One can detect the flow of ideas again and again in "This Flat Earth." There's a taste of South Bronx street art, the collective (and international) energy of Fluxus, the occasional polemic and postmodern comedy. Some notions seem odd. An example is the circular reference in Zé Carrión's "Hitler," which seems to have been rendered from Charlie Chaplin's anti-Hitler film The Great Dictator, using an American source for a portrait of history's nastiest person, one who affected Spain's civil war.
Jeff Badger's "Triumph of the Vanishing Point" deconstructs a house and its contents as they disappear into the perspective point that would have allowed it to appear real, as if Hoovered into oblivion by technical artistic demands. A different sort of illusion appears in Carrie Scanga's "the Past in Perspective," in which the railing of a platform, or deck, directs the eye past toy-like houses toward a distant horizon, charged with expectation.
The inscription on Pincho's untitled careful rendering of a heavy paving roller implies that unfettered, American-style economics will pave over the world, but at least will do it with style. In "Decommissioned" Kenny Cole updates roles of the Niña and Pinta with a Spanish submarine (the Siroco) that enters into an unspecified narrative that includes some arrows of direction, stacks of gold coins, and a child with a life vest grasping a tiller.
Irina Skornyakova's "Layers" reaches back to some of the foundational ideas of modernist art as articulated by Malevich. While not especially local to Maine or Spain, Skornyakova shows there is a universality to that line of thinking and still much to be mined from it.
An attentive viewer will grasp pretty quickly there are a few lines of social, political, and economic commentary flowing through this group of work, but that is not where the show's deeper significance lies. Visual art in general doesn't do social relevance all that well, if for no other reason than its usual reach is from one individual to another, and, as with poetry, there's not a lot of room for narrative or expository coherence. What is most likely to occur is a confirmation (or not) of one's own views, rather than a keener understanding of the issues involved.
There is a greater value here, though, and it lies within the personality of each individual voice. They may or may not be telling us something we need to know, but they are telling us who they are. It's not so much what they say, but who is saying it and how they do it. We are making personal acquaintances across a cultural and geographical distance. Things are familiar, the world is flat, but location still matters.
"THIS FLAT EARTH/ESTA TIERRA PLANA" | through February 23 | at Rose Contemporary, 492 Congress St, Portland | 207.780.0700 | rosecontemporary.com