OCULARIS is the first installment of a new curatorial venture launched by the local multimedia project Deer Bear Wolf. Having hosted a number of variety shows under the Natural Selection moniker as well as live literary readings under the title Transgression, it seems fitting that Deer Bear Wolf would extend its reach to the world of art exhibitions.
The term “ocularis,” meaning “of or pertaining to the eyes,” is an apt title for this visually oriented feast comprised of paintings, sculptures, mixed-media pieces and collages, a video and an installation. Curated by Katie Troisi, who organized the group show Beyond the Vernacular at Mammal Gallery in October 2014, it has no specific theme. Instead it highlights the work of 19 local artists she felt represented a cross-section of Atlanta’s visual arts scenes.
The painting and sculptures of Tori Tinsley, which are informed by the artist’s relationship with her mother who suffers from a degenerative brain disease, are especially arresting. Tinsley’s sculptural work is a diptych composed of a large head mounted on a wooden stand and a detail of a portion of a face, mostly nose and mouth set in an otherwise undifferentiated blob of putty-colored skin.
Viewers confront these large, unwieldy fragments of bodies as they try to assimilate them into something like a narrative or cohesive whole. The process dramatizes the forms of disorientation the sufferer of a brain disease and her caregivers might experience as they regard each other across the gulf of this devastating and pernicious illness.
Several works similarly take the human body as a point of departure, whether it’s Romy Aura Maloon’s eerie white heads engulfed by flowers or swarms of bees, Laura Vela’s cutup collages, or Marissa Graziano’s large nude portrait Can We Listen to Something That Doesn’t Make Me Feel Like I’m in a ’90s Movie?, a sort of Millennial remake of Courbet’s L’Origine du monde.
Paige Adair‘s video and installation and Kris Pilcher‘s installation push into new media frontiers. Pilcher’s NEW LIFE NOW even stretches beyond the boundaries of the gallery, spilling over into a portion of the adjacent building. It is a brain-teasing puzzle evidenced by the presence of the golden head of the Egyptian Sphinx among other objects like a chest, branches and twigs, flowers and a tattered copy of Max Born’s The Restless Universe. Composed of projection mapping and assembled objects, the installation causes the mind to flit back and forth between various opposing polarities: artificiality versus reality, synthetic versus organic, science versus religion. Through its depth and layering the piece avoids facile resolutions and invites viewers to ponder the riddle it embodies.
Adair’s video, Rose Red and Snow White: Variant, is a trippy three-minute hallucination that uncovers and exposes the weird, kinky, pent-up sex and violence that underlie folk storytelling traditions. Its depiction of a cartoonish bear’s relationship with an archetypal female figure is at turns delightful and disturbing.
It is difficult to generalize about what this show is trying to say about the state of the arts in Atlanta. As the city generally, and South Downtown in particular, undergo major changes in development, such gatherings of disparate artists and pieces might become significant in their heterogeneity. In aggregate, they could tell us something about where our current preoccupations sit, where our comfort zones reside, and where perhaps we need to continue pushing harder to uncover new questions and problems that will guide us into the future of art making in Atlanta.
The closing reception for OCULARIS on August 7 will coincide with a concert at Mammal’s downstairs music venue featuring local acts such as Feast of Violet and a closing reception for Nina Dolgin’s solo exhibition Very Sensitive across the street from Mammal at the Broad Street Visitor’s Center.