The Goldsworthy of the Coffee Shop: Jonathan David Brilliant;
New Work: Lorien Jordan
Opening reception Thurs. July 13, 6 p.m.
On view through Aug. 10
Redux Contemporary Art Center
136 St. Philip St., 722-0697

There’s something vaguely disconcerting about Jonathan Brilliant’s site-specific constructions. Maybe it’s the unexpected textures, with a soft or hairy appearance that transcends their plastic origins. The variable dimensions of his work, often several feet high, also threaten to unsettle the viewer. Perhaps it’s the building process, using meticulous methods to create complex, fragile structures.

Take the piece made with 12,000 stir sticks, for example. There’s room to walk around it, which provides a chance to admire its curving surface with the shadows it casts on its lower half and the wall behind it. But bear in mind that the sticks are held together only by their own tension, and one sneeze in the wrong direction could bring the whole object down.

“I’m not going to take this with me,” says Brilliant, who’s completing an MFA in Spatial Arts at San Jose State University. He presumes that once his Redux show’s over, the elements will be dismantled and recycled. The artist seems eager for viewers to get up close to the “stir stick wall,” as well as cup lid pentagons, a color wheel made from sugar packets, and a straw form that snakes toward the ceiling.

It’s no wonder that Brilliant namechecks environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy in the show’s title. While the British sculptor uses materials from Mother Nature — stones, pine sticks, leaves, ice — Brilliant has accumulated his during visits to coffee shops, which he considers his own natural habitat. “I don’t identify with the natural world,” he explains. “I don’t go to the woods. I’m interested in ephemeral things, it’s in my nature.”

By giving spongy life to manufactured, throwaway objects, Brilliant has created an installment that mirrors the soothing aesthetics of Goldsworthy’s work while adding his own modernist twist and making good use of some common, disregarded objects. His installation will definitely stick in the mind, even if it doesn’t stay standing.

New York artist Lorien Jordan is also inspired by ephemeral images and the insignificant details encountered in her everyday life. The colorful clothes and backgrounds in her portraits make the environment stand out as much as the people themselves, who are depicted in monochrome.

“I use friends, beautiful people on the subway, ads from magazines — that’s the cheapest way to get a model,” says Jordan, who likes to study her subjects “when they don’t know they’re being watched.” The prints in her “Strangely Shaped Novels” series use simple, sometimes sketchy lines to show the creased faces of an array of wan young women, with a few of their elders juxtaposed as if to keep them in line. Some smirk, some pout, but all seem hemmed in by their urban surroundings. It’s only their garb that suggests a willingness to escape from their drab lives in restricting rectangles.

The starting point for Jordan’s self-assured print work is the Japanese phrase mono no aware, which she translates as “the beauty in the sadness of things.” To Jordan, anything can be beautiful if you catch it at the right moment, and she nails the wistful nature of impermanence, those slices of life we can taste only once.

Jordan tries to print only one edition of each piece, believing that “if you keep whipping them out you lose the moment.” However, a couple of copies of her work were available at Redux’s Invasion show last week, where the Contemporary Art Center heralded its fifth year of existence by crashing the Mary Martin Fine Art Gallery on Broad Street for a print series reception and fundraiser.

The French Quarter gallery dabbles in progressive paintings and sculptures, so the contributions from Bob Snead, Seth Gadsden, Dorothy Netherland, and other Redux stalwarts didn’t look too out of place. Proceeds went towards the Center’s expanding programs, which include an artist lecture series and film screenings in the fall and a lengthier artist-in-residence slot than usual; this year’s recipient, Jonathan Brilliant, has been at Redux all summer long with worthwhile — if disconcerting — results.

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