Local Artists Interpret Beijing in Transformer’s “Atmosphere”
Befitting the shoebox-sized Transformer gallery, the current exhibit “Atmosphere” is small, but it packs a punch.
The exhibit, which consists of just seven works by four artists, stems from a two-week visit to China last summer organized and funded in part by a D.C. Commission on the Arts & Humanities Sister Cities International Art Grant. (Beijing and D.C. are sister cities.) Most of the works focus on the urban environment.
Paul Shortt’s digital video “Smog” has an intriguing starting point—the notion that unchecked construction is transforming both capital cities—but the video's technique, which follows a peripatetic everyman strolling through D.C.’s construction zones wearing a surgical mask, becomes monotonous, and the comparison ultimately seems overly simplistic. (Gentrification near D.C.’s well-developed, first-world downtown seems a different animal than growth on the fast-expanding, and environmentally unruly, fringe of a developing-world megalopolis.)
The exhibit’s other video, by Stephanie Kwak, is philosophically lighter, with a winningly absurdist vibe. It’s a remix of a green-screen tourist video shot at the Forbidden City (above); the backwards-flying antics of the protagonists (Kwak and fellow artist Chandi Kelley) nicely complement the charmingly cheesy aerial footage of Beijing's tourist sites, particularly since the pair seem to be enjoying themselves.
Kelley, for her part, offers four photographs, most notably a pair of “landscapes” (top) that are actually quasi-trompe l’oeil scenes painted on the walls of construction sites, marred by halfheartedly rubbed-out graffiti marks – a case of art imitating art imitating life.
The show’s low-key standout, however, is Zach Storm. Storm has mounted 11 panels he painted (above) that reflect the subtle variations in Beijing’s smog-filled skies as he saw them from his hotel room each day. Seamlessly blending a color-field sensibility with minimalist rigor, Storm’s panels, which range from indigo to pink-tinged gray, offer a smart, concise commentary on the environment, sensory perception, and the passage of time.
Through May 3 at Transformer, 1404 P St., N.W., Washington, D.C. (202) 483-1102. Wed-Sat 12-6.