Monday, January 21, 2008

rural research

I went down to Elmira last Saturday to visit the Rural Research Laboratories for the first time. RRL has recently taken over a red-brick carriage house located behind the Arnot Art Museum (which I have yet to visit). The grassroots organization houses artists' studios and communal workspaces as well as three ground-floor exhibition spaces. They also seem to have an busy program of poetry readings and folk concerts. Tom Oberg is the founder.

The place was clean and well-lit, not the kind of bohemian filth-hole I half-expected of an "alternative" arts venue. A nice touch: they had an exit-style sign reading "KURT" in homage to a recently deceased comic-absurdist novelist who attended Cornell.

Saturday afternoon was a closing reception for three shows. These included a series of not-really-monochrome paintings by Ed Malina and one of Steve Salsburg's documentary photographs. (There was also a hallway video-projection by Chris Keck and Steven Kistler, of melting icebergs, which I got an insufficient look at -- sorry.) Both were impressive.

Malina's paintings are single-colored in front, with textures that are variously lumpy or smooth. The surfaces are fetishistic but the effect of looking at several dulls this appeal. (Although there was at least one I really liked: a dark purple-brown one with a grid of round lumps reminiscent of Eva Hesse's Schema.) The real action takes place along the edges, where you can see solidified dripping cascades of paint in different colors. These reveal the layering and the labor behind the perfect surfaces and call attention to the often frame-like supports. My feelings were mixed.

Salsburg's startling gelatin-silver prints come from a single roll of film shot in 1970, when he was a flight-surgeon in Vietnam
. They show the inmates of a leper colony, along with medical and military personnel there to help them. They betray a sharp eye and an urge to depict his often deformed subjects (many of them children) with both dignity and honesty. You can read more about them and him here (.pdf).

I got to meet RRL associate Jan Kather, who has a series of fine lenticular photographs up at the State of the Art (see my previous post for a review). She teaches photography and video art at Elmira College, and sometimes at Cornell as well. She was very kind and I look forward to seeing more of her work.

Also, I rode down with Buzz Spector and had an interesting conversation with him, although I won't recount it here.

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