Reviews

East City Art Reviews: Inevitable Expansion at Vivid Solutions Gallery

Works by Steve Wanna and Marcel Taylor are currently on display at the Anacostia Arts Center in the Vivid Solutions Gallery. The show is appropriately titled “Inevitable Expansion.” While Wanna’s multi-media paintings reflect this title quite specifically, Taylor’s are much more figurative, referencing the transformation of the DC landscape. Not only do both artists’ works speak to the process and effects of a changing environment, but the two juxtaposed against one another help generate a greater conversation about the consequences of redeveloping neighborhoods.

When you first walk into the gallery space, you see an installation of Wanna’s works along the left side. Wanna is a multi-disciplinary, broad-ranged sound and visual artist, although at the Anacostia Arts Center the focus is on his visual skills. The theories and principles Wanna follows stem from his belief that “under the right conditions, great beauty can emerge without the need for much intervention.” [1]

Steve Wanna, Myths of Creation – CE170827, Mixed Media. Photo courtesy of Vivid Solutions Gallery.

In this series, Wanna encloses liquid and powder paints, wax, and other materials in small plaster shells, and then drops the ‘color bomb’ onto a prepared board. There is an explosion of color that hardens on the surface; the act thereby becoming cemented and permanently documented. Indeed, without much interference or control beyond the preparation of his materials, Wanna captures a specific moment in time. His works visually allude to the sound of a crash of materials that have abruptly come to a halt when they hit the board. The final products are devoid of precision and accuracy. Wanna has described the process and the outcome as “both exhilarating and humbling; each piece is an utter surprise, and the moment of impact is always thrilling.” [2]

Steve Wanna, Myths of Creation Series (Ongoing), Mixed Media. Photo courtesy of Ashley Shah for East City Art.

As you look across these works, the bright neon colors will undoubtedly catch your eye. Once closer to each individual work, the materials that were once within the shell begin to emerge as separate elements. The outcome of every work is unpredictable, even though the process and preparation are identical. This gives each work its own sense of spontaneity and uniqueness. Photographs do not give the works justice; the natural light pouring into the space reflects off of the resin giving the splattered materials depth, dimension, and a brilliant shine.

Steve Wanna, Myths of Creation – CE181231.4, Mixed Media. Photo courtesy of Ashley Shah for East City Art.

 

Steve Wanna, Detail of Myths of Creation – CE181231.4, Mixed Media. Photo courtesy of Ashley Shah for East City Art.

Hanging on the opposite wall Marcel Taylor’s paintings are represented in both large and small scale.   In the larger works on display Taylor uses a combination of paper and collage, incorporating abstract elements along with distinct, urban architectural elements. For example, from afar the viewer gathers colorful, geometric structures; up close, you can make out various street signs, building frames and remnants of homes. It begs the questions: why is it hidden, and what is the story of that building? The artist presents a vibrant narrative that is deliberately undecipherable. While the images require a closer examination, Taylor quite clearly reflects on active changes he sees in neighborhoods with his painting titles. These include The Plan in Action, City Flux #2, Missing Pieces, and Power Outage. They indicate both the planned and unplanned effects of area redevelopment.

Marcel Taylor, The Wall Ran Dry, Acrylic, Paper, and Print on Canvas. Photo courtesy of Vivid Solutions Gallery.

 

Marcel Taylor, Detail of The Wall Ran Dry, Acrylic, Paper, and Print on Canvas. Photo courtesy of Ashley Shah for East City Art.

The inconspicuousness of these edifices “alludes to the hardships of displaced communities and vulnerable people.” [3] These are often the narratives and memories that are lost as a result of redeveloping neighborhoods, or what is called “urban renewal” in neighborhoods of long-standing residents. Taylor considers urban renewal to be paradoxical in that, while its intention is to promote economic development, it often has the well-known but unfortunate tendency of displacing those same inhabitants by pricing them out of an area.

Marcel Taylor, Power Outage, Print and Acrylic on Wood Panel. Photo courtesy of Ashley Shah for East City Art.

Intentionally using the collage method to mix and layer different shapes and images, Taylor develops works that “reflect the layers of socio-economic complexities driving so-called urban renewal initiatives.” [4] As represented by his paintings, redeveloped and modified neighborhoods involve a combination of individuals and families that are both affluent and modest, creating a natural disconnect in the needs and resources of a community. Additionally, the vibrant, finished product evokes a sense of movement, energy, and commotion. Even though the painting is devoid of distinguishable buildings and landmarks, the viewer gets the sense of an active transformation and shifting taking place.

Marcel Taylor, Missing Places, Print and Acrylic on Wood Panel. Photo courtesy of Ashley Shah for East City Art.

It is particularly telling that this exhibition is located at the Vivid Solutions Gallery, a gallery owned and operated by ARCH Development Corporation (ARCH). ARCH’s mission is to “create, in partnership with the residents and stakeholders of the neighborhood, a home for arts, culture, and small businesses fulfilling our commitment to the revitalization of Historic Anacostia.” [4] Having this particular exhibition in Anacostia invites public acknowledgement that changes are actively happening in the community. It has greater impact on the viewer by providing a space for reflection in the midst of redevelopment, versus positioning the same exhibition in an already transformed part of D.C.  The story that this exhibition alludes to is one that is familiar throughout the District; yet organizing this show in a neighborhood that is keenly aware of the new modifications provides an opportunity for residents to ruminate.

The title of the exhibition, Inevitable Expansion, is also curious in its implication. The word “inevitable” can hold either a neutral or negative connotation, depending on its context. It seems as though the exhibition organizers are taking a neutral, matter-of-fact standpoint about the transformation of the area.  However, their intent appears to have been to leave room for viewers to make their own judgment.

Both Wanna and Taylor utilize experimental techniques with their work. This parallels the process of urban development in that there is inevitably an element of experimentation in it as well. Certain outcomes and nuances remain unpredictable, despite the immense amount of planning, research and data that go into redevelopment. Wanna and Taylor start with a controlled, planned approach to their work; however, they welcome the unanticipated in their final products. Similarly, the redevelopment of neighborhoods begins with well thought-out plans and ample preparations, including multiple reviews, permits and the like. The outcome, nonetheless, should meet certain expectations, but it may also exceed the planned results in negative or positive ways that are beyond the controllable. Wanna’s and Taylor’s work provide several similarities to changing environments as a result of urban redevelopment. The works at this exhibition embrace the unexpected, and encourage reflection that mirrors the surrounding environment.

Inevitable Expansion is on view until May 19th. For more information, visit the gallery’s website at http://vividgallerydc.com/. The gallery is located within the Anacostia Arts Center at 2208 Martin Luther King Junior Ave. SE, Washington, D.C. 20020. Gallery Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10am to 7pm, and Sunday, 10 am – 3 pm.

 

[1] Vivid Solution Gallery’s statement to the exhibition.

[2] Steve Wanna’s artist’s statement to the exhibition.

[3] Marcel Taylor’s artists statement to the exhibition.

[4] Marcel Taylor’s artist’s statement to the exhibition.

[5] ARCH Development Corporation, Three Year Strategic Plan: October 1, 2016- September 30, 2019.

Ashley Shah
Authored by: Ashley Shah

Ashley Shah is a freelance writer based in the Columbia Heights neighborhood in Washington, DC. She has a BA in Art History from UVa and is always looking for ways to explore the arts around the city. Ashley has also volunteered with organizations in DC such as the Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery and Dupont Underground.