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"HANDS"

December 6, 2008 - January 3, 2009 at Solway/Jones, Chinatown

by Shirle Gottlieb




Dane Picard,
"Herd of Horses Hands," 2007, high definition Blu-ray (BD) disk.

From pre-historic time to the present, hands have been essential to the evolution of humankind. Not only did physical dexterity enable man's survival, it played a major role in the development of civilization. Working in lock-step with creativity and critical thinking, hands, in a manner of speaking, have paved the road to the future, established diverse cultures across the globe, and recorded their deeds for generations to come. By definition, "hands" are physical parts of the body.  It takes strong hands to hunt and gather, till the earth, work a job, invent new objects, help others, and get through life. By extension, "hands" can be symbolic, metaphoric, poetic, even spiritual.
    
In this exhibit, six diverse artists explore this deceptively simple  subject to create imagery that ranges from provocative and profound to philosophical, prosaic and whimsical.
    
June Wayne, long recognized as the pioneer of contemporary lithography, has long been fascinated with fingerprints as a source of identity--a stand-in for self-portraits, if you will. In one of her sober prints, "Saw 'Long Day's Journey. . .'" (titled after Eugene O'Neill's powerful drama), a pair of her  hand-stitched leather gloves plead to some vast, gray, unresponsive void. In the soulful "White Vista," another metaphoric portrait, a red dot floats toward a sunny dimension above a white finger-print rooted in sorrowful blue.
    
The late British photographer and poet John Coplans said, "I regard the body and mind as inseparable, a single field of human experience. . .the perceptual, the intellectual, and the pains and pleasure of memory."  From this singular point of view, the erudite Coplans took photographs of his hands, presenting them as self-portraits. In "Double Hand," he cups both hands side-by-side, then bends his fingers forward to form a smiling face.  In "Hand, Spread Fingers," a cropped photo of his two middle fingers evokes the shape of his body.
     
All of Suzy Lake's black and white photographs are titled "She No Longer Stares Blankly, Even if She's Not Supposed to." Each one is a framed image of a woman's arm, wrist, and/or hand firmly gripping a broom. To fully appreciate them, you must probe beneath the surface imagery. By taking command of "the job at hand," by using her arm and "hand" as both subject and object, Lake is exploring the politics of gender, body, and identity. Like haiku, less is more, and here it is pitch perfect.
    
Bruce Nauman is notorious for being elusive, and his untitled etching in this show is no exception. But look closely. The image is not an innocuous drawing of two extended hands; it's a symbol of vital communication that takes place in silence by means of sign language. In complete contrast, Dane Picard's digital videos are an instant knock-out. Delightful scenes of "Cheetahs" and "Herds of Horses" are created from fragments of hands and fingers collaged together. Then through high definition Blu-ray (BD) disks, his designs are transmitted across the screen in the form of graceful galloping animals.


June Wayne, "Saw 'Long Day's
Journey. . .'", 1975, color lithograph,
21 1/2 x 17 5/8".







John Coplans, "Hand, Spread
Fingers," 1987, photograph, 18 x 18".







Suzy Lake, "She No Longer Stares
Blankly, Even if She's Not Supposed
to #1," 1999, black and white
photograph, 11 1/2 x 10" framed".







Bruce Nauman, "Untitled," 1994,
single color etching, 19 3/7 x 22".







Alan Rath, "4 O'clock," 1991, 12"
cathode ray tube, 9" cathode
ray tube, aluminum, custom
electronics, 37 x 18 x 18".

In Hannah Wilke's early-1970's video “Gestures,” the late artist pulls and stretches her face with her hands to create a dozen different expressions.  By slapping her cheeks, rubbing her head, squinting her eyes, and covering her mouth, Wilke completely changes her appearance.

Last, but far from least, is Alan Rath, the intellectual wit and trickster in this show. On view are two of his electronic sculptures ("4 O'Clock" and "Wave") that gesture, gyrate, blink, and interact with visitors by means of computer-generated sensors. "4 O'Clock" (a free-standing, three-screened, vertical floor sculpture) responds with spinning numbers when people order it to do so by touching the top panel marked with a hand. "Wave" (a flat, horizontal, 66-inch work mounted on the gallery wall) is shaped like its name. A wired panel of five hands lights up and they race across its width whenever viewers stand before it.

This innovative exhibit explores the creative interpretation of hands in ways both cerebral and intensely visceral. From the early days of video and contemporary lithography in the seventies (Wilke and Wayne); through photography and drawing in the eighties and nineties (Coplans, Nauman, Lake); to the latest electronic-interactive sculpture (Rath) and the digital Blue-Ray video (Picard) in the 21st-century, the narrowly focused theme as presented here is worthy of the time and attention required to explore its expected depths and surprising breadth.