New Guest Spot show explores the phenomenon of borders
Published: November 9, 2011
Despite possessing the typical accoutrements of a gallery space—white walls, wood floors, a discreet price list—the two small rooms that make up the Guest Spot in Fells Point feel a bit like a tony living room. This sensation is no illusion. Guest Spot isn’t just a gallery; it’s also director/curator Rod Malin’s home. The juxtaposition of exhibition and habitation space is an intentional part of Malin’s curatorial program, which he says emphasizes “integrating ideas and having personal dialogue surrounding the importance of an intimate space.” Malin’s ongoing program is focused on liminal states, i.e., thresholds or transitions, and the current show fits the bill. Boundary Proof explores the in-between, be it the border between the United States and Mexico or the fine line between success and failure.
A large photograph of four children behind a chain-link fence, titled “Kids, Sunland Park, NM 0810, 2010,” anchors the main room of the gallery. Carl Gunhouse—who curated Guest Spot’s first show back in June—spent the past several years traveling the country documenting suburbia and the American experience. When the housing market crashed, he found that his photographs of American homes had a timely significance. “I got very interested in what it is to photograph political events, or current events, and how to do it in a way that might go further than just being superficial,” Gunhouse says. Last summer he traveled to Texas and New Mexico to photograph the American border with Mexico.
It’s a bit of a soft pitch to lead a show about boundaries with photos of kids and fences, but the images are compelling and accessible. On an opposing wall, three more of Gunhouse’s photos depict the border. The most interesting thing about these pictures is the fluidity of the border itself: It is at times invisible, at others demarcated by nothing more than the outfield of the local baseball field, the low wall of a golf course, or the back fence of a community college. The images are hauntingly nondescript—they could be anywhere with an irrigation system and imported palms—and yet they represent some of the most contested ground on the continent.
Gina Dawson, a Texas native who lives and works in Brooklyn, creates darkly humorous work with craft techniques learned as a child. Along two walls of Guest Spot, letters of rejection from residency programs and artist registries hang dejectedly, painstakingly recreated in cross-stitch. The pieces highlight an inverse relationship between the brief seconds it requires to dash off a standardized dismissal and the hours it takes Dawson to stitch them in all their mundane detail. Permeated with self-deprecating humor, there is something touchingly vulnerable about these homely craft objects. “The language people use to sort of console you in this really generic way,” Dawson says, became for her a subject of morbid fascination.
This stock language of condolence also got Dawson thinking about funeral wreaths. Diminutive floral arrangements made from quilled paper wear sashes bearing key phrases from the rejection letters, lines like, “As you might imagine the pool was extremely competitive,” or the bleakly reductive “Inventory Returned.” Colorful little marvels of labor-intensive craft, they manage to be both poignant and indicative of a remarkable resilience on Dawson’s part. Each wreath can take weeks to finish. “Every time I get a letter I file it to make a wreath,” she says. Despite positive attention the work has received from audiences and press alike, the boundaries of some elite art institutions remain seemingly impenetrable. Though she’s been invited to show in galleries, Dawson says she will continue the series until she receives an acceptance letter from one of her sought-after residencies or registries.
Dawson also made several small paper flowers that she installed in nooks and crannies around the neighborhood, including the gallery’s front steps, the planter on the sidewalk, and a brick wall on a neighboring street. They’re easy to miss if you don’t know to look, but if the rain hasn’t swept them away by now, they’re certainly worth a stroll to find.
Cyle Metzger, a California native and recent MICA grad, presents a range of work, from mixed-media sculptures to large-scale works on paper, from a series titled Discreet Entrances. The sculptures are small wooden shadowboxes that house little snippets of architectural space. “I’m interested in architecture as a stage for the playing out of our behaviors and interactions with each other,” Metzger says. Opaque panes of glass obscure a direct view inside the boxes. It’s the glass used for bathroom windows and shower doors, and causes the viewer to wonder if he or she is intruding on something secret. A good look inside requires moving around, engaging the space physically. “I wanted them to be these experiences of making someone feel like a voyeur,” Metzger says. “To question whether they’re allowed to be looking or not.”
Metzger also has two works on paper in the show. Dominated by negative space, they cobble together geometric shapes to imply generic interior spaces, blending graphite and latex house paint. In the doorway between the two rooms of the gallery Metzger also painted a small installation element on the wall, close to the ground, so subtle it’s easy to miss. This recurring theme of simplicity is intentional, and speaks to the artist’s interest in exploring how much a composition can be stripped down before it moves from subtle to meaningless. Metzger’s interest in artwork that requires patient interaction and contemplation dovetails nicely with Malin’s curatorial prerogative to show work that encourages thoughtful discussion. For a show exploring methods of exclusion, Boundary Proof is surprisingly inviting.
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