Moody and surreal, Chewing the Scenery is not as grandstanding and over-the-top emotional as its title would imply. That said, the exhibition of ten mostly under-known Philadelphia artists is tautly – and satisfyingly – theatrical. The “uncanny domestic” installation of a bright room within a darker space; stairs that go nowhere; curtains that flutter in no breeze; and dark mysterious objects dotting the walls and floor plinths imply a kind of forensic deconstruction of space, time and ideas. Imagine stumbling upon a film noir movie set, albeit here, there’s no plot. I kept thinking of David Lynch’s quirky darkness as I walked around the display.
Situated at Crane Arts’ “Grey Space,” the antechamber to the Icebox, Chewing the Scenery pivots around the center staging of the bright-lit room where midnight-black objects shine like black holes. A modernist clock with no backing ticks the seconds in what seems a profound silence. “the past in the future tense,” by James Johnson, is a simple found-object assemblage, elegant and isolated, that speaks of lives lived, time lost, and a vast unstoppable universe of things, both man-made and natural.
Johnson’s other piece nearby, “Borrowed Scenery,” a dirty white undershirt on which he embroidered some colored doodles, drapes itself to the contours of some stairs like a ghost trying and failing to become invisible. Many of the works in the show imply the human but with few exceptions no humans are imaged in the works, leaving your imagination free to roam where it will.
I guess you the viewer become the human wandering this little universe.
Other standouts in a show that treats each artist with great respect, giving all enough room to broadcast from their chosen spot without being overshadowed, are Michael Ciervo’s two reductivist and gorgeously-crafted oil paintings, which depict, in one case, the human gesture of a hand modeling a glove, and in the other a large grid on which float dark objects that suggest a standoff between order and chaos; Will Haughery’s two emotion-charged video installations, “Weeping Wall, Time to Die,” a shower curtain with endlessly dripping water and “Loyal (for Kris)” a chiffon curtain backlit by a bright video that makes the piece shimmer with hope in this deep wood; and Paul Salveson’s “Sculptures from Reverse Passage,” a group of ochre-colored cast ur-objects whose materials alone (millet, buckwheat, barley, concrete, glue and much more) compel attention, but whose presence evokes primordial kitchen wizardry with a purpose that might be survivalist but might also be to construct new meaning from objects as fragmented and disturbing as our current reality of war and economic chaos.
Also in this serious, good show are Micah Danges, Paul Koneazny, Lauren Pakradooni, Gideon Barnett, Jon Weary, Sharon Koelblinger.
Organized by the artist duo, Meredith Sellers and Jonathan Santoro, after copious time spent in studio visits with the artists, and with the intent to showcase some of the city’s underrepresented artists, Chewing the Scenery springs from a place of generosity I last felt in the Icebox roundup, Begin Where You Are in 2014. That show also brought together a whole community of artists and work and was curated by three other generous people, Tim Belknap, Ryan McCartney and Anna Neighbor.
The two curators of Chewing the Scenery have imprinted the show with something of their own intelligence and darkness, which happens when you are passionate enough and courageous enough to put your soul in there, and which, in the case of this exhibition, is a very good thing.
Chewing the Scenery, Curated by Jonathan Santoro and Meredith Sellers ends March 26 at 6PM. Crane Arts, Grey Space, 1400 N. American St. 19122 Hours, Thurs-Sat, 12 noon – 6PM.