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The shadows of memory and haunting of the afterlife are entwined through three shows currently open on Orchard Street on the Lower East Side. While perhaps odd choices for the warming weather that generally restores life to the streets, these exhibitions dwell more on death, offering some intelligent contemplations of how art can function as a form of remembrance.
I started this perusal of haunting art at BOSI Contemporary, where Tatyana Murray’s In the Woods had spectral works of layered etched plexiglass lit by LEDs showing flourishing, yet ephemeral, trees, as well as some odd scenes involving unicorn skulls and disembodied deer heads. The British artist is heavily influenced by fairytales, but her stories are warped by remembrances where something of a nightmare has gotten in. The gallant unicorn is dead and inside a hanging wall clock the ghostly skull of a bird stares back. The exhibition is bit too broad, though, as her vellum work is not nearly as strong, and the sculptural clusters of deer antlers also don’t have quite the same darkness to them as the plexiglass work, which is captivating to examine from different angles, assessing the dimensions of these phantoms.
And perhaps deer are having something of an LES art moment, although the tantalizing angles of antlers is definitely a longtime art favorite. They were the focus of Katherine Wolkoff’s Deer Beds at Sasha Wolf Gallery. Or rather, it was the absence of them. The photographs from Block Island, just off the coast of Rhode Island, show the traces of deer that slept on the grass. The Brooklyn-based photographer is probably best known for her elegant silhouettes, some which focus on Block Island birds in taxidermy, and these are sort of the reverse of those. Instead of taking away the details and leaving the form of a person or animal, she has captured the occupied space of the sleeping deer.
While the photographs are fairly straightforward, and a solitary piece may not have the same impact as seeing all them all crowded quietly into the gallery, they still have a simple moving memory to them. Wolkoff finds each of the beds by traveling through the deer’s trails in the grass to where they slept the night before, and even with their living absence there is an impression of warm life in the soft forms pressed into the grass.
My final stop in this memory crawl was recent Brooklyn transplant Muriel Guépin Gallery, with Gabriel Barcia-Colombo‘s mixed media sculpture. The New York-based artist has been working with using video art as a way to contain memory (he even gave a TED talk on the subject). Here a small installation of his work had flickering figures of people standing in jars, bottles, and other containers (even a blender, where you could press the button and make the poor soul spin in the churning cyclone of water). After all those skulls and foliage apparitions of deer it was nice to have something a little more lighthearted.
While he cites the collections of natural history museums as inspiration for his acts of memorialization, the art is more interesting as a comment on the digital archive of our selves. It sometimes feels like between social media and commerce and all our other little traces webbing through the online world that we are everywhere and nowhere at once. Yet here these personal moments can be contained as relics, selfhood made manifest.
All three of these exhibitions interpret how to preserve the imprint of the absent, and while this is all very moody stuff for a sunny afternoon, even these beautiful early days of the summer will someday be a memory that we will have to dig through our mind to recapture. Perhaps we could use a little art documentation to help.
Tatyana Murray: In the Woods is at BOSI Contemporary (48 Orchard Street, Lower East Side) through June 2.
Katherine Wolkoff: Deer Beds continues at Sasha Wolf Gallery (70 Orchard Street, Lower East Side) through June 30.
Gabriel Barcia-Colombo exhibits at Muriel Guépin Gallery (30 Orchard Street, Lower East Side) through June 2.