The rationale for hosting a biennial, an exhibition of contemporary art mounted every two years, is that such shows allow visitors to luxuriate in a cross-section of the most recent visual creativity. The 2019 Biennial at the 701 Center for Contemporary, for example, showcases works completed since 2017 by 24 South Carolina artists. The first 12 are on view now. The second set will show starting on Nov. 13.
In essence, a biennial such as this serves as both a visual conversation among currently active artists and a chance for visitors to examine and admire the subject matter and creative processes most in vogue at any given moment. From my own perusal of Part One of the 2019 biennial, let me make a few generalizations in this regard.
Visitors to the CCA are sure to be impressed by how some of the artists have used paper as a manipulated medium. The centerpiece of the exhibition — it is literally in the center of the gallery space — is composed entirely of handmade paper, carved, creased and crinkled into exotic plant forms. Jocelyn Chateauvert, a Charleston resident and 2018 South Arts Fellow, calls her multi-part installation Dulcinea, and one can certainly see how this label, roughly translated as “sweetheart,” captures the essence of this piece, which reads like a garden plot of exotic plants, seducing the eyes with eccentric shapes. The tubular-shaped flowers and spiky tendrils almost whisper, “Look but don’t touch.”
Equally compelling paper magic is on display in Charles Clary’s 100-piece Memento Morididdle. In these images, enclosed in found frames of various shapes and sizes, Clary, a Coastal Carolina University faculty member, peels back the surface to reveal hidden layers — biomorphic structures inside a wallpapered wall or the circulatory system pulsing beneath the human epidermis. Clary’s secret substrata are composed of hand-cut archival scrapbooking paper, each sheet arranged upon another to create three-dimensional formations that compel closer inspection. In essence, the artist is “diddling” with the concept of the memento mori — or the reminder that life, whether that of humans or the things they make, is transient.
Clary’s focus on the inner workings of the human body brings me to yet another thread running through this otherwise diverse exhibition: an abiding interest in the human form as a subject for art. In this regard, we have Michaela Pilar Brown’s exploitation of her own body as both symbol and narrative agent. In Allpoints, the Columbia-based artist’s naked form as viewed from above provides a modern counterpoint to Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. In Brown’s eyes, the black female becomes a new proportional model of universal application.
Another compelling use of the human form can be found in the large-scale, darkly resonant woodcuts of College of Charleston printmaker Barbara Duval. There is, for example, no appreciable difference between the 12 silhouetted figures in Jury and the 12 that invade the somber, monochromatic setting of Posse. In each image, the ominous collective energy is the same. Is this always the end result of abandoning one’s individual identity to the herd?
The body — or at least fragments thereof — also form part of the visual vocabulary of Charleston sculptor Herb Parker, whose mixed media piece entitled Drone #1 amalgamates steel, glass and copper to create a humanoid creature whose body is part dinner cloche and part bedpan. Here we have a soulless worker reduced to the scale of a Roomba robot.
Metonymy is also the name of the game in five works by Columbia artist Jennifer Kelly Hoskins. In meticulous drawings combining pencil, acrylic and ink, the artist focuses on the hands of her five subjects, each one bedecked with jewelry or holding objects —a dog collar, a wine glass, Lego building blocks — that stand as visual referents to or adjuncts of individual identity.
Craftsmanship and the clever attention to detail is to be found throughout Part I of this year’s biennial. Consider Flavia Lovatelli’s enigmatic constructions of recycled materials, Diane Kilgore Condon’s elaborate diptychs of forest scenes, and the successful translation of the familiar to the abstract as evidenced in the works of Michael Webster, Amber Eckersley, Kate Hooray Osmond, and Eugene Ellenberg.
I can’t wait to see what experiments in subject matter and idiom Part I of the 2019 Biennial has in store.
What: 701 CCA Biennial 2019 Part I
Where: 701 Center for Contemporary Art, 701 Whaley St.
When: Through Nov. 3
More: 803-779-4571, 701cca.org