The four artists featured in Altered Narratives all create distinctly different work, but each of them through his or her artistic practice inhabit a space that looks like ethnography or (aesthetic) cultural document. Each relies on and/or manipulates a particular formal technique documentary film, oil painting, printmaking, architectural drawing and the artists are all detailed investigators, exploring historical, social, and inter-personal narratives. Through their work, they alter, reinterpret, and further illuminate the image-vocabulary of architectural structures, the nuanced language of a history of colonization, the formal qualities that define illustration and abstraction, or the space in which human beings interact. It is a unique thing that art allows, an interpretation and misinterpretation (and interpretation of misinterpretation) to better represent a period of time, a society, or a culture.
Joseph Burwell creates intricate and complex drawings that take cues and derive a vocabulary from architectural drawing. Formally, his palate is comprised primarily of contrasting colors drawings feature deep purple and bright orange. He creates an archeology of imagined societies. His recent installation, School of the Viking Spaniard: Reconstruction of the Garage, brought the concepts behind his drawings off the page and into the space of an entire gallery. Using small objects that acted like artifacts this installation expressed three-dimensionally what his drawings represent on the wall it's a map or a legend to a fictional place, helping us rethink society, archeology, a style of drawing, and a way of presenting. Joseph's drawings are compelling because they remind us of blueprints of ancient documents the Shea Colosseum drawing being an excellent example. They feign significance in this way, making us wonder where structures begin and end, where document ends and the imagined begins.
Part ethnography, part personal cultural history, Nanna Debois Buhl's work sometimes boldly, sometimes subtly addresses defining portions of history, in particular Danish history and its overlap with other histories, that might otherwise go unexplored. She occupies the space that develops when a part of history (or any narrative) is pushed aside the space becomes ripe for imagination and interpretation. In the powerful works, Postcards - Tivoli and Looking for Donkeys, she uses (or appropriates) the form generally associated with documentary film including montages of images with Danish voiceover and English subtitles. The form sets a familiar stage to consume this unfamiliar material. Nanna tells revised histories, drawing from well-researched source material, particularly focused on the history of Danish colonization, using poignant and beautiful imagery contrasted with descriptive, narrative, and sometimes appropriated text. Her work reveals slowly more than it judges or exposes. Nanna says, I see my practice relating to what Catherine Russell defines as "experimental ethnography": "a methodological incursion of aesthetics on cultural representation, a collision of social theory and formal experimentation."
Charlene Liu's works on paper are composed of an amalgamation of mediums and techniques - watercolor, oil, and ink are manipulated through processes of painting, drawing, cutting, and printmaking. Her form meanders back and forth from the illustrative to the abstract, and it is very clear that her influences span the globe from the pastoral landscapes of the Venetian painters of the Renaissance to Japanese prints to Chinese landscape paintings and Dutch still lifes. She places real objects in imagined situations, abstracting a pile of cherries in Laden, creating an abyss with forms that mimic cells in a body or branches in nature in Haze and Bruise. Repetition and layering are paramount in her creation of environments that are simultaneously otherworldly and all-over but grounded quite concretely in the history of art and the tactile methods of printmaking.
In his paintings, Aaron Gilbert depicts relationships, between the figures represented in the works, as well as between him and his subjects. His treatment of the human figure is platonic and minimal. With stark features and muted tones, there is nothing representational and everything evocative about these figures. Their expressions are intense, their actions focused. Their situations can be violent as in Patricide or loving and intimate as in The New One. But in many ways this intensity is implied through subtle gestures and not aggressively thrust upon the viewer. Aaron has a way of trusting the medium and his depictions, including only what is essential in communicating the universality or impossibility of a particular relationship between lovers, mother and child, father, and son.
Melissa Levin is currently Director in Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's Artist Residencies Department. Melissa received her BA with honors in Visual Art and Art History from Barnard College. Previously, she worked at Artforum International Magazine, Andrea Rosen Gallery, and The Whitney Museum of American Art. She has participated in panels at Dumbo Arts Center, Lower East Side Print Shop, Center for Book Arts, and Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts; and lectured at Parsons, The New School for Design, and The Cleveland Institute of Art. Melissa has also curated exhibitions at Cuchifritos Gallery, ISE Cultural Foundation, Andrea Rosen Gallery, LMCC, and Taylor De Cordoba Gallery.