It was one of those gallery shows that cause old songs to bubble up in the back of the mind -- in this case, Joni Mitchell's "Circle Game," with its lyrical refrain: "We can't return, we can only look behind / From where we came / And go round and round and round / In the circle game." Life and time can lend new meanings to art and song lyrics, and the reference to circles is especially apt. After all, we'd heard about it for years: We live in a bowl. And even when people do return, things aren't quite the same.
In art, one circle leads to another, and for Beth Dary, it's all about bubbles. If that sounds odd, she shares the gallery with Christy Speakman, whose quest led her to the even more unlikely realm of oil slicks. They met as participants in the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's Gulf Coast Residency program for artists displaced by the storm. Dary says her work expresses her sense of life's fragility, while Speakman was inspired to photograph the oil slicks that appear on New York streets after a rain because of their spooky resemblance to the shapes of hurricanes in satellite photographs. Both convey a shared sense of an ephemeral environment that is constantly in flux. They have described their work as a response to the "experience of physical and emotional loss in Hurricane Katrina," as well as of having been inspired by "the landscapes that have nourished us."
Speakman's 2-foot-wide color photographs from traditional negatives live up to their billing as miniature hurricanes shimmering eerily as oily iridescence on asphalt. Here the circle takes the form of the hurricane's characteristic snub-nose pinwheel, a mythic vision of nature's wrath in motion, but as photographs they are iconic and come across almost like tiny tropical storms trapped as fossils in black marble. Perhaps if we visualize hurricanes as harmless fossils it will someday happen. (Don't hold your breath.)
Dary's circles appear as bubbles and clusters of bubbles, and as drawings they are obsessive exercises in delicacy on translucent paper. Surface Tensions I, a white-on-white egg tempera and wax concoction, looks frothy if not foamy, like an exploration of surfaces so ephemeral that they are barely there at all. But her sculptures mounted on the walls, or floating suspended in midair, are more dualistic. In fact, they are crafted like pin cushions containing hundreds of round-head pins, and if that's not enough to burst your bubble, it is at least an exercise in pointed irony. The use of pins with ornamental heads of pearly white or somber black creates a variety of effects that probably go beyond her initial epiphany -- the moment she noticed New York street vendors blowing bubbles to advertise their wares, and saw it as a metaphor for her own flight from a flood-ravaged region. Also on view is Dary and Speakman's collaborative video, which is intriguing but hard to decipher in the bright daylight of the gallery. While their individual works are often interesting and well crafted, this is one of those shows that works especially well as an installation, an obsessive exploration of circles in their seemingly endless variations.
Things take a linear turn at Cole Pratt where Carlos Zervigon's bamboo-like glass sculptures are on view. A peripatetic wanderer of the levees that surround Riverbend on two sides, Zervigon is inspired by nature's resilience as seen in the tall canes and rush willows that line the batture, the sandy banks of the Mississippi, as well as the bamboo that so often festoons the lush gardens of the neighborhood. But, of course, if you cut a length of bamboo crosswise, it's a circle. Cut a notch and it becomes a flute. Concerned primarily with visual harmonies, Zervigon mixes botanical and industrial nomenclature, so the interlocking amber and dark umber forms of Kelp are not so very different from the metallic and royal blue iridescence of Conduit. Here he employs simple forms to highlight the sensual allure of glass that has been liberated from its ordinary workaday routine and elevated to a realm of pure aesthetics.
- Beth Dary's circular sculptures constructed like oversized pin-cushions are often as pointedly ironic as they are bubbly.