I set myself an ambitious itinerary for the Sept. 18 Third Friday in Durham. I went out early; I didn't dawdle in casual conversations; I made a French exit at each gallery. But I still didn't hit everything worth seeing. Durham's art scene is like that now—FOMO fuel.
DURHAM ART GUILD'S 61ST ANNUAL JURIED EXHIBITION (through Oct. 17) could fill an evening by itself. The show features more than 60 works by 50 artists, selected by Alice Gray Stites, museum director and chief curator for the 21c Museum Hotel chain. She encodes the same breathless enthusiasm into the exhibit that she does in 21c's galleries.
Among many highlights, Brian Gonzales, a recent arrival from Baltimore and a core artist at Supergraphic, offers "Machine Dream," a digital print on aluminum that deserves a long look. Orange egg shapes enclosing photographic and abstract imagery form a geometric, rather than linear, storyboard. The compound vision of the piece suggests all sorts of narrative combinations.
Wendy Collin Sorin's "functional shift #15," a neon grid of labels and stickers, simultaneously flings your vision away and draws it into an illusory three-dimensional depth. Lauren Lake's pair of penciled-in magazine pages, "Triplet" and "Nia," do the opposite. Everything but a small, immaculate cluster of pink roses is obliterated on each page, which is otherwise mercilessly blank. The graphite blackness is irresistible and unnerving, like looking into nothingness.
I'm usually turned off by out-of-focus photography, but three photographs by Dana Flynt, from her Fading Memories series, elevate blur to another level. Domestic landscapes are recognizable from 25 feet away; approach them and they modulate into meaninglessness, like a memory degraded to a shred of an image.
Other notable entries include Stacy Bloom Rexrode's abundant gray funerary wreath of plastic bags, yarn and painted fake flowers, Bryce Lankard's archival inkjet prints of river jumpers at Eno Quarry and Carrie Alter's intestinal pencil drawing.
After dropping by Bar Lusconi for Durham Independent Dance Artists' second-season launch party, I went to The Carrack for a ceramic installation, ROSALIE MIDYETTE'S CONFLUENCE (closed Sept. 26). "Vessels" consisted of dozens of pieces, each about the size and shape of a human heart, dangling from filaments. Larger tabletop works were mostly about their own lobed concavity, recalling Georgia O'Keeffe's late flower paintings rather than the earthen forms Midyette notes, despite the locally sourced mica finish she applied. In her intimate sculpture, looking is a proxy for touching.
I darted up Parrish Street to join a capacity crowd at 21c Museum Hotel for REGINA JOSÉ GALINDO's panel discussion. The Guatemalan performance artist was visiting the Triangle after opening a retrospective at Davidson College. Following a slide show of her politically charged performances and public actions, which often involve some degree of physical self-torture, she talked with remarkable clarity about her work and differentiated it from activism.
Galindo takes pains to scrub theatricality from her performances so that they become direct experiences, rather than events one pauses experience to see. She diverts the personal and the intimate into the poetry she writes, letting the social and the general power her performance work.
After Galindo's talk, I headed east to Golden Belt. In Room 100, NSENGA KNIGHT'S WHITE CIRCLE, BLACK SQUARE, SILVER PENTAGON (closed Sept. 29) featured a variety of multimedia works. Most interesting was "Drowning," a series of abstract inkjet photos in linear groups. These iterative stills, monochromatic except for touches of red, were like consecutive frames of film, though many of the marks were handmade. They combined photographs of fabric with marks resembling pulled-away tape. Compositions of indeterminate scale evoked architectures and microscopic structures. But the march of stills never resolved into a definite picture of anything but forward-moving time.
In a Golden Belt studio, JASON OPPLIGER'S HAPPINESS, a dark, immersive pop-up installation in the Off the Radar series, was like a location outside of time. The doorway and ceiling were masked by thick black plastic. A large, opaque plastic cube containing several inscrutable televisions dominated the interior space, where a row of five more televisions perched on lattice-stacked firewood.
Each of the five witnessing screens showed its own footage: reflections of colored light on water, a black version of white noise that looked like stop-motion gravel at night and a window-screen-like grid moving like a wave. The combined flicker was inescapable in the claustrophobic room. Factor in the vaguely threatening audio emitted by the cube, from distant explosions to angry crunches, and it felt like you were inside a body, among mindlessly functioning organs.
Oppliger and Knight seemed to finish a thought begun by Flynt's blurry photographs, and I headed home thinking about how fallible, or even random, the transfer from experience to memory can be. It made me admire Galindo's excruciating efforts toward clarity all the more.
This week, I also ventured off the beaten path for a notably substantial show at the Fredric Jameson Gallery in Duke's Friedl Building. ELIN O'HARA SLAVICK'S 70-YEAR-OLD SHADOWS OF HIROSHIMA (through Oct. 22) combines three bodies of the UNC-Chapel Hill art professor's work on the contemporary effects of the American nuclear bombing of Hiroshima at the end of World War II. Her cyanotypes of surviving objects from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum archive are on view along with photos from the city and the island of Ninoshima and rubbings of surviving buildings and trees.
Slavick's early cartographic image of the bombing's hypocenter, along with a vitrine of documents and artifacts, are included in the exhibit, which is co-sponsored by the Duke East Asia Student Nexus and the Duke Japanese Culture Club. Slavick will continue this body of work when she returns to Japan this fall, as the recipient of a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science fellowship. This moving, direct show is the most complete realization to date of her ongoing project.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Long walk for a short peer"