East City Art Reviews: Wavelengths at Honfleur Gallery

By Eric Hope on June 28, 2011

Yasmin Spiro's "Xanadu" in foreground with Gretchen Schermerhorn's "Call and Response" behind

Invite four installation artists — none of whom have met — and give them carte blanche to create around a multi-contextual theme.  That is the premise behind Wavelengths, currently on display at Anacostia’s Honfleur gallery.  The title Wavelengths is a riff off the name of the microWave Project, a curatorial initiative that brings site-specific installations to both pop-up spaces and traditional galleries.  Each artist seeks to visualize the concept of a wavelength, either or scientifically or socially (sometimes simultaneously).  Akin to a book of short stories, the four installations are each their own accounting of the theme.  Taken as a whole, they provide a compendium on the forms a wavelength may take.

Yasmin Spiro’s Xanadu dominates the front half of the gallery’s ground floor.  It combines a major suspended webbed form in the middle of the space delicately connected to lines traced with twine along

Yasmin Spiro's "Xanadu"

both walls.  The organic webbed form, cascading down towards the viewer, reminds one of a bridge hung between airy, futuristic treehomes.  According to the artist, “Xanadu considers concepts and theories within the world of ‘futuristic architecture’ from the 50’s-80’s and the desire to enclose, encapsulate and protect individuals and communities.”  Viewed in this context the webbed form becomes the three dimensional embodiment of architectural ideas splayed across the walls.  There are whiffs of utopian ideals – perhaps due to the organic nature of the materials, and one understands that notion of ‘wavelength’ that the Spiro examines is the commonality we all seek to maintain a nurturing, stable environment.  The simple materials belie the complexity of the forms, as various smaller hanging forms seem to act as counterweights, giving the main webbing its buoyancy.  It’s a piece that begs the viewer to walk around and savor from various angles.

Gretchen Schermerhorn's "Call and Response"

Directly behind Xanadu hangs Gretchen Schermerhorn’s Call and Response.  Perhaps the most literallyscientific of the four pieces,Schermerhorn’s work consists of two “walls” of album-sized handmade paper cutouts with an accompanying audio soundtrack.  The piece is based on a quote from Kurt Vonnegut: “A plausible mission of artists is to make people feel alive, at least a little.”  Schermerhorn interviewed forty individuals, asking them what makes them feel alive, and recorded their answers for the accompanying audio soundtrack.  During the visit, the audio portion was not functioning quite as intended.  Nonetheless, standing between the two rows of paper forms decorated with various wavy lines and kinetic shapes, one gets the sense of standing in the middle of a free-flowing conversation between likeminded individuals.  The subtle movement of the paper and resulting shadows caused by the galleries air conditioning system, only adds to the sense of being amongst a community.  Here the concept of wavelengths relates both literally to the sounds we hear but to a socially to a community ethos created by these likeminded individuals.

Heading up to the gallery’s second floor, one immediately turns the corner to find Alexandra Zealand’s

"Untitled (2011)" by Alexandra Zealand

Untitled (2011) composed of used-then-dried coffee filters.  At once impish and playful, Zealand’s piece centers around a colony of filters on the floor with small clumps of filters floating up and away into space (the wires are invisible – this piece really does float on air).  ‘Colony’ is an apt descriptor for this piece, as the filters reminded this reviewer of a clumping of barnacles or mollusks living in the sea.  Watching individual units float to and from the main grouping, one wonders what type of communication occurs between life forms we assume are non-sentient.

Next to the most playful piece is perhaps the piece most rooted in traditional, artistic scholarship. Jessica Braiterman’s And the Gold Returns to the Rhine dominates the front half of the second floor, climbing up and into the lightwell above the gallery’s lobby.  One immediately notices the level of intricacy in the weaving together of the materials (all done by hand according to the gallery director).  The piece’s groupings consist of stained Tyvek, gold thread and felted wool and undulate across the floor

Jessica Braiterman's "And the Gold Returns to the Rhine"

and up the walls, demonstrating what painted brushstrokes would look like if they were able to leap off the canvas.  Braiterman is interested in connecting what we can see with the light spectrum invisible to the naked eye.  This piece is not as immediately accessible as the first three and thus requires some critical thinking and observation on the part of the viewer, but that is perhaps because Braiterman wants us to visualize what is not readily apparent.  The best hints of this demand come in examining the “hidden” parts of the piece.  While the painted brushstrokes hang in midair, quiet shadows are cast on the walls and floor.  You cannot see the wavelengths that connect them, but you know they are there nonetheless.

Wavelengths is a must-see for area arts lovers interested in site-specific, installation art.  The exhibit runs through July 22nd and is open for viewing Tuesdays through Saturdays.  For hours and directions, please visit Honfleur Gallery’s website.