Reviews of exhibits from Gregory Pryor, Jonah Takagi, Heather Bursch

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By Jessica Dawson
Thursday, December 16, 2010; 9:59 PM

Look no further than the Embassy of Australia for an exhibition so full of information that it could use a year-end cleanup. The work of Perth-based artist Gregory Pryor inclines toward memoir - of his artist residencies in Taiwan and Austria, and of indigenous flora in his homeland's rugged southwest coast. For Pryor, forgoing editing - of image, of text - is the main strategy. And it works as often as it fails.

Pryor presents four major works and a smattering of small paintings. The major works are literally very big, made up of sometimes hundreds of panels of drawings that wallpaper the gallery in grid formations.

As installed here, these ink and text pieces make lovely, decorative arrangements. But the eyes begin to glaze at the many detailed renderings of botanical specimens for which Pryor clearly feels a deep passion. He tacked some to the wall; others he installed dramatically in funereal vitrines stationed in a long line at the gallery's center. Although true to life and lovingly detailed, they all look the same to untrained eyes.

The works exhibited in vitrines are entombed in black cases on which a very long rusty chain and a few heavy balls sit. The scene invites dramatic, punitive readings and suggests Australian convict lore. Turns out, though, that those shackles found a second life in the clearing of the country's wild brush. Drag them along the ground and they'll take up anything on their path, apparently.

As for the drawings of exotic flora, they act like botanical snapshots of a region. The subtext here is the incursion of non-native species and their clashes with indigenous ones. In theory, at least, they suggest the great sweep of Australian history - the convicts, the aboriginals, the imperial invaders. But those larger issues remain submerged, lost in details and Latin nomenclature best saved for specialists.

Unsurprisingly, Pryor has secured several international residencies researching plants. The herbal obsession prompted a series of trips that forced the artist into unfamiliar places and yielded the most interesting works here.

While seeking out a rare plant in Taiwan (it yields a sought-after artist's paper), Pryor documented his daily goings-on in diary-like pages of dense text written in ink on silk. The artist asked a local to write a response, which was written in elegant and (to me, at least) indecipherable Chinese.

The resulting 288-panel artwork (it covers a most of a long gallery wall) juxtaposes Pryor's musings with those of his new friends. These texts are supplemented by simple, ink-on-paper images, such as one showing the outline of the island nation.

What's happening here is anyone's guess. If I read Chinese I'd know better, but for the moment, I prefer remaining in the dark. Pryor's emphasis on dailiness and detail hints at the pleasures (and problems) of miscommunication and finds something more substantive than the filigreed veins of a leaf.

Jonah Takagi at Civilian Art

This month, Civilian teams up with Douglas Burton and Christopher Ralston from design shop Apartment Zero (once bricks-and-mortar, now online-only) to showcase a rare bird: a talented, District-based designer who's going somewhere.

His name is Jonah Takagi, he's 31, and his lamps and tables show up in Dwell, Details and the New York Times. Manufacturers nationwide are producing his prototypes, and he's the talk of furniture fairs. Also, he's in a band.

Which means: This is the first and probably last time you'll see him in a space as intimate as this.


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