FLOOD: by Alan Bray. Casein on panel, 2006.
In Yeshe Parks’s “Uranographer II,” a human figure is dwarfed by a totality of swirling and shifting electric bulbs, steel I-beams, and plumbing. Composed literally from scraps of newsprint, this ball-of-it-all is metaphorically the news. You know, the big news, the omnipotent broadcast that makes up our lives. Despite this enormity of existence, the figure is bending at the knees with Olympian focus, poised to jump right in.
The 2007 Portland Museum of Art Biennial is carefully curated and benefits from a judicious selection process. Individual approaches vary wildly, but most of the artists are expressly occupied with the individual’s role as observer and actor within a grand ecology. A decidedly Yankee sincerity surfaces in the absence of any flippant, art-world insider plays on culture. The PMA event is a collective interpretation of an awareness brought about by our sense of place here in Maine, a connection (or wary disconnection) to the land and a quality of life that allows for our contemplation of these relations.
Not that the entries are necessarily somber reflections. Justin Richel’s “Endless Column” features playful renderings of gooey desserts, miniaturized and stacked one after another extending to an implied infinity on the gallery’s high wall. The relation of the micro to the macro, and the viewer’s navigation of the two, suggests that we as perceptual beings are limited to a weak grasp of the whole by analyzing the parts.
An imbalanced environment, on the other hand, is suggested in many of the abundant photographic works. The 2007 Biennial features more photography than previous years and the selections are often focused on the sublime uncertainty of human presence in the landscape. Peter Holzhauer’s black and white “Home Depot” looks out from a hilltop view of big-box architecture and its component matrix of air-conditioning vents and billows of smoke, all blanketed by a smoggy sky. Christopher Becker employs a light painting technique in “Transfer Station” which allows a natural feel for a surreal evening landscape. A landfill is covered in turf with recurrent protrusions of ventilation pipes, eerily illuminated by an extended photographic exposure. Scott Peterman’s “Ecataepec” features a hive-like configuration of condominiums that stretch out to the horizon. There is no room for the land in his pictorial space.
The photographs of Tanja Alexia Hollander, in contrast, focus on the landscape as a meditative plane. Four large prints line the gallery wall with soft strength. Two paintings by Alan Bray are juxtaposed on the same wall. His highly patterned landscapes, rendered with bold color fields, seem a far cry from Hollander’s work at first. A little time with this wall, however, brings with it the sense that there is universal presence, a feeling that we are a manifestation of the land or it of us, an alpha and omega of natural evocation.