Quirky and creative, and scarcely a thing painted
The Sixth Annual Mary L. Nohl Fellowship Exhibition opened on Friday at Inova/Kenilworth, and the show is not one that feels static or mired in convention. There were videos to be seen; a video being filmed (and painted); an essay made of up of 60 photographs; a house and power lines upended and askew; and, something like a Hamlet-inspired mental theme park. It’s a motley bunch that represents the broad scope and quirky tendencies of Milwaukee’s creative vanguard.
The Nohl fellowship program was established in 2003 and awards cash prizes to a selection of established and emerging artists each year. This exhibition showcases the work of artists selected by the 2008 jury, which include Xav Leplae, Shana McCaw/Brent Budsberg and Iverson White in the category of established artists. Tate Bunker, Bobby Ciraldo/Andrew Swant, Frankie Latina and Barbara J. Miner received honors as emerging artists.
On opening night, Xav Leplae’s The Shooting of the Misanthrope, described as a “shootformancetallation,” was the most dynamic. Part film, part installation and mostly performance art party, a film crew with camera, microphone and a director organized action in this gallery installation. It centered on a woman in a car with a smoking engine. It was like a garage in an art gallery, sort of — but with trees. Controlled freneticism energized everything as people watched, milled about, reset the scene and ate sandwiches, courtesy of the artist. There were quiet parts, too, as exemplified by the sleeping person half-buried on a sofa outside the film set, and an artist who quietly painted what was happening in the cinematic chaos, á la a plein – air-painting in the middle of a performance art happening. Even the next day, with the gallery emptied of cameras and performers, the energy lingered, like the space after a party. But the orderliness and quiet now seemed out of place, and made me wish it could have gone on endlessly.
Unlike Leplae’s installation that spills out of a neatly arranged space, Shana McCaw and Brent Budsberg’s Reaction and Ground work the tensions of expectation and twists on restraint. Reaction is a pale and tense piece of farmhouse architecture, built with sharp angles and a flickering blue light that emanates from stark, translucent windows. The topsy-turvy structure suggests there’s no ground, no balance – ironic in an architecture so rooted; yet here it is completely rootless as the house rises to a peak at the top and at the bottom. It’s like a confined world, shut off from everything else, neither accessible nor escapable. This foreboding sense of traditional world and the implied stability it once offered is similarly explored in Ground, with telephone poles hanging upside down like bats from the ceiling, before cascading to the ground in a tangled mess. There goes the neighborhood.
The neighborhood, and specifically the social landscape of North Avenue, is documented by Barbara J. Miner in Anatomy of an Avenue. Her photo essay of 60 images is the most straightforward of works in this exhibition. She photographs the people and neighborhoods of North Avenue, from the lakefront through the heart of urban Milwaukee, out to its ending somewhere in the wilds of Pewaukee. The interconnected reality and common bonds of the people who share this street are illustrated in each frame and their relation to each other in the scope of the project.
In the same gallery, Tate Bunker’s 15-minute video, Starring Mickey Burgermeister, loops on, featuring roller rink queens in a dream. One young woman is in red. The other is an aged woman in white satin that billows out in gauzy clouds behind her as she glides through the shadowy netherworld of a roller disco, gesturing, spinning, falling. An elderly man also skates through this ambiguous place, adding to the collection of archetypes in a gentle, desperate quest.
In the screening room, films by Iverson White and Frankie Latina also run continuously, beginning a new cycle on the hour and half hour. White’s The Funeral takes a cinematic approach, exploring the courtship and end of a relationship under tragic circumstances and the relationships that surface in the aftermath. The actors in the two main roles are engaging and expressive, with the female lead conveying the psychological depths implied in the scantly worded script.
Latina’s film Hack takes on the character of a campy documentary, as his efforts to establish himself as a film director are chronicled. It’s an underdog of a film, as tales of woe and the rallies against rejection are wrought with a thoroughly DIY, homegrown grunge spirit.
Nohl Fellows will be featured in a film series sponsored by the UWM Peck School of the Arts. For more information, see their upcoming calendar.
The Mary L. Nohl Fund Fellowships for Individual Artists 2008
Oct. 9—Dec. 13
UWM Peck School of the Arts
2155 N. Prospect Ave.