place, N.E., Washington DC 20002.  Through March 8, 2020. Open Saturday and Sunday, 12-6.  www.stablearts.org

[1] Mission statement, https://www.stablearts.org/about

[2] Curatorial statement, “The Conditions for Dialogue”, brochure available at the exhibition.