The Fourth World
Institute for Art and Olfaction
By Shana Nys Dambrot
Everything is mediated. All objects, actions, impulses, and mythologies are multivalent, shape-shifting, and strange. Even the singular is a stranger to itself. Articulating interconnectivity is an imperative for truthfulness, but the contours of overlapping energetic dimensions are a bear to make into pictures. Especially while you are also dedicated to questioning the agency of your own perspective. But the several artists included in Leonard Bravo’s curatorial project The Fourth World at the Institute for Art and Olfaction have each devised a strategy for combining esoteric relativism with the skill sets of fixed rendering. In painting, sculpture, collage, photography, video, ceramic, and textile, the artists of the exhibition portray and expand the circumstances of both the physical and metaphysical body, through specification of ritual, articulation of space, obstruction of sight-lines, and using language which is by nature imprecise.
Fair enough the exhibition space is fairly intimate, but the exhibition design not only in the main space but in the gallery’s storefront windows, is overtly organized so that almost nothing is possible to see in a vacuum. This arrangement telegraphs and reinforces the conceptual foundation of intersectionality that gives the show its meaning. Specifically two works by Alison O’Daniel hang from ceilings, and the larger in particular is placed, made of cascading red ribbons as it is, so as to tie together the whole of the visual field from wherever you are standing and looking. It is abstract but experiential, narrative without story. Likewise Galia Linn’s distressed, corporeal ceramics occupy the low foreground of every view, evoking the fact of their hand-making and the fiction of their ancientness. Between them, the eye is drawn upward, then back toward earth. Then the intensity of Lindsay August-Salazar’s large-scale, heavily textured, chromatically and gesturally assertive painting engages the center; soon the body compelled toward a corner, spun around again. The negative wall space is charged with the electric energy of the pieces discoursing amongst themselves.
From the dinosaurs in Amanda Yates Garcia’s epic cosmic-playground collage, the ancient rocks and atavistic sage-burning in Mercedes Dorame’s photographs, the impossibly sensual botanicals in Arden Surdam’s, between all the artists lie commonalities of interests such as time and geology, the evolution of lifeforms, herbal magic, incantations, and pleasure. Karen Lofgren’s incantational sewn tapestry and Sonja Gerdes’ video in the windows require the viewer to step outside, separated, to gain context, then enter a narrow space of public spectacle in order to complete the viewing. In this way once again the architecture is engaged in the viewing process to best remind the viewer of their physical presence at the encounter, to experience and consider more than its information. This is akin to what the curator as well as these artists are each pursuing in their work — material forms expressing the qualities of an increasingly post-materialist existence.