Review: 'The 2011 RISCA Fellowship Exhibition'

The art of the state
By GREG COOK  |  February 10, 2011

ORNATE Chen's Dunhuang.

For some years I've been looking forward to Lorelei Pepi's animated cartoon Happy & Gay. What first grabbed me was its spot-on imitation of early 1930s black-and-white Disney 'toons populated by dog- and mouse- and horse-people seemingly constructed of rubber balls and hoses. Pepi describes the film as "revisionist history document" that inserts a positive gay and lesbian presence into the bigoted past.

Now and again, I'd check out her website and watch a clip of two cat ladies singing and dancing as they wash dishes with the help of a friendly pet dog with a towel tied to its tail. But the longest excerpt I've seen from this still work-in-progress is in the "2011 RISCA Fellowship Exhibition," a showcase at Artists Cooperative Gallery (7 Canal Street, Westerly, through February 19) of 15 Rhode Island visual artists, plus a handful of choreographer and music folks, who were awarded $1000 or $5000 grants from the Rhode Island State Council On the Arts.

It's a witty, winking film bouncing along to hot jazz. The cat ladies invite two guy pals who live in their building, the Lavender Arms, to go out dancing. They take a taxi, motor past shimmying buildings, and get in a fight with the bulldog driver when he realizes they're heading to a nightclub with a neon pansy flower flashing above the door. A street preacher warns they'll "burn in hell." Inside, it's a joyous, bopping shindig. The joke, of course, is that the lady cats weren't inviting their animal guy pals out as their dates. Animal guys dance with animal guys, and ladies with ladies, and a bulldog ambles by in drag. The gags are mild, but the film has an infectious, scrappy exuberance.

WITTY AND WINKING Pepi's Happy and Gay.

The "Fellowship Exhibition" is a mixed bag, ranging from Ruth Dealy's abstract painting to Joanne Luongo's vest stitched together from used tea bags to Erik Carlson's old camera modified to show tiny videos inside. Daniel Sousa's animations depict dreamy journeys rendered in impressionistic acrylic paintings that he scans and edits digitally. The viewpoint of The Windmill floats across a windy field, and up the stairway spiraling on the outside of a windmill with disappearing blades. At top, you catch a person's shadow — seemingly your own — just before the viewpoint soars into the clouds.

Tzu-Ju Chen's dazzlingly ornate red and gold Dunhuang necklace resembles a pair of birds meeting head to head. The design is made of a silver monofilament and a cascade of overlapping calligraphic curls cut out of spirit money tradi-tionally used "as an Asian cere-monial offering of currency for the dead," according to the artist. Joshua Enck, who won a grant last year too, continues to demonstrate his airy, elegant craftsmanship in Meander, a steel sculpture that looks like a rusty wire armature for a dragon's neck. Roberta Shapiro stitches embroideries inspired by photos of dreary commercial buildings and loading docks. Sometimes her renderings feel flat, but in Somewhere In Florida, which depicts a stripe of road and guardrail, she creates in the sky above lush, delicate clouds.

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