N.B. Dash, "The Last of their Kind," and Kol Solthon, "New Work," Jan. 21-Feb. 26, 2005, at Ingalls & Associates, 125 NW 23rd Street, Miami, Fla. 33127.
How do you record a journey before it even happens?
North American I:I One Road, From All Roads, 2005 is a large ink drawing of a silhouette of North America from "New Works," Canadian conceptual artist Kol Solthon's solo exhibition of site specific wall drawings, works on paper, videos, and installation at Ingalls & Associates in Miami. The silhouette is not one that would be generically found on maps, but a portrait of something that is individual. The sinuous parallel lines that delineate the continent are actually a road, complete with a delicate wisp of the yellow division line found on a real highway. This specific road is formed by the intersection of hundreds of roads considered by the artist when constructing the map over a two-year period. While standing in front of the drawing Kol Solthon stated "I am going to live this drawing."
Miami born artist N. B. Dash and Solthon will be recording this line for a project called North American. They will travel in a portable studio making works in a wide range of media to document North America over an estimated six-month period. According to Solthon, "The idea behind it comes from an interest in how far or to what length each of us, as individuals, are willing to go to represent the place we are from."
The artists have been creating works side by side since 2002. Up until that point Solthon was creating site-specific conceptual and performance works that were undocumented. When the two artists paired up they devised a way to create works while traveling, documenting and contriving works that could be shared with an audience. Their base has been in New York City with shorter periods in Mexico and New Mexico.
Staring at the drawing, North American I:I One Road, From All Roads, which is so concise and mono-toned save for that one yellow line, the work comes to life when envisioning a car weaving in and out of the delicate curves of the outline of a continent so vast and unknown by most of its inhabitants.
Currently Dash and Solthon each have a solo show at Ingalls & Associates gallery in Wynwood, Miami. While the two create together they are both surmounting very individual bodies of work.
N.B. Dash is showing a dramatic group of 27 black-and-white photographs. Collectively titled "The Last of their Kind," the highlight of the show is several 16 x 20 inch photos, which show baroque, vaguely figurative forms of twisted and shredded fabric. In an almost performative process, the artist begins with a simple-weave white cotton that she wears down by rolling it between her fingers, eroding and manipulating it until it is rendered blackened and transformed into a tiny sculpture that bears the evidence of time -- some can take up to a year to complete. Her creation process, like a repetitious kinetic performance can be initiated without being noticed in any social environment. It is a way that the artist can isolate the concept of the creative act revealing it to be more like an applied force that can be exerted at any time in any place onto any object large or small.
These sculptures are very small, seemingly insignificant, but once the sculpture is complete she lays it out on a sheet of paper to be photo-documented like a specimen. The White Series (2005) is a suite of 11 such specimens eternalized in an exceedingly high quality of silver gelatin on fiber-based paper photographed with a large format camera.
Similar to Brassai's photographs of "Involuntary Scultptures" from the 1930's of everyday objects transformed through nervous, unconscious energy, like bus tickets twisted and warped by a fidgety passenger, these humble objects can inspire a limitless world of fantasy activated and transcribed by the viewer.
For two larger (39 x 60 in.) photographs, titled Construction 1 (2005) and Construction 2 (2005), Dash combined several of the fabric sculptures from the "White Series" into a larger configuration. Like individual parts ready for assembly, the "White Series" works, which are simple and relatively uninflected with psychology, are extracted by the artist to create dream imagery. The "Constructions" look like chimeras, dragons with wings and swan-like necks, horns and tails.
As for Solthon, he has the most striking piece in the show, a site-specific work chiseled directly into the dark gray cement wall of the gallery's outdoor courtyard. Titled After Dark (2004), the 32-foot-tall drawing shows a schismatic bolt of lighting slashing though the pattern of a flock of birds in flight.
How do you record an experience, and once it has been recorded how do you play it back? When traveling, the entities of time and experience, once separated from the quotidian, become isolated as in a vacuum to be examined more intimately.
The rest of Solthon's pieces from "New Works" conceptually address these issues. The smallest work in his show hangs in front of the gallery acting as the keystone to his installation. The piece, titled Evidence item A 1996-2003 (2005) is a framed computer paper print out of the bold typed names of cities, places, and sites listed in a series that nearly fills the page. Grouped together without double-spacing, the words form a perfect black rectilinear shape.
The typed names are the chronicling of the places the artist has traveled to since leaving his home in Canada in 1996. Comically "New York City" appears quite frequently sandwiching and harassing the names of lesser known places such as Oxaca (Mexico), Cuzco (Peru), and Zion Canyon (Utah). Three brief lines is all Kol Solthon's one year excursion through India and Nepal gets. The memory of his entire 7-year journey on four continents is cryptified into the flippancy of something similar to an air traffic control itinerary. The names appearing the same way the "city of destination" is printed on an airplane ticket -- cold and nonchalant never revealing how endeared you are to the place and those you will be meeting there.
The last name on the list is the first and only name of the last line. It appears on the page outside of the safe haven of the rectangle, expelled from it like an outcast, but really the word stands alone because it is the beginning and the birthing point from which all the other names have sprung including the artist himself, befittingly that word is the river. The river refers to a river in Canada where the artist almost lost his life. It is the only non-proper noun of the entire list, and it rings out beautifully like the distinctive note from an allegorical leitmotiv.
How do you record a memory? When Kol Solthon travels he doesn't use a camera instead he uses his body to create a movement specific to the place he is creating it. He uses the act of creation as a means to convert a mental memory into a physical memory. He then carries it with him to his succeeding destinations revitalizing the movement in each place mixing it in a sequence with the rest of the physical memories created in the other places he has been, stringing them together like the names in Evidence Item A 1996-2003, but this time the sequence forms a dance.
In the center of his exhibition is a crude tent constructed by a pale grey tarp draped over white rope. The piece titled Shelter (2005) activates the space into a world of bare necessity and nomadic travel. Inside the tent is a portable DVD player manufactured for use in automobiles strapped to a gray block. One must crawl into the tent and partake in its shelter in order to view the six short digital videos playing on the tiny monitor from a video series titled A.K.A. All the digital videos were shot in White Sands, New Mexico some by moonlight and others in the blinding white light of day unique to that region. The esthetic of the videos match the meticulous monochromatic beauty of his drawings surrounding the tent.
The tent, which is enclosed and cramped, when paired with the monitor acts conversely as a portal to the wide-open terrain of the natural world. Some of the films document Solthon performing his physical memories. While others visually pun on the flimsy divide between certain physical gestures and our perception of them. In Invisible (2004) Solthon is filmed on a sand dune at night flailing is arms in a pinwheel motion. It is unclear as to whether he is waving or throwing punches in the air. Aggression and friendliness walk a fine line. In A.K.A: White Sands (2004) he has doubled over his figure by walking on all fours across a breathtaking desert landscape with mountains as the backdrop. His figure is relatively so small that it appears as a black silhouette, at times only a smudge on the screen and at others a gigantic tarantula stalking the horizon.
The itinerant N. B. Dash and Kol Solthon are an interesting pair. Dash offers works that reflect a journey into an inner world while Solthon engages with the expanse of the great outdoors, but by going either in or out they both manage to access the epic, somehow melding one road from two roads.