"Nowhere From Here," a tripartite multimedia installation by Topsham artist Richard Keen in Brunswick's enormous Coleman Burke Gallery, attempts to transpose our perceptions of exterior, liminal, and subliminal spaces. Trained as a painter and employed commercially in the mooring industry (yes, boat security), Keen's professional influences have equipped him with an arsenal of tools for creating his work. He's put them all to use in this exhibit, yet for a number of reasons — many of which have more to do with the space than the work itself — it's only mostly successful.
CHAINED TO THE WALLS Wall-hanging imprints of moorings, by Richard Keen.
The Coleman Burke Gallery presents the biggest challenge. The room's enormous dimensions can create the illusion that almost any artist's work appears unfocused. Without question, Keen has dedicated an enormous amount of energy toward creating an immersive installation. Three walls are mounted with visuals of varying size, multiple structural platforms crisscross the interior, and two video projections provide vivid and colorful expansion on his themes. However, it's the room that wins. There's plenty to look for in "Nowhere From Here," but despite Keen's efforts, it doesn't succeed in transforming the space. Though he uses three unique forms of media in the exhibition, they're fractured into two incompatible themes, and one overwhelms the other like the sea swallowing a dinghy.
The more successful conceptual exploration of the two is the aquatic. His multiple iterative transpositions of underwater chain moorings show Keen to be a thoughtful and capable maneuverer of intersubjective forms. Taking a cue from his painterly instincts, Keen drew up the heavy irons of his company's moorings and laid them upon various canvases for long stretches of time, letting the rusting iron oxide and aquatic effluvia make natural impressions. Smaller works (the entire show is unlabeled and uncatalogued at the time of this writing) contain iron oxide renderings coated in encaustics, while others — enormous paper tapestries that scale the entire wall — show the effects of the weathered chains in mysterious detritus, skeletal bits of ash, and small rips in the fabric. In a thoughtful artistic-curatorial gesture, the wall-hanging pieces are linked by fabricated chains (made, rather less profoundly, from latex-painted Styrofoam) that Keen has affixed to the wall. From afar the effect is terrifically convincing; the protuberant faux-chains form the connective tissue for the skeletal impressions on the frame; from up close, the impressions themselves are remarkably detailed and naturalistic.
The two videos in the room illustrate and animate Keen's chains, and provide helpful context for their origins and utility underwater. Filmed by Keen himself, the projections follow a heavy sub-level mooring as it's jiggered from rest in the subterranean sand. As the chain is pulled, immense clouds of sand animate and diffuse into shapes, lending heaviness of the chains Keen uses as his subjects. While the larger video suffers from the room's light pollution, another projection takes place on two screens within a boxy green tent, which the viewer is encouraged to experience in isolation. Atop the tent is a cluster of large foam chains, giving the site the heavy appearance of a buried lobster trap.
: Museum And Gallery
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