We are our digital data, or maybe it’s the other way around. But how to actually express our virtual identities, which are stored in forms that are essentially invisible? That’s the objective of “Surveillance Blind,” a Goethe-Institut show of four U.S. and two German artists.
AnnieLaurie Erickson, unable to discern or disclose the information they contain, merely photographs server farms, their facades as blank as the Facebook logo on a flag that flies outside one of them.
Nate Larson (the show’s Baltimore-based curator) and Marni Shindelman use GPS coordinates embedded in tweets to locate the place they originated, which they then photograph to tie the electronic remark to the physical world. John Vigg enlists drone technology to document New Jersey’s lightly populated Pine Barrens.
Perhaps because of their country’s fraught 20th-century history, the Germans are more apprehensive, and more provocative. Simon Menner begins with archives that are even scarier than Facebook’s — those of the Stasi, the former East German secret police. Menner mixes photos from its files with simulated surveillance pictures in which he assumes multiple personae. Is he a spy in various disguises or an Everyman who’s always under observation?
The answer is clear in Jens Sundheim’s intriguing project “The Traveler.” The artist stands in front of security cameras that have a public feed, regarding the devices as they scrutinize him, and then exhibits stills from the videos. So far, he writes, he has posed for more 600 webcams in 18 countries. Acknowledging the camera in this way is a refreshing breach of information-age etiquette, but not everyone thinks it merely impolite. Sundheim has tangled with the New York City Police Department and the FBI. It is subversive, apparently, just to look Big Brother in the eye.
(Note: This is the Goethe-Institut’s last show at its current location before moving to a building near Farragut Square for the next three years while it looks for a new permanent home. The temporary quarters will not have a gallery or theater, but the institute hopes to partner with others to continue presenting arts programs.)
Surveillance Blind On view through Dec. 3 at the Goethe-Institut, 812 Seventh St. NW. 202-289-1200. www.goethe.de/washington.
The theme of “Meeting Point,” at the Korean Cultural Center, to oversimplify the catalogue’s statement, is “interconnection.” Yet some of the most striking entries in this nine-artist show express starkness or isolation. JiPil Jung’s stern photographs literally spotlight inebriated men alone on the street, passed out or in groggy crouches. Jong Oh uses string, pencil and hanging Plexiglas to draw in midair a form that’s mostly but not entirely illusory; the elegant piece defines space while barely occupying it.
Other participants are more whimsical. Amanda Lechner revives an old-fashioned medium — egg tempera on wooden panel — to portray scientific experimentation and discovery, mingled with fiction.
WonJung Choi fuses bits of intricate metalwork, including antique silverware, into what she calls “hybrid fish.” Under glass, the oddly evolved specimens symbolize the Seoul-born artist’s adaptation to U.S. culture.
The most social piece is Bohyun Yoon’s video of people in a sort of dance behind movable mirrored panels with ovals cut out to display their heads. (One such panel is on display.) Shot from inside, above and behind, the video suggests a portable funhouse. As the people move, their heads seem to float, and various bodies reflect on the surfaces. Yet while their images overlap, the dancers remain behind the mirrors and never truly connect.
Meeting Point On view through Nov. 30 at the Korean Cultural Center, 2370 Massachusetts Ave. NW. www.koreaculturedc.org .
Focusing intently on surfaces that are weathered, cracked or peeling, photographer Gordana Gerskovic reveals a world in exquisite deterioration. Fractal-like forms and found compositions akin to color-field painting abound in her “Metamorphosis — From Decay to Display,” Foundry Gallery’s first show in its new, industrial-chic location near the 9:30 Club.
The Croatian-born local artist is not averse to reading recognizable images into her abstractions, as she demonstrates with such titles as “Christ” (rusty drips that resemble a crucifix) and “Girl With a Parrot” (clearly a silhouetted face, although the bird is debatable).
Other pictures of tiny disturbances suggest much larger ones, such as a river delta or a dry lake bed. But Gerskovic’s small-scale photos most often capture a place and time where atrophy and beauty dovetail.
She’s not wrong to call one of these works “Tranquility.”
Gordana Gerskovic: Metamorphosis — From Decay to Display On view through Nov. 29 at Foundry Gallery, 2118 Eighth St. NW. 202-232-0203. www.foundrygallery.org.
Where Gordana Gerskovic photographs imperfections, Leah Appel relies on her camera to provide them. She uses a Holga, a cheap plastic device prized (by some) for its distortions, light leaks and sheer uncontrollability. She sometimes double- or triple-exposes the film to amplify the visual cacophony. Her “New Work: Holga Panoramas,” at Hillyer Art Space, showcases images that are beguilingly undefinitive.
Appel, who divides her time between Washington and New York, focuses on fairly common subjects in both cities. What makes the pictures fresh are the semi-intentional bloopers. Harsh red flashes interrupt the calm blue skies over official Washington, and the marquee of a Manhattan landmark seems to stutter its name: “Radio C City ty.” Like all photos, Appel’s are as eternal as their paper and pigment. But these appear exceptionally transitory, with a slipperiness that rebukes the very idea of capturing a moment for all time.
Leah Appel: New Work: Holga Panoramas On view through Nov. 28 at Hillyer Art Space, 9 Hillyer Ct. NW. 202-338-0680. www.hillyerartspace.org.
For his previous Long View Gallery shows, Tony Savoie usually painted on clear acrylic panels that allow a glimpse of collaged elements beneath the surface. The Florida artist’s “New Work” includes one such piece, “Opiate of the Masses,” which lines up rows of pill bottles under the plastic. The other combine-paintings are not tiered in the same way, but they are nonetheless layered — with lumpy paint, shiny resin and political outrage.
Commercial logos, bits of iconography from U.S. currency and images of war and disaster mingle in complex, urgent tableaux. The flame-hued “Landing” depicts a massive conflagration, perhaps a refinery fire or a battle scene. That it might be the latter is prompted by such smaller works as “Weaponized Sparrow” and “Enhanced Dragonfly,” which cross natural creatures with death-administering drones. Savoie used to contrast the banal and the baleful, but his style has become increasingly, and powerfully, sinister.
Tony Savoie: New Work On view through Nov. 29 at Long View Gallery, 1234 Ninth St. NW. 202-232-4788. www.longviewgallery.com.
Mark Jenkins is a freelance writer.