Change of pace: an article not for "The New York Art World" magazine but for Shenandoah Valley local media ---therefore a different style and a need to explain some art terms within the text.
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Cindy Greene at Public Radio ArtSpace
Artist Cindy Greene's installation The Journey is on exhibit until the end of May 2010 at the Public Radio ArtSpace in hallways of WMRA. The press and public are welcome to view the artwork during business hours and to attend the artist's reception Friday April 9 from 6-8pm. MAP: (link removed).
In this writer's opinion, The Journey could hang at any "big city" gallery in New York, Chicago, or L.A.
In such a venue, it would be assumed that (of course) the altered x-ray films with overlaid religious motifs must be an anti-religious rant (for only anti-religious ---or at least anti-Christian--- artwork is ever allowed to hang in most elite urban contemporary art spaces*). It would be assumed that the artist objects to second-class status of gays or women within many religious hierarchies or perhaps was abused as a child by clergy. A fallback guess (since x-rays and also the torn fabric which resembles a hospital bed's privacy curtain evoke medical advanced treatment), would be that perhaps the artist is reacting to AIDS. If so, the installation would be typical of the fare at so many elite SoHo, Chelsea, and TriBeCa galleries.
And oh how wrong such assumptions would be.
I know a few curators who ---if this exhibit were on their walls--- would choke on their pinot in gasping disbelief if they found out that the artist was actually an advocate FOR Christianity. My contact with the artist has left me the impression that she is fervently religious.
But this is not your grandfather's Last Supper.
A wall-sized section of The Journey subtitled Last Supper has thirteen large plastic x-ray films (head and chest scans), joined together so that they vaguely resemble the famous Leonardo DaVinci painting. Selected details of bones and skulls as well as various spirals and zigzag symbols are outlined with colorful thin lines. Close inspection reveals the lines to be not painted or drawn, but sewn!
There are no framed paintings or drawings in the exhibit. It an installation ---something generally not found in the Shenandoah Valley except in the more experimentally-minded college galleries. The phrase needs explaining in rural areas. An installation is when an artist does something to change a specified architectural space ---perhaps piling items on the floor, drawing directly upon walls, projecting video images, dangling objects from the ceiling, beaming lights, using fog, playing sounds. By its nature, an installation can be intense because the artwork assumes a certain monumentality by surrounding and enveloping the viewer. Viewing an installation can also be annoying when the piles of gravel, disjoint recordings, and heaps of rubbish at some installations leave the impression that the project took little thought or effort while also taking up valuable exhibit space that could otherwise go to someone willing to show actual artistic skill in a more obvious way.
Such negative feelings don't affect me in this exhibit. The labor-intensive thread-drawing and other elements convince me that the artist put in more than "enough" work ---and the overall concept is striking and original (no matter one's feelings toward religion).
Over Last Supper, a swag of sheer black fabric stuffed with mylar balloons crosses the ceiling and leads to a monumental crucifixion scene. Here the use of x-ray films is perhaps most powerful. Hand and foot x-rays (which can give painful personal memories to anyone who has been hospitalized for an injury) have been overlaid with thread-drawing of bleeding nail-wounds ---and so the viewer's own remembered pain can trigger empathy for the sufferings of anyone subjected to crucifixion.
Viewers pass through a torn curtain with thread linear embellishments. To some it will recall the temple curtain said to have torn at Jesus' death. Others might think of hospitals and perhaps of how suddenly-religious people sometimes become when confronted with mortality. Some might just think of their own showers.
Various smaller x-rays dot the walls ---sometimes overprinted with Bible verses (a chest x-ray says, from Proverbs 17:22, "a merry heart doeth good like a medicine"). Others are altered somehow with Photoshop tricks (otherwise how did the hammer and nails get into one unfortunate patient's chest x-ray).
At the end of the installation (where I have heard more than one viewer whoop with some sort of aesthetic surprise), a billowing and somewhat cloud-like white swag of sheer fabric is strategically-positioned right under a ceiling light ---the better to backlight cut-out x-ray films of feet. If one knows the artist's religious intent, it clearly refers to the reported ascent to heaven of Jesus ---or perhaps of "Everyman" who fulfills the requirements. If not, the piece still causes a moment of scrutiny and reflection.
If I had to nitpick, I'd say I'd have changed the overall exhibit spacing just a bit so that some walls which look too sparse had better coverage. Again, that's just nitpicking.
I'm quite pleased with the use of the sewing machine as the artist's pencil; it changes the usual context of "sewing machine" ---normally associated with humble grandmotherly homemaking, not with edgy art-making. Sure, there are the various activist quilters in the Art World and also makers of subversive vulgar evil quilts like Quiltsrÿche (who I'm a fan of--- http://www.quiltsryche.com), but in quilting, the fabric shapes rather than the thread usually do the talking. The quilter's thread is mostly a tool, a fastener; Greene's thread is the artists' expressive line.
Personally, I prefer to avoid people when they start speaking of their religious ideas.
I try to hurry away while also my inner New Yorker chimes in: "I'm not getting involved."
However, I can see how x-ray films are a symbolically-appropriate (though, granted, unusual) choice of materials for a religious subject. The x-ray ignores the surface and instead sees directly into the inner substance of a person. There's no telling the rich from the poor in an x-ray. One doesn't normally see one's bones, and direct observable evidence of their existence in everyday life is uncommon; yet of course they are real, solid, and essential supports enabling proper function ---easily enough comparable, if one is religious, to unseen-yet-vital spiritual forces supporting one's Earthly flesh.
The non-religious could also appreciate the material with their own thoughts of, "these disciples and such weren't divine; they were just influential but otherwise normal humans who died and rotted away to bones ---bones like in these anonymous scanned skeletons." Religious or not, anyone can enjoy the exhibit either as a memento mori or just as eye candy. One doesn't see this sort of thing in the region every day.
Whether or not the "message" of visual art ---political, religious, or whatever--- pleases me, I can usually still enjoy myself if the creations please my eye. I'm not saying one way or the other what I feel about the message; my eye is quite pleased.
*Asterisk ---regarding the above, "elite urban contemporary art spaces" :
I mean elite Art World contemporary galleries; the existence within the metro areas of some major cities of a few Thomas Kinkade franchises or P.Buckley Moss galleroid-framers where perhaps pro-Christian sentiment might be exhibited ---doesn't negate my assertion.