Richard Speer reviews "Of Other Spaces" (art ltd.)

If, during an otherwise unremarkable afternoon, you happen to look at the sky and see a dazzling circular rainbow around the sun, you might wonder whether you're witnessing a portent or miracle. There is a scientific cause for such a phenomenon--a meteorological anomaly known as a 22-degree halo--but explications of sunrays and ice crystals in the atmosphere would hardly dampen the feelings of disbelief and awe such a sighting might provoke. These are the types of emotional response Emily Nachison aimed to recreate in her exhibition with Michael Endo, "Of Other Spaces." Taking her cue from an essay of the same title by Michel Foucault, Nachison riffed on the French theorist's conception of the heterotopia, a paradigm in which everyday experience mingles with the uncanny or sublime. Using cast glass, found objects, and other media, the artist staged sculptural vignettes in which natural phenomena took on supernatural overtones. In Fairytale Trees (all works cited 2012), blossom-dotted branches reached out toward one another, as if magically imbued with a human yearning for intimacy. In the formally elegant, thematically poignant Portal, twenty mushrooms sprouted from a circular plane representing the forest floor, each fungus in a progressive stage along the continuum from growth to decay to deliquescence. It was no stretch to imagine that instead of twenty different mushrooms, Nachison was portraying a single mushroom across time. According to the viewer's position and the clockwise--or--counterclockwise directionality with which one's eyes traced this fungal journey, the piece read either as an ode to virility or a decline from health into rot. This interpretive ambiguity taps into our innate ambivalences about the merits and indignities of each stage of life.

Around the gallery's perimeter, Michael Endo complemented Nachison's meditation on heterotopic spaces and natural decay with his own inquiry into the mythology of urban decay. In oil paintings and kilnformed glass, Endo evoked the art world's recent fascination with Detroit-centric "ruin porn," portraying foreboding streetscapes and derelict buildings in a dingy grayscale palette occasionally emboldened by streaks of crimson. While kilnformed panels such as Boundary and Olympic exploited glass's potential for optical depth and layering, those works did not ring as true as Endo's paintings, which conveyed not only the desolation of economically depressed neighborhoods, but also the pulse-quickening sense of possibility that takes hold only when outcomes are unknown. In Nachison's and Endo's parallel explorations, viewers found themselves transported into dimensions in which banalities gave way to wonder, dread, and the potential for discovery.

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May 1, 2012