"Portmanteau" Illuminates Life's Guilty Pleasures

By Katherine Rochester
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jul. 20, 2011

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Simply put:"Styles (pink & blue)" target vices like
gambling and sugary soda.

Photo by KATE OWENS

Like “Franglais,” “jeggings,” or “bromance,” Possible Projects’ Portmanteau is a portmanteau—a word created by squeezing two together to form a single entity with an entirely different meaning. It’s a literal and descriptive title for a show that features two artists whose simple, almost scientific experiments—utilizing a limited range of materials—effloresce in poetic forms. 


Handpicked by Possible Projects’ Directors Trevor and Rachel Reese, the spare show connects via two pieces by London-based artist Kate Owens and one by Brooklyn-based artist James Davis. In each, the artists mine the wonder—and horror—trapped at the core of the objects we use to quench our thirst or wile away our time. Selecting soda and gambling dice, Owens and Davis amplify our guilty habits, working with minimal factors for maximum effect.


“I like the economy of this way of working, but also I feel that individual objects and materials can be so complex in themselves that I can really only handle one or two things at a time,” says Owens. Like any portmanteau worth its weight in pithy parlance, Owens’ work is an exercise in precision and specification. In “Styles (pink & blue)” and “Affair at Styles (purple & yellow),” a T-shirt has been scrunched and dipped into a bottle of grape soda, then left to dry with one arm trailing into the now empty plastic bottle. What might initially appear to be a two-tone dye job turns out to be the effect of the chemicals in the purple soda separating into their respective blue/pink or purple/yellow combinations, something akin to chromatography (the separation of mixtures). Finding a readymade canvas in the discarded T-shirt, the repurposed soft drink spills its secret recipe of test-tube colors and synthetic tar dyes. With the deconstructionist flare of a scientist, Owens likens her piece to a lab experiment.


Like her sticky tie-dye, Davis’ “101” is also a strangely beautiful piece that uses two simple elements to explore one another’s hidden capacities. In “101,” a smoldering ball of fire burns on the gallery wall, the result—we 
discover—of light shone through a heaping stack of red gambling dice. Assembled to form a free-standing crater atop an overhead projector, the glassy quadrants of the dice trap the projector’s beam to produce a hypnotic image of scintillating corpuscles and smoldering lava on the gallery wall. Disorienting in both scale and intensity, the projection thrown by the dice brings to mind many associations for Davis. “‘101’ means the beginning of the Bible, as in the genesis of the chapter, and also even looking at something with a level of binary code,” he says. A mix of pulpy red fractals and crisp, numerical dots in mysterious matrices, the dice and the image they cast are rooted in a question of origins: “With the gambling dice, the piece is made up of something that certain religions might consider evil. And what you get is this fireball. It could be creation or it could be the polar opposite, which is hell.” The dice are a symbol for chance, a reference to gambling as much as a nod to the various and unpredictable associations visitors will bring to their interpretation. 


While their work will share intimate quarters at the Fishtown gallery, the two artists have never met. The pieces were conceived independently, and any symbiosis will be the result of purely curatorial interventions. “From my point of view,” says Owens," Portmanteau is about the meeting of two independent entities and what this combination can open up or bring about in terms of new ideas and meanings.” Like the chemicals in Owens’ eerie tie-dyes, there’s no telling how the two will separate or blend.

Reception: Sat., July 23, 7-9pm. Through Aug. 14. Possible Projects, 873 E. Thompson St. 
possibleprojects.com

JAMES DAVIS

KATE OWENS

Simply put: "101" (top) and "Styles (pink & blue)" target vices like
gambling and sugary soda.

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