The repeat runs through the show at Cove Street Arts

Sondra Bogdanov, Wandering, linen, 22.5 x 46 inches Photo courtesy of the artist

Repetition—of medium, module, and method—is at the heart of two exhibitions currently on view in Portland, albeit with completely different effects. What’s perhaps most enjoyable (and possibly a bit off-putting in this case) is witnessing the sheer variety possible within this iteration. “Morphatoreum” at Cove Street Arts (through Jan. 13) brings together three artists in conversation through various media. “PerSlovak 2.0” (through Jan. 5) is an interactive photography display at the Jewish Museum of Maine that couldn’t be more timely.

In Morphatoreum, Sondra Bogdonoff, Roy Fox and Jamie Johnston use repetition, but through different media. Bogdonoff’s work is incredibly subtle, so it can take a while to realize the enormity of what she’s doing. All her compositions use woven linen threads. Many artists have used this material and practice to create three-dimensional sculptures – most notably the pioneer Lenore Tawney (1970-2007) – or, like Billie Zangewa, two-dimensional works.

What’s amazing about my favorite Bogdonoffs, chief among them ‘Wandering’, ‘Morning Light’ and ‘Back and Forth’, is how she can create 3D effects in two dimensions by essentially scrambling the picture plane. She does this in part by using her medium and her methodology to create a sense of shadow. Alternating the color of the thread and the weave, Bogdonov leaves us to wonder – especially when looking at the works from further away – whether a form actually floats in front of the plane or recedes into it.

Sondra Bogdonoff, “Morning Light,” linen, 21 x 23.5 inches Photo courtesy of the artist

Compositionally, “Wandering” is an exploration of diamond shapes, while “Morning Light” explores triangular shapes. Yet her mastery of color and technique creates a sort of oscillation of form, where diamonds and triangles continually overlap, merge together, leap out at the viewer, or sink back into space. The mathematics of this is mind-boggling, somewhat resembling the calculations Sol Luit uses to execute compositions of graphite or colored pencil on walls. But while LeWitt’s work may seem rigidly formulaic, Bogdonoff’s—perhaps because of the softness of the medium itself, and perhaps because of the way she alternates tight and loose fabrics, sometimes even leaving loose ends—appears to be dazed and dreamy, gently manipulating our perception in ways that involve us in any work.

The effect is ultimately ethereal. In other woven pieces like “Crossing Lines #2” and “Back and Forth,” Bogdonoff is also able to capture a sense of light emerging from some numinous depth. All this requires incredible craftsmanship.

Fox’s work is the most obviously recurring on the show. With the exception of three tesserae-like works (“3680.s,” “3670.s,” and “3472.s”), all of his paintings appear as single vertical strokes of ink, paint, and varnish on archival panels. The fascination here is to see how this mix of mediums can create a sense of liquid light, which in turn evokes associations with other materials.

Roy Fox, ‘3360’, ink, paint and varnish on mounted archival panel, 30 x 60 inches Photo courtesy of the artist

A painting like “3692.s” brings to mind wooden planks on walkways or wobbly wooden bridges, while “3357” or “3360” might remind us of Color Field artist Maurice Lewis’s “Stripe” paintings from the early 1960s. last century. Like Lewis, in fact, many of Fox’s works revel in the sheer materiality of diluted pigments, the way they still appear wet, and the way they convey a translucency that serves to filter the simulacrum of background light. The brightness of Fox’s stripes is actually part of Bogdonov’s play of light, and we can take great pleasure in “listening” to them in conversation.

Johnston’s work also carries a sense of materiality and light. His wall sculptures are made from wood that is cut into modules and assembled, then painted in parts. While Fox and Bogdonoff appear to evoke light and/or filter it, the role of light in Johnston’s wood works is more passive. They basically catch it, shred it and create a shadow. They are interactive in the sense that to get the transforming effects they create, we have to walk on them or otherwise change our position.

I had seen The Parrot Talk on another show and appreciated the way its color and two-dimensionality suggested the animal and aural activity of its title. It and other wall sculptures play with what we perceive as the continuous folds of an accordion, especially “List 17,” which looks like nothing more than an accordion bellow stretched open and sagging in the middle.

But Johnston has painted the foreground border of the wooden wedges red and the interior space between the wedges turquoise blue. If we look at this from one side or the other, we only see red. But if we stand front and center or walk along the piece, the paint colors alternate and mimic a sense of movement not unlike a cartoon book.

Jamie Johnston, “Sixth of May,” wood and paint, 28 x 14 x 4 inches Photo courtesy of the artist

‘May Sixth’ enhances this effect with fin-like vertical pieces of wood whose widest width is at different heights. So whether we move left to right or right to left, the sculpture seems to create a wave that goes down and then up again. Disturbance assembles wooden blocks painted mostly green on two opposite sides, except for about seven of them in which the opposite sides are painted red. These are placed in a grid at an oblique angle to the surface, with the red ones scattered randomly throughout and causing the “disturbance” of the title.

It’s endlessly interesting to see how Johnston manipulates his modules to create different effects. All of these works by these artists are physically fixed and immobile, but they read as emerging or disintegrating, in motion (at least visually) and always transforming.

WHAT DOES JEWISHNESS LOOK LIKE?

Photographer Yoav Horesh is the child of a Persian Jewish mother and a Slovakian Jewish father (hence the title of the series). Their black-and-white portraits hang at intervals around the Feinberg Community Room at the Jewish Museum of Maine, along with portraits of various siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins ​​and Kittery-based Horesh himself. The portraits are straightforward and documentary, recording in close-up the shapes of the faces and their features, the wrinkles and facial hair and other elements of each family member.

But this show is much more than just portrait photography. On one side of the room stands a podium on which a projector projects an image of one of Horesh’s relatives onto the wall in front of you. Over the course of seven years, the artist cataloged hundreds of images of his family members’ facial features, categorizing them by type: eyes, noses, mouths, hair, etc. They are modules if you will.

Visitors can add their own creations to the portraits in “PerSlovak 2.0,” which include one by artist Yoav Horesh, pictured in the leftmost frame. Photo by Nanci Kahn

On top of the projector is a box with buttons that you can press repeatedly to move these modules around: draw this pair of eyes from the eyes file and combine it – by pressing other buttons – with another relative’s nose, another relative’s hair, etc. .n. When you feel you’re done, another button lets you print your creation and use a pin to attach it to the wall around Horesh’s official family portraits.

Funny, isn’t it? Well, yes, it can be. But if we psychologically dig beneath an activity that seems purely fun, we might be surprised what we can discover and what beliefs can be challenged. The interactive component of this exhibition presents the question: What is the “Jewish” face? It may shock some to discover that the way they answer this question on a daily basis is filled with assumptions and generalizations that at worst can dehumanize people and justify racial and cultural abuse.

For example, from the beginning we are dealing with two varieties of Judaism: Sephardic and Ashkenazi. Just thinking about what genetic characteristics accompany these cultural varieties in our minds can be problematic. But extending this study to distinguish Sephardim from non-Jewish North Africans, for example, complicates matters further. Is there really a physical difference between them that allows us to definitively tell them apart? How do we know, without interacting with a person, whether they are Sephardic or Ashkenazi? What assumptions do we make about each of these ethnic groups? What value judgments might be held in our subconscious?

As you look around the room at the mixed features of the visitors, you may begin to notice that some look downright odd, with features that seem out of proportion to others (huge Marty Feldman-like eyes, for example, paired with a small mouth or a drawn, sunken jaw. This are they just fun and games? Or is there something more sinister or anti-Semitic about this playfulness? How might these less overt prejudices inform our opinions about the current tragedy unfolding in the Gaza Strip?

Of course, the same Dr. Frankenstein-like experiment can make us appreciate the infinite permutations of Jewishness and the inherent uniqueness and individuality of each soul. This may reaffirm for us the irrelevance of ethnic stereotypes, or of stereotypes in general for that matter. And more and more. “PerSlovak 2.0”, as it turns out, is much more than meets the eye.


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