Encrypted meanings

Two solo exhibitions close out the summer at Soo Visual Arts Center; plus, a summer group show at Bockley Gallery

A detail from one of the drawings in Liza Sylvestre's "Interference" series. Submitted image


On one of several video screens that are part of “Interference,” Liza Sylvestre’s new solo exhibition at Soo Visual Arts Center, clips from an animated film of 1980s vintage and a black-and-white movie play with closed captioned text flashing below the images.

Instead of describing the dialogue and action, the subtitles transcribe the internal monologue of a deaf viewer, an inversion of the closed captioning process. The viewer, who we assume is Sylvestre, picks up clues to the plot by reading facial expressions and gestures, but her thoughts drift at a distance from the action on the screen, and the act of watching without sound pulls her further into her own head.

“It is impossible to read cartoon lips,” the subtitled narration notes, as animated mouths open and close. “A hologram of movement.”

A still from Sylvestre's "Captioned." Submitted image
A still from Sylvestre’s “Captioned.” Submitted image

In “Interference,” Sylvestre, an Illinois artist who began losing her hearing at age 6 and received a cochlear implant in 2003, explores that space between the hearing world and the deaf world. The exhibition shares its name with a series of Sylvestre’s drawings in which the artists writes out long paragraphs of text in her spidery hand, then scribbles out letters and whole words until the paper is speckled in black ink.

Sylvestre’s video pieces make clear that this is how she experiences the world, through snippets of sound that she must then piece together for herself to create meaning. In “The Invisible Language,” the shot frames Sylvestre’s head and shoulders as she looks directly at the viewer with piercing blue eyes and speaks, but the sound that comes through a pair of headphones isn’t her voice; it’s a dissonant squeal of static that seems to pulse whenever her lips form words.

That same tight framing of Sylvestre’s face is repeated in a separate, minute-long video projected on one of the gallery’s walls, but this time her features are only revealed piece by piece, as a worm-like squiggle of light moves from her lips to her nose, circling an eye before running down her cheek. She describes “a feeling like words hanging in the air.”

“An updraft of wind carries them away,” she continues. “I feel them passing, almost touching my skin.”

Showing alongside “Interference” is a separate solo exhibition, “Rim’s Edge,” featuring the sculpture and assemblage work of Brooklyn-based artist Christine Rebhuhn. There is again a kind of puzzling out of meaning at work, but Rebhuhn’s interest in language seems to be the absurdity of making the figurative literal.

“Pass the Potatoes (On the Left-Hand Side)” by Christine Rebhuhn. Submitted image
“Pass the Potatoes (On the Left-Hand Side)” by Christine Rebhuhn. Submitted image

“Pass the Potatoes (On the Left-Hand Side)” is a visual pun — a polished steel lunch tray mounted like the side-view mirror of a big rig. For “Swallow,” Rebhuhn places a pink coffee cup inside a clear glass pitcher and hangs it high on a gallery wall, like a bird’s nest.

Rebhuhn’s sparkling humor is evident even when the meaning of her work is elusive.

“Overnight Low” consists of a large window frame resting against a gallery wall. Two panes of glass are replaced by the clear-plastic clamshell packaging for a pair of headphones, and inside one hangs a taxidermied bat. If there’s a punchline, it’s the visual echo between window the cover of a vintage Playboy resting on its frame; both the window sash and the rear of the cover model’s pants hang open.


“Interference” and “Rim’s Edge”

When: Through Aug. 26

Where: Soo Visual Arts Center, 2909 Bryant Ave. S.

Info: soovac.org, 871-2263

"Tableau," a painting by Barbara Kreft. Submitted image
“Tableau,” a painting by Barbara Kreft. Submitted image

Summer sampler

The eclectic summer group show at Bockley Gallery in Kenwood features a number of the gallery’s returning favorites.

Among them is Lauren Roche, who continues in her mixed-media pieces to plumb a darkly surreal world populated by wild animals and women covered in tribal markings. Here, long-necked birds clutching snakes in their hooked beaks surround two women who embrace like lovers. One rests on her back, grasping at a jaguar that slinks between her legs.

Also returning is Dietrich Sieling, whose visionary drawing explores combinations of line, pattern and color — here in a grinning, red-eyed skull whose nasal aperture is an upside down blue heart. A panoramic drawing by Andrea Carlson is in the same vein as the complex, hyper-detailed work she contributed to the 2015 Midwest Biennial at The Soap Factory, exploring issues of cultural representation and exploitation in art and cinema. There are rewards in attempting to untangle its layered meanings, but Carlson’s fluid line is distractingly beautiful.

Two large abstract paintings by studio-mates Kim Benson and Barbara Kreft hang on opposite walls in the main gallery and seem almost to be in dialogue with one another.

Benson’s ecstatic, multi-layered painting — with areas of smudged paint that transition sharply into patterns and back again — seems to cohere around a familiar shape, like the head and shoulders of a figure in a Renaissance portrait. One might see the structure of a still life in Kreft’s painting, which clusters flower-like pops of shape and color — rose-petal reds and Aquafresh greens — into something like a bouquet.


Bockley Gallery summer group show

When: Through Aug. 12

Where: Bockley Gallery, 2123 W. 21st St.

Info: bockleygallery.com, 377-4669