Across the street from the Empire State Building is the Volta Art Fair, a sophisticated and civilized art fair where galleries from around the world present solo artist projects. Elizabeth Tenenbaum and Elissa Levy of InContext Studio Tours gave me a preview of Volta New York 2011. After attending six art fairs during Armory Week, Volta felt different to me. It was a tightly curated, intelligent and a refreshingly friendly view of international contemporary art. The attitude here was more like a TED conference than an art fair, seemingly more concerned with good ideas than with commercial sales.
Such was the case with Sue Scott Gallery, New York, which presented Elizabeth Subrin’s feature-length recreation of a lost 1960s documentary about the banal life of a painting student and soon-to-be second-wave feminist Shulamith Firestone. Using actors and shooting on location, Subrin painstakingly re-shot the entire film frame-by-frame, including humiliating critiques at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, sorting mail at the post office, and discussing sexuality and motherhood with her peers.
“Shulie: film & photographs” (1997) addresses the historicity of video, the problems of archiving such material, and the increasing complexities of an image that has been transferred from Super 8 to 16mm and finally to digital video. The abstraction that occurs throughout this process is underscored by the film stills that were printed for the fair, presented as framed photographs, and the wall-sized detail of one of those images blown up onto wallpaper.
Nettie Horn, London, selected Berlin-based artist Sinta Werner, whose dizzying sculptural installations simulate the effect of approaching a mirror from a single point of view, yet are three-dimensional stage sets, not mirrors. Photographing these illusions is extremely difficult because in reproduction they appear to be nothing but wall-size mirrors. The artist takes on this problem for her solo presentation at Volta by creating a series of three-dimensional vignettes, where transparent photographs of interiors are paired with mirrors of the same size, and arranged, tilted against one another, to create a mise en abyme (placing into infinity). The photographs of interior spaces are joined together in their own reflections on into infinity.
These are paired with drawings — paintings? photographs? — made in the dark room by and folding and exposing photosensitive paper to light in a variety of geometric patterns for specific increments of time and using the same technique as “test strips” which photographers use to locate the ideal exposure time when printing photographs manually. Using colored inks, the same photographers use for manual touch-ups (pre-Photoshop), she paints overlapping geometric patterns on top of the photo paper. Just distant enough from her regular practice to be neither tritely obvious nor obtuse, this technique illuminates how Werner thinks about space, light and time, and how traditional materials can be manipulated to an unexpected end.
Finally, the intersection between art and science is addressed by Australian artist Joyce Hinterding, who is surely the only artist in the world who is also a card-holding member of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) — he was presented by Breenspace Gallery in Sydney. Graphite drawings of simple fractals and visualizations of antiquated algebraic equations are hooked up to speakers by electromagnetic conductors, and the drawings’ “ambient electromagnetic fields” — apparently an innate characteristic of all graphite drawings — are expressed in sound.
Hinterding’s surprisingly accessible works in new media are aesthetically gorgeous, recalling the wall drawings of Sol Le Witt, and easily as interesting I’ve ever seen in a science museum. Her extensive career investigating antennae, electromagnetism and other energy fields began in 1991 with a sojourn to Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field, where she recorded the frequencies of the naturally-occurring lightning using various techniques. Since, she has been working with scientists developing more complex ways of picturing ambient energy.
Of all the Armory’s satellite fairs, this reporter highly recommends visiting Volta. Maybe even just to see this hilarious piece:
The Volta Art Fair (7W–7 West 34th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenue, 11th floor, Manhattan) is open from Friday, March 4 until Sunday, March 6 from 11 am to 7 pm.
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