Praxis, at Agnes Scott College’s Dalton Gallery through November 13, is an extraordinary exhibition with a somewhat baffling premise.
Making reference to Aristotle’s theories, Jeffrey Whittle, exhibition curator and gallery director, explains that the show’s five artists represent artistic praxis (practice) in a variety of media and meditational or spiritual practice.
More importantly, these artists are doing unconventional things with conventional media such as printmaking, painting, photography, installation and video. Their work offers the viewer a stimulating and consistent experience of surprise.
The surprise begins immediately upon entering, with Kelly Kristin Jones’ strikingly varied photographs of the sky and trees above Atlanta’s vacant lots. The adjacent stack of small transparent rectangles are cut into the shapes of every vacant lot in the city of Atlanta and labeled appropriately. Viewers are invited to take one home, thus “adopting” a vacant lot.
The documentation of empty spaces by photographing the empty space above them is an ingenious way of sidestepping the traditions of documentary or romanticized landscape photography.
If Jones deals with the political geometry of physical places, Bojana Ginn deals with the geometry of pixels and DNA readouts. In these pieces, she projects enlarged video details that incorporate computer-screen cursors to create a stair-step-shaped grid of projected light. It is difficult to discern the scientific references she says she’s making here, but the titles are resonant — Transcription, Translation and Transcendence, for example — and the works are compellingly beautiful, whether we understand them or not.
Ginn’s grid rhymes interestingly with Leslie Snipes’ “grid series” of drawings featuring repetitive marks in various types of rigorous order. They contrast sharply with her adjacent series of collages, filled with riotous color and fluidly shaped form.
The palette of this latter series is echoed by the brilliant shades of color in Tyrus Lytton’s semi-abstract paintings. Lytton deploys spray paint in ways that bear little resemblance to the ordinary uses of the medium, to the point that it requires close looking to detect it.
Some of the imagery is suggestive of Japanese design (Lytton has spent considerable time in Japan). In one case, the form is the readily recognizable profile of his wife. The geometric forms in two additional works, Hidden Infinite Dimensional Symmetries I and II, are inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes and the mathematics underlying their creation.
The distinctive appearance of the latter two paintings is the result of Lytton’s unique technique of building up layers of paint and resin. He also plays with three-dimensionality, using both optical illusion and actual relief.
Jon Swindler’s prints share some of Lytton’s concerns with fluid abstract form, but his gallery-filling set of installations queries traditional ways of presenting prints in exhibitions. Dereliction of Installation is a playful response to the tightly composed salon-style grid of framed prints he has hung on the opposite wall. In perhaps comic contrast, Dereliction’s meticulously framed prints lean haphazardly against one another on the floor, a sight familiar to anyone who has ever installed an art show.
The remainder of his installations are thoroughly unfamiliar. Prints are pinned to the wall by thin pine boards leaning against them, boards of just the right width to be cut into frames. Other prints have been shaped into paper sculptures that sit on shelves made from similar material. In general, Swindler has unsettled viewer expectations regarding what a print can be and how it should be displayed to the public.
This, of course, leads us back to all the other moments in the exhibition in which viewer expectations are upended or deflected. What this has to do with Aristotle’s concept of praxis, I still don’t know. But the exhibition is one of the most thought-provoking and lovely shows of 2015.