IT’S A ‘PARALLAX,’ YOU DIG? A detail from Alisha Gould’s series on paper with graphite and gold leaf.
One of the joys of a Maine summer is discovering great shows in unlikely places. Seek the Corey Daniels Gallery, nestled in a row of antique parlors and boutique galleries along the seacoast, and you'll find just that in "Tropos," an exhibition of two young Maine artists engaged in a thoughtful and arresting artistic dialogue. The exhibition finds Sean O'Brien and Alisha Gould (in a show curated by former Phoenix art scribe Annie Larmon) confronting an array of complex interpretive concepts, including the act of becoming, states of liminality and rupture, and, well, Hairy Balls.
But for all the heavy lifting going on in "Tropos," one of the most present concepts, ironically enough, is emptiness. In nearly every instance, the artists' works are bound by a pervasive absence, and one of the many pleasures of the exhibit is observing the avenue — either conceptual or process-based — by which absence finds its way in.
The element of absence is obvious in the four 20" x 24" Polaroid prints of Sean O'Brien's "Still : Life" series, and the photographs are the most immediate works in the room. The subject of each is a rose, its petals shattered by a foreign mass into disarticulate confetti. Reaping the benefits of a rare bird in analog photography (the Polaroid 20x24 camera O'Brien used is one of only six left in existence), the artist engineered his shot by freezing the flowers so that the petals calcify, then setting the camera to capture the precise moment a pellet gun runs them through. With the trifecta of drama, symbolism, and a nostalgic medium, you might find "Still : Life" elicits an emotional response, which in the field of contemporary high art, can be as rare as a four-leaf clover.
Flexing some impressive interrelational muscle, O'Brien's other works marry absence with the concept of light as a function of externality, giving the act of experiencing "Tropos" a nifty sense of interactivity. The three wooden boxes of "Rainbow's End I-III" are closed on all sides except one, where collages of mica are made vividly incandescent through the use of a polarizing filter. O'Brien expertly elides the work of the three boxes into "Rainbow's End — Three Dimension," an enormous, skinless geodesic dome (constructed from PVC pipes, LED lights, and a plane of retroreflective glass beads) that simulates the interior of the mica boxes.
In a nice curatorial touch, the open negative space of "Rainbow's End — Three Dimensions" neatly complements "Stratus," the room's other great presence. "Stratus" is a series of four meticulously woven lattice forms created and hung by Alicia Gould, whose studies in absent space have drawn high praise in the this year's Portland Museum of Art Biennial and last year's MFA thesis exhibition at MECA. Here, she succeeds once again in dramatically transforming a room. Her enormous netted forms are diaphanous and precious, delicately marking the empty space in the room's core. They do it so well, in fact, that after the viewer spends some time in the gallery, they create almost an opposite effect, hovering ominously as a sort of impasse or division line.