Art in Charleston is so flush it might as well spring from sidewalk cracks. The Piccolo Spoleto Festival has traveled down every street, into nearly every store and home. But as throngs of tourists and artists and production crews amble the narrow streets, Charleston’s galleries have put together a variety of their own art shows. These range from slick photography to giant walls of graffiti to installations full of mulch. The shows represent the diversity of Charleston’s art scene, and are a complimentary escape from the Spoleto experience.
Emotional Architecture: Azimuth of Fissure
On view through June 20
Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art
Simons Center for the Arts, 54 St. Philip St.
Now on display at the Halsey Institute at the College of Charleston is Emotional Architecture: Azimuth of Fissure. This exhibit arrives from the hands of Calin Dan, a Romanian-born artist who uses photography and video to stream ideas of people and place into hypnotic glimpses of the past and present. The gallery’s first floor appears sparse, but the two displayed pieces pack enough curiosity to tickle your brain and tweak your instinct. A long, photographic scroll the color of old newspapers hangs from the second floor rafter. The photo shows a man in a hat standing beside a terrific split in the earth. The fissure resulted from Charleston’s last significant earthquake, in 1886. The fissure runs the length of the photograph and nearly touches the gallery floor.
Near the photograph, a jarring video plays on the floor. With its projector installed in the ceiling, the video casts a dusty, mysterious circle, which captures an odd man’s pursuit. The man has wrapped a video camera around his head. He carries pots and pans on an improvised tool-belt. The man spins in circles and beats the pans. Watch, scratch your head, repeat.
Upstairs, two other short films move like musical montages around city neighborhoods, farmer’s markets, and European locales. The pace and soundtrack of the videos make these installments transfixing and difficult to walk away from. Finally, displayed as a spectrum on the wall is a series of black-and-white photographs. The photos use electrical tape as their frames. They show Randolph Hall at the College of Charleston. Starting on the left the photos are overexposed, nearly white in their blindness, and all one can discern is the borders of the building. As the spectrum moves to the right, blindness gains focus, showing the building in 1886, the same year as the Charleston earthquake. Subsequently, at the end of the spectrum, the photos slip into a dark covering that all but conceals the building once again. The concept behind Azimuth of Fissure follows the angular, shifting perspective of observation. Depending where we stand, cracks in history and the environment are seen in different terms, reference, and light.
The Constructed Image
On view through June 7
Redux Contemporary Art Center
136 St. Philip St.
Different perspectives also highlight the photography now on display at Redux. The Constructed Image features five photographers, and contemplates the meaning of honest interpretation and manipulated circumstances. Chris Scarborough’s work positions two young women against one another. One has blonde hair, powder skin, and dreamlike doll eyes. She wears fluffy, light-colored clothes. The other woman is dunked in dark, oily backgrounds, her black hair and doll eyes slipping into an abyss. The two subjects share distinct anime features, yet they are not the same. The photos examine what we consider attractive and how a photographer can change our views.
Daniel Gordon’s photos are eerie, uncomfortable, and stop you where you stand. Sculptures created from improvised materials are injected into pernicious situations. A man with severed legs sits beneath a fallen bicycle. A man beneath a bench press looks certain to eat the steel bar. These photos reflect the digitally enhanced ways photographers can distort sets, props, and subjects.
Nathan Baker contemplates situations that occur outside of the viewer’s experience. Voyeurism and controlled chaos draw thematic consequences in his work. An overweight woman watches detergent drip from a tipped bottle on top of the washing machine. A spilled ashtray lays on a brown rug in a dingy living room. These photos are orchestrated ideas, situations we might otherwise never see, and Baker does a fine job conjuring the delights and intrigue of looking in on the lives of others.
Louis Gispert combines the interiors of steely, polished trucks with ruined Latin American landscapes. Through the truck’s windshield we follow the landscapes as if through a gun scope. Gispert’s approach to his social-political topic is unique and destructive — a bit of irony that rests well with his constructed images.
Lori Nix’s photos work like snow globes. Caught within umbrella settings — grand courtyards, coliseums, regal lobbies — miniature dioramas play out in divided worlds, and truth is called into question. A bee-infested courtyard, vacuums in a rugless room, asks the viewer to appreciate the illusory as well as the real.
The work featured at Redux is conceptually superior and ambitious. It is an exhibit that will propel forward-thinking photography.
John Dunnan Gallery
131 King St.
For more traditional photography, as well as paintings, visit the John Dunnan Gallery.
New paintings on display include “Take Care of Our Earth,” a segmented ride across a pale canvas that follows the trajectory of a red, comet-like orb. The orb is fiery, fierce, and suggests apocalypse. Next, shuffle over to an installation that celebrates the Lowcountry. Packaged away in a tidy room, these black-and-white photographs show one landscape through different angles, lenses, and times of day. The area itself is mysterious and beautiful, and the mulch covering the floor of the installation adds to the experience. The John Dunnan Gallery switches palettes easily. From the earth’s end to the earth’s survival, it has no trouble examining our planet’s fortitude and vulnerability.
Evolution: An Alternative Art Show
Through June 7
It’s easy to imagine a charismatic entrepreneur harnessing P.T. Barnum’s capitalistic drive and raking in millions through art and art’s promotion. Philip Hyman almost fits the bill. He is a tireless self-promoter and quite forward when he describes the attributes of the artists in his shows. But he doesn’t do it for the money. Rather, it’s for the welfare of art.
To coincide with Spoleto, Hyman has produced Evolution: An Alternative Art Show, a host of different exhibits and events that are taking place all over town. On May 31, East Montague Avenue in North Charleston will host a kind of carnival art show, reminiscent of P.T. Barnum, just free. City Paper writer Nick Smith presents Summer in the City Performances and Independent Short Films. A host of local art will be on display, including a live painting demonstration, a 48-foot graffiti wall, music, photography, and poetry. The idea is to offer the public free access to the many sides of Charleston art.
So, as Spoleto roars onward, local artists and galleries continue to do what they’ve done all year long. The only difference now is more competition, and more people to see what they’ve made.