I love a parade

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Ianthe Jackson (first name pronounced yanthy) is Black McLean, the eponymous hero of her solo show at Temple Gallery. It will be gone in the blink of an eye because she is one of the many Tyler MFA students who get less than a week to show their work in solo shows there.

Jackson, who had an animated installation at Eastern State Penitentiary last year, has put up a swell installation this time, based on herself as McLean and on magazine images of people removed from their context, xeroxed, hand-colored, and made into puppets with flexible joints.

As far as Jackson herself goes, she’s interested in the fluidity of identity, and how we make assumptions about others and ourselves based on the flimsiest of evidence (proof–I had assumed she was African American until I met her yesterday). She proves it in the exhibit by dressing as McLean, a working class man who, as a life-size, photo-based puppet, bicycles toward the gallery door (right top, “Black McLean” on his bike, next to Jackson).

The flat, two-sided, jointed image, is both stupid simple and funny, and the whole gizmo operation herky-jerky enough to bring up a laugh and a few observations like, so this is why it’s so hard to ID a suspect on the move. But on a straight-forward entertainment level, I loved having this menacing–yet comic–bicyclist coming my way.

As in the usual happenstance of art making, Jackson said the guy who was supposed to pose for the piece couldn’t make it so she filled the breach and dressed like him, thereby getting closer to her subject than if it was a real guy. The name she said was her mother’s family name, and the black is because her mother always said they were black Irish, and by coincidence, the 16th-century family castle had been named “black” in Gaelic.

The other pair of pieces, both entitled “Procession,” are really aspects of the same piece, one the animation video and one the puppets that Jackson used to create the video. The puppets, arrayed in a line around the main gallery, suggest scenarios that contradict our expectations, like the child who is pointing a gun at a policeman (left) or a man in blue jeans carrying a cross or the athletic crew of young men carrying a tube from which grass emerges.

In the video version, the stories change a bit as the moving puppets pass before the eyes of a recumbent Jackson, dressed in t-shirt and baseball cap, neither male nor female. The parade is full of funny incidents and strange people sightings.

Both versions of “Procession” are entertaining. Here’s a link to Jackson’s web page with some of her animations.

I asked Jackson about the thinking behind her installation.

“Depending on how you look, you have access to different groups of people,” Jackson said while exhibit-sitting. When she was 19 she lived in Africa for a pivotal year. “You realize America is not the center of the world. I have a lot of friends from all different places in the world. I’m always bridging these social things…”

McLean, I mean Jackson, is 33, and she lived in New York for 10 years before going back to graduate school. Alas, she’s returning to Brooklyn after graduation.

I wondered about returning to grad school after spending time out in the world. “It really stepped my work up a lot. I had such a nice two years to only do art and not have a job. And then you get all this feedback, which you just don’t have on your own. It’s a super-luxurious situation to be in. I’m glad I waited.”

So if you’re in Old City, this show is worth a visit.

Upstairs, printmaker Melissa Anne Morgan offered in her MFA show “Dam Break at Keyhole Rock,” in which she displayed some beautifully dyed and printed fabrics with unexpectedly dark, menacing imagery and dramatic shifts in scale within the patterning. Morgan will stay in the area to teach printmaking while she figures out what to do next (left, Morgan and one of her pieces).

Also upstairs was prehensile jewelry by Courtney Starrett with surprising materials like rubber and shapes that come from plants and sea creatures. Some of the pieces are body-brooches that stick straight to skin (with glue, please, not pins).

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