The Dialogical Imagination

Closing reception: June 30, 5-9 p.m.


10 Storehouse Row

The Navy Yard at Noisette

2120 Noisette Blvd.

10 Storehouse Row is a Swiss Army knife of art spaces — it switches roles to serve many purposes. It’s a gathering place for workers from the Old Navy Base who eat at the café. It’s a studio space for artists who use one of its glass cubicles. It’s been a screening room for visual arts documentaries, and part of it will soon be used by the American College of Building Arts. There’s a spacious area where art is displayed and receptions are held.

When I went to see The Dialogical Imagination, the new art show there, a different kind of reception was being set up — the wedding kind. Tables with neat cloths filled the space, wafting with the sugary aroma of a medium-sized cake. A row of white drapes temporarily veiled one wall’s worth of paintings, so I had to peek behind the material to see the work.

There I found the delicate, spidery stitching of Sarah Labbare’s sewing machine embroidery on vintage fabric. I also saw mysterious portraits by Matthew Kucynski, who uses crayon and graphite on paper to suggest faces. The smaller, sketchier examples of his work are almost rough caricatures; the phone caller in “Murder” looks like Woody Allen having a jabber. Other works in acrylic, watercolor, pastel, graphite, and ink are more realistic and detailed: “The Purple Room” is a portrait of a ’50s-dressed lady standing in a crooked doorway, her hair shrubbed like the leaves that surround the entrance.

Beauty meets beastly business in “Girlfriend Invented.” It shows two young women — possibly two sides of the same person — in their nighties with an industrial background, suggesting that they’re working girls. “One, Two, Three, Flowers!” (oil and graphite on wood) is drenched in symbolism, with two girls who definitely look similar. One wears a veiled and pensive look while the other is wilder with messier hair. They’re surrounded by black flowers that could symbolize danger, deception, or death.

By juxtaposing this figurative work with abstract pieces by artists like Labarre and Patrick Berran, curator Louis DiNunzio hopes to start fresh dialogues about the art (“dialogical” is a fancy way to say “having a conversation”). Yet the most memorable elements in the show use strong images to imply a narrative thread. Kucynski’s personal work is one example. Ruiz’s nostalgic 3-D exhibits are another. She uses found objects to evoke memories of her family (“Mommy in a Bottle/Daddy’s Blue Collar Lunchbox”), or childhood (“Pendulum,” “Sticks ‘n’ Stones”).

Ruiz accesses all of her senses to touch the past; “Mommy in a Bottle” centers on a container of revitalizing body lotion that reminds her of the smell of her mother’s baths when the artist was a little girl. “Freedoms” uses clipped chicken feathers from her family “farm.” With many of the pieces enclosed in tins or cases, we’re given glimmers of a private world. We can’t smell the lotion or touch the feathers, but we can tell how important these totems are to Ruiz. Some of them are specific signifiers, while others, like the little sandals in “Pendulum,” are as universally significant as the wedding cake.

Not all of the artists are well-served by 10 Storehouse Row’s multi-purposefulness, but the venue is hosting some fascinating shows this year. With its globs of symbolism and rich seam of invention, The Dialogical Imagination is worth visiting — just make sure no one’s getting married when you arrive.

Also in North Chuck, photographer Rob McDonald is showing a 37-shot series of backyard images as a prelude to his out-any-day-now handmade book, Birdhouses. These photos took four years for the Southern artist to collect. Instead of going for weird, slanty angles, for the most part McDonald has caught his subjects straight on. But he’s used a Holga camera to get a soft focus feel, and toned it in his dark room. That’s refreshing in this age of digital trickery. While the subjects are for bird lovers only, the photography is admirably wistful and meticulous. Birdhouses runs through June 30 at the Charleston Area Convention Center on International Blvd.