“A Retelling,” the curatorial work of Katie Rentzke, at Covington’s Artisan Enterprise Center, exhibits three related bodies of work by Brian Harmon, Billy Renkl and McCrystle Wood.  Through photographic installation, collage and computer generated prints, each of the artists poised in his or her respective medium, ambiguously addresses the idea of “retelling,” individually and collectively. There are no clear indications of a linkage between each body of work.  A faint connection quietly emerges through careful viewing and the reading of each artists’ statement.  Each loosely presents the idea of “loss,” tempered with the poignancy of their individual recounting.   The viewer’s introduction to this topic is, most suitably, vague.  For what is a retelling if the original story is too fully told?  The show description consists only of the definition of “retelling.”  The conceptual piecing together of what exists, aesthetically, as relatively disparate work within the space, remains up to the viewer.

Harmon’s The Fear of Forgetting (2011), a photographic installation, supposes a quiet confrontation upon first entering the gallery space.  Light, veils of nostalgia, photographs depicting Harmon’s grasp towards concretizing the transience of memory, hang, printed on semi-transparent fabric, at different heights throughout the gallery.  Subjects as benign as a lamp fitted into a colorfully wallpapered corner, a stack of board games or a plastic Halloween pumpkin resting on the floor occupy these photographs.  Harmon introduces this installation as a result of his Athazagoraphobia, the fear of forgetting or being forgotten about.  This instantly adjusts the reading of his images from formal constructions to documentation.  However, Harmon’s visual sensibilities shine through the photographs in such a way that keeps them from being simply coldly recorded moments.  Instead, they exist as poetic musings on the mundane or on memory.  Exhibiting, not just a fear of forgetting but a clear and present understanding and appreciation of, why these things should not be forgotten.

The small collages of Billy Renkl show an intimacy and presence of the hand in relation to this idea of retelling.  Collage by nature requires the recontexutalizing of material, akin to retelling a story with a different outcome.  The elements of the collage act as a type of anecdotal peppering, the spices are gleaned from different sources and yield a new ending.  A Foreign Country #5 (2006), for example presents a grid composed of small squares cut from different maps.  Yet a red, linear element from each piece is sensitively constructed into the silhouette of a young child.  An element, whose original purpose, was meant to indicate perhaps a border or another topographically relevant piece of information is rebuilt.  Its original boundaries are broken and innovatively reconstructed.  Renkl simultaneously presents not only a new image (child), unrelated to the original source, but a new country (map).  He suggests that in a retelling that hinges on adapting the information from which it came, a certain amount of the original story will always be nearby.

In quiet contrast to the airiness of Harmon’s photographs and pleasantly aligning with the density of Renkl’s collages are the computer generated prints of McCrystle Wood.  These boldly opaque, almost psychic projections, as a result of their unfamiliarity, are the most challenging works in the exhibition.  Wood consciously represents the plant like forms and textures clearly, while keenly masking the inclusion of female forms, only to be recognized after a length of viewing.  In her statement, Wood explains the inclusion of both subjects; the female form, referencing the contemporary strain on desires of perfecting one’s body image and the plant material evoking a line of thought concerning the current strain on our own environment.  What initially seem to be largely different issues are unabashedly abutted in each of the prints, causing the idea of “body” and “decay” to continuously flicker back and forth.  In Muse (2011) we are presented with one of the more recognizable inclusions of the female form; large idealized curves and unfettered forms evoke a sensuousness from a distance.  In addition to this, however, the viewer begins to notice the uncompromisingly unpleasant growths that simultaneously appear related to the plant-like forms of the upper half of the picture but also as grotesque distortions of the female form.  Showing, with aesthetic subterfuge, how closely linked these ideas and issues truly are.

“A Retelling” seems to be an exhibition loosely linked by loss and the natural desire for recounting, subtly illustrating the fact that variations will always be present in each retelling, as a result of what its narrator hopes to suggest.

–Daniel O’Connor



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