In an attempt to both reinvigorate the landscape genre and complicate our perception of the real, Grounds presents the work of Caroline McCarthy, Ezra Parzybok, and Ravi Rajakumar. Each artist displays landscapes that have been carefully constructed for seemingly different purposes. McCarthy uses an innovative video technique to create a fictional urban canyon, Parzybok builds exquisite little worlds out of familiar objects, and Rajakumar appropriates specific moments of animated landscapes. The sharp formal differences between the works creates a dialogue about appearance and reality.
McCarthy’s dual video projection on two adjacent walls meets at the corner of the small room housing it. The stereo projection creates the impression of being an insect in a very large gutter, as what appear to be curbs rise out of the frame. The perspective crawls forward through a forest of debris, creating an effective illusion of a real perspective, while also functioning as a psychological representation of urban life. McCarthy presents “Autumn” as a work-in-progress, which indicates that something in the work could be developed further. Perhaps it is the presentation, or maybe the artist’s trepidation about confusing the novelty of a camera trick with a fully realized concept. While the effect of being miniaturized is palpable in the space, the projections seem neither intimate nor immense enough to absorb the viewer. Whatever direction McCarthy takes with the presentation or invests in the potential of her cinematographic manipulation, it would be interesting to apprehend the world from such a unique vantage point.
Parzybok’s sculptures are uneven, but nonetheless stunning when they actually work. His miniature wooden palettes and his wooden block sculpture are the least interesting and probably the least evocative. While the palettes resemble delicate towers, and the block sculpture references architecture, neither approach the intricate beauty of his large floor installation. “Temple District” is as meticulously constructed as a topiary garden, but the organic forms are made from an array of objects like matches, pieces of glass, paint chips, and small wooden materials. If McCarthy’s video makes the viewer feel small, Parzybok positions the viewer high above his makeshift world. Standing above the accumulated objects, they begin to resemble earth art like Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty,” or ancient monuments. Yet the overt materiality of the parts asserts itself, destroying the illusion. The perception of what “Temple District” is and its relationship with landscape is slippery, giving it a complexity that the other works lack.
While creating illusory environments is central to both McCarthy and Parzybok, Ravi Rajakumar appropriates them. His photographic series “Still” consists of images taken from screen shots of animated movies or cartoons which are devoid of characters, leaving only a deserted stretch of highway or an empty waterfall. Apparently this is a highly unusual occurrence in animated films, where the camera rarely lingers on the painted backgrounds. The photographs of these moments in which there is only a strange landscape are not, however, quite as affecting as the idea behind them. Rajakumar intentionally uses the blackness surrounding the screen as a framing device for the landscapes, and the photograph enhances the low-resolution of the television image. This “real” information works conceptually to negate the escapist promise of the animated worlds, but it does not make for the strongest photographs; the isolated moments Rajakumar captures are displacing enough without the contextual frames. Allowing more time for the discovery of where the imagery might have come from could focus the viewer on the strange presence of the animated worlds themselves and the psychological isolation that the lack of a figure creates.
While Grounds is a successful postmodern show replete with artistic self-reflexivity and landscape as a metaphorical lens, it also reaffirms the genre’s ability to reveal the culturally-imposed order of the natural or real and our expectations of it. Further exploration, expansion, and development of the artists’ individual ideas seem necessary conceptually and would be welcomed aesthetically; it could make the next show great, instead of merely notable.