ArtsATL > Art+Design > Review: Shana Robbins shows impressive range of skills in solo exhibit at Contemporary

Review: Shana Robbins shows impressive range of skills in solo exhibit at Contemporary

Shana Robbins pursues and celebrates mythic woman power in “Supernatural Conductor,” an impressive body of work at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center. As I wrote in an AJC review, it’s nice to see an Atlanta artist given the run of the place, which Robbins has filled with evidence of her multifarious skills: videotaped performances, costumes and props as well as drawings and photographs and a live performance, titled “Superconductor,” on opening night.

Shana Robbins performing “Supernatural Conductor”

Robbins’ performances, which generate the rest of her work, represent the desire to absorb the power of the natural and spiritual worlds, which are, in many cultures, one and the same. The persona she’s developed suggests a fusion of human, animal and plant spirits, as signaled by the wearing of antlers made of branches. In the video of the performance “Monstrous Feminine,” she is wrapped head to toe like a mummy (also like the strappy dresses and shoes now in fashion) in strips of green fabric, so that she merges with her wooded surroundings.

Aside: Some of her costumes bear an uncanny resemblance to those worn in African masquerades. Compare, for example, Phyllis Galembo’s photo (left) at Hagedorn Foundation Gallery to Robbins’ headpiece for “This Is Me. Be Careful.”

The performances are variations on a theme and format. The masked artist performs slow-paced, ritualized movements that involve interactions with the landscape setting (from Georgia woods to Iceland seascape) and/or the symbolic trees on view in the gallery.

Shana Robbins: “Tree Ghost II”

 

The drawings depict scenes from the performances, but they stand on their own because of Robbins’ technical skill and their evocative power. In fact, to my mind, the two-dimensional work and the costumes, which alternate between body-hugging pieces and multi-layered Victorian gowns, are Robbins’ best work. Ironically, despite their importance as sources, the performances are the weakest link in her oeuvre.

Robbins has an eye for visually arresting images. A professional model, she is comfortable with her body and knows how to present it. Her presence and imaginative costumes account for the impact of her performances. But her actions don’t hold the extended attention that a time-based medium asks of its audience, as demonstrated by her opening night performance.

Robbins will speak Saturday at 11 a.m. The show will run through September 19.

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