Although ridden with lovely craftsmanship and great attention to detail, the Ann Arbor art scene generally lacks a lot of punch. The succession of meaty, high-concept themed exhibitions at Gallery Project remedies this condition. One of a handful of galleries scattered about southeast Michigan, it offers experiences that linger long after the first walk-through, altering one’s perception of the everyday world. A venue that never sweats mixing high and low, concept and emotion, establishment and outsider, Gallery Project’s new exhibition, First Contact, veers sharply in different directions while examining human ideas about life on other planets, specifically the dreamed-of moment when our world and theirs comes into contact for the first time.
Often science fiction presages science fact, as alchemy presaged modern chemistry. While some of the work in First Contact engages hard science such as a print of a visual manifestation of the binary code written and beamed into space by Carl Sagan and Frank Drake in 1974 or a self-portrait taken by the Mars rover Curiosity, the curators at Gallery Project, joined this time by artist Seder Burns, let much of the show drift through the lush and decidedly lowbrow landscape of science fiction/fantasy art, with notes of the sublime injected here and there by more traditional artists. This clash of art traditions complements the collision between worlds of the exhibition’s theme, and crystallizes that ultimate, impossible exchange between the young artists who draw inspiration from the likes of HALO and other pop cultural manifestations, and the older artists who work naturally within highbrow criteria. These two groups read as utterly different species when viewed side by side. Compare the unapologetically slick, vibrantly hued digital collages of Tatiana Kazakova with the eerie restraint of a colored pencil drawing of two angled portals floating in a sublime white void by Mike Tarr. Such works elbow at one another in First Contact on a level playing field. A silkscreen print by H.R. Giger, the creator of the fearsome extra-terrestrial foe of the Alien films, straddles these mutually exclusive worlds. A doe-eyed alien sex kitten gazes toward the indulgent dreams of the young people working in new media, yet her hand-built origin and existence in a finite, numbered edition show her age.
Beyond its interlocking, multilayer concept, First Contact offers an incredibly fun show, in the fine Gallery Project tradition, and hints at the possibilities for the old world and the coming one to mingle, producing hybrids. The fabulist photographers Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick, commissioned by NASA to create a panoramic image of Mars colonized by intrepid humans, display immersive multimedia landscapes in the way of new media. Populated with bipedal creatures that read equally human and alien the images remain quiet, empathetic. Charles Lindsay’s unique pigment print Carbon unrolls the length of its panoramic scale with a sense of reverent silence, exploring microcosms deep within the body as maps of galaxies, drawing the viewer deeper and deeper into its mystery.
First Contact remains on display from February 14 to March 24, 2013.
215 S 4th Ave # 1A
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Clara DeGalan is an artist and writer working on an MFA at Wayne State University in Detroit. View more articles by Clara DeGalan.