BODY WORK Alario's Tea Party in Father Fort.
Two years ago, when his daughter Elska was born, Scott Alario of Providence began making her the star of a series of photos he calls Our Fable. "I wanted to tell her stories. I wanted to pass something down to her," he says. "It's my attempt to build a folk tale for my daughter."
Together with his partner and Elska's mother Marguerite, they mixed play, costumes, and some special effects that he records with a large format camera. On view at AS220's Main Gallery (115 Empire Street, Providence, through January 29), the black-and-white digital prints blend clear-eyed realism with curious dreamlike rituals.
Brave Elska uses a double exposure to make it look like the big-eyed little girl is standing in tall grass hiding her face with her arms. Marguerite and Elska, Carr Pond depicts mom sitting on a rock at the edge of a pond, with her feet in the water, nursing a naked Elska. The traditional pose rhymes with classic imagery from Madonna-and-childs to Dorothea Lange's Depression photo of a migrant mother.
DREAMLIKE A detail of Alario's Brave Elska.
Alario draws some inspiration from ethnographic photos of Nordic and nomadic cultures to create fur costumes, tents, or earth lodges. The constructions are impressive, but they are a more familiar vocabulary and lessen the dreamy spell he achieves elsewhere, like a photo of baby Elka crawling after Marguerite, who is also crawling up a wooded path. Or Tea Party in Father Fort, which shows the little girl sitting with lantern in a backyard under makeshift tent, which upon closer inspection reveals itself as a man under a sheet supporting himself on his hands and feet. It might bring to mind Nut, the Egyptian goddesses who arches over the earth to form the vault of the heavens, or simply the magically mundane mix of play and learning, risk and worry and protective embrace that bond parents and children.
Also on view in AS220's Main Gallery are abstract oil paintings by Angela Ruo of Providence. Body II features bloody horizontal scratches and crusty red bumps that bring to mind berries or scabs. The paintings have a visceral charge with all the reds that drip down like blood, but they feel too pat. The painting Diversity stands out with its pale turquoise and rusty browns that look like billowing clouds softly piled one atop the next. The difference between Diversity and the other paintings is its air of mystery.
In the gallery's front window, AS220 is screening the late New York artist David Wojnarowicz's Fire In My Belly and will host "Queer Representation and Resistance as Acts of Justice Symposium" on January 29 and 30. Art institutions across the country have been presenting the film as a free speech protest since the Smithsonian removed it from "Hide/Seek," a historical exhibit of gay portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery, in November under pressure from Republican legislators and the conservative Catholic League in New York because they were offended by brief footage of ants crawling across a crucifix. Catholic League president Bill Donohue called it "hate speech . . . The creator of this 'masterpiece' video is dead of AIDS. But he did not die without blaming society for his self-destructive behavior."