” ‘What a curious feeling,’ said Alice, ‘I must be shutting up like a telescope.’ ”
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
“In the dream of the man that dreamed, the dreamed one awoke.”
Jorge Luis Borges, The Circular Ruins
The surrealistic sphere where the artistic imagination slides and seeps into reality is the tantalizing territory explored in this exhibition. Following the example of Lewis Carroll’s famous heroine, we fall into a dream and through a rabbit hole, entering a topsy-turvy world where logical expectations of scale are dramatically altered, and where fantastical elements—the inhabitants, architecture, or topography—invite us to examine the nature of dreams and myths, both individual and communal, born of our sleeping and our waking. In this exhibition, dreamscapes replace landscapes. From enchanted wintry scenes captured in photographs and within snow globes, to the endless, miniature library where a projected figure holds a book, to a gold-brick floor, to an ink-drawn panoply of fairy–tale creatures, to figures who scale a cathedral, ride reindeer, or come to illusory life as cowboys, secretive scientists, and more, these works belong to the realm of fantasy.
Another hallmark of the works in this exhibition is an emphasis on the process of art–making, of the artist’s hand at work. Traditional media are validated and updated here in works such as Laura Ball’s watercolors of people at play and in conflict atop animals, Julie Nord’sWonderland–like pen–and–pencil drawing, and Dylan Graham’s nearly encyclopedic vision of New York City, made as a paper cut–out, and others. Stephan Balkenhol’s Man on Cathedral is sculpted from a single block of wood in a rough–hewn style that alludes to the traditions and tales of folklore. And James Croak’s Nymph, who scales the ceiling looking like a survivor from another civilization, is cast in dirt, a most ancient, common, and resonant material.
The intricate, miniature worlds within Charles Matton’s Public Library, as well as those in Lori Nix’s Ice Storm photograph, and those in Walter Martin and Paloma Munoz’s cibachromes and snow globes are constructed, molded, or cast by hand. Martin and Munoz’s figurines, however, are store bought, as are the cowboys in David Levinthal’s dramatically lit images of the American mythology of the Wild West. Celebrated photographer Loretta Lux is also a painter: the bucolic backgrounds of her Renaissance-style portraits are actually photographs of Lux’s paintings, digitally combined with the head shots of her subject. Even Jennifer and Kevin McCoy’s video work is crafted in part by hand: using plastic figures and other small props, they build the sets of their youthful career aspirations, then place several cameras on each “scene,” which are then projected as video. This multi-layered process underscores the artists’ excavation of the development of self-image: fantasies of who we are or could be are often introduced and reinforced by the media without any critical context or basis in reality.
Art merges with consciousness and desire in works such as Aleksandra Mir’s Umbrella Project, for which the artist crafted an oversized umbrella and photographed it in different locales, intervening in daily, pedestrian life with her functional artwork. Pavel Braila’s Barons’ Hillproject presents a profound intersection of art, life, and longing: the elaborate, ornate architecture of the buildings shown in these photographs are the facades of houses built by the Roma people of Soroca, Moldova. The houses themselves lack basic necessities, and are rarely lived in, used only to entertain and to fulfill the fantasies of a nomadic people dreaming of prosperity, acceptance, and respect. Braila’s gold-brick floor functions as both symbol of and homage to their aspirations; to walk on them is to participate in the realization of this multi–layered fantasy.
Fairy tales are characterized by their potent combination of the charming, the fantastic, and the uncanny, and many of the dreamscapes featured here fulfill the requirements of this genre. The imagery is both enchanting and enchanted, and the suggested narratives often include the potential for disaster to strike. Perhaps the most uncanny is the poetic paradox present in Martin and Munoz’s works: as viewers we are outside, looking inside the sculpture or photograph at being outside, all the while absorbing a vision born within the artists’ minds. A similar paradox applies to Matton’s library with the lone girl: if we identify with any of these figures, we may truly experience the uncanny. A story by the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges describes the experience of a man who dreams another into existence only to realize he, too, is merely the product of someone’s dream. The fairy-tale realms created by Martin and Munoz, Matton, and others suggest a related, complex circuitry of perspectives between artist, viewer, and artwork. To navigate The Rabbit Hole is to enter these labyrinths of artistic imagination and travel toward a center where the constructed opposition of fantasy and reality, of the dreamer and the dreamed, disappear into illuminating visions.
— Alice Gray Stites