SONGS OF FIRE
Elia Alba, David Alekhuogie, Ann Craven, Taylor Deed, Emmanuel Louisnord Desir, Awol Erizku, Aaron Fowler, Sara Gernsbacher, Sayre Gomez, Amy Granat, Arielle Gray, Diane Holland, Peregrine Honig, Fumi Ishino, JPW3, Max Ostrow, Alicia Piller, Aubrey Saget, Cameron Spratley, Vincent Stemmler, Torie Zalben
Curated by JPW3 and Torie Zalben
April 1— July 9, 2022
Sophie’s Artist Lounge
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Sophie’s Gallery at The Kranzberg Arts Foundation is pleased to present Songs of Fire, a group exhibition curated by JPW3 and Torie Zalben. Bringing together twenty-one American artists working across disciplines, the exhibition heralds a moment of celebration against a backdrop of knowing uncertainty. The title Songs of Fire is taken from an offhand utterance by a TV chef, using the phrase to describe a dish in progress. Taking the metaphor one step further, the exhibition revels in a process of transformation out of chaos.
Granting equal space to the illusory and the mundane, Songs of Fire suggests a reconfigured world in which the familiar is scaled up, disassembled, and redrawn alongside bold, graphic acts of pure invention. Resisting an underlying dogma, these disparate works cohere in the manner of a mixed-media collage, invoking subject matter as varied as personal artifacts, the cultural production industrial complex, and St. Louis’ history. Without narrativizing the events of the present, the exhibition is inscribed with a sense of time and place, presenting a gesture of collective processing that makes room for joy and fantasy amidst upheaval.
Many pieces in the exhibition incorporate or allude to photography, touching alternately upon its voyeuristic qualities and its ability to transform reality. A work by the St. Louis-based artist Vincent Stemmler places a large, digitally enhanced photograph of a local cemetery above a glass vitrine in which real grass grows, using mechanisms of artificiality to depict the life cycle. A geometric composition by Max Ostrow in fact consists of repeating outlines of a steadicam device, isolating and abstracting a tool of cinematic illusion. A video installation by Amy Granat modifies the materials of 16mm film and exposed photographic paper to create moving images that hover between dissociation and perception. Sayre Gomez’s paintings use photorealistic trompe-l’oeil to recreate novelty stickers and the impulsive graffiti scrawls that populate communal spaces. Printed on a wall vinyl is Awol Erizku’s portrait of Michael Brown Sr., father of the late Michael Brown, whose death at the hands of a white police officer galvanized protests across the country, in particular in Ferguson, MO, mere miles from the Kranzberg Art Center. In the context of the exhibition, Brown Sr.’s image is a symbol of grief, survival, and the place of Black fatherhood in the St. Louis community.
Several collage works appear in the show, each of them pushing photography toward abstraction. Diane Holland’s digital collage works images of history and memory into graphic compositions that interlace figure and ground. Mixed-media works by David Alekhuogie embed optical illusions into bold, minimalist compositions that confuse and please the eye simultaneously. Fumi Ishino’s photographic transfers on plexiglass boxes push simple stencil-like images into abstract expressionist compositions. A collage painting by Cameron Spratley layers images of oversized screws and knives in densely geometric arrangements that wrangle aggressive imagery into balance.
Other works in the exhibition similarly involve collage-like dynamics of collision, reinvention, and historical redress. Photographs by Arielle Gray allude to Renaissance and Rococo compositions while incorporating Black subjects and style, at once posing an art historical redress while finding a continuum between fashion photography and painting. A sculpture by Emmanuel Louisnord Desir creates gilded monuments to invented figures from an original Afrofuturist mythology. A hanging sculpture by Alicia Piller presents a collage of materials, ranging from vintage fabrics and beads to coral, bones, and light bulbs, carefully woven and draped together to suggest a harmonious commingling of nature and manmade products. A wall sculpture by Peregrine Honig composites found materials to create an artifact in equal parts elegiac and optimistic, diaristic and universal. A soft sculpture by Elia Alba uses photo-transferring processes to reproduce images of human skin on fabric, in works that create monuments to the hand gestures that unite communities across language.
Works across the exhibition are characterized by a spirit of exuberance, finding whimsy within the rubble. Vibrant watercolors by Torie Zalben present cheerful characters amid bold flowers, depicted in a frenetic spirit of catharsis. Floor sculptures by Taylor Deed, another St. Louis artist, present larger-than-life hair picks whose handles are portraits of Black figures, among them the late Nipsey Hussle. Silicone wall sculptures by Sara Gernsbacher pare down natural forms to gestural, expressionistic figures. The American flag returns in a wax transfer work by JPW3 that subverts its symbolic colors, presenting them on an eroded petroleum product that appears anarchic and optimistic. Aubrey Saget’s paintings play with enchanting interactions of grayscale gesso and vibrantly-hued oil paint to create fluid yet vivid depictions of floral subjects and interior spaces. A painting by Ann Craven depicts parakeets in joyously rich colors, arriving somewhere between the childlike and the graphic.
The Artists’ Room at Sophie’s Gallery will be transformed into the Release Room, an interactive installation by the St. Louis-born artist Aaron Fowler. Known for his mixed-media works that incorporate found objects, painting, and other collaged materials, Fowler here creates an immersive space in which viewers are invited to release a balloon, a gesture at once playful, mournful, and tranquil. As the space gradually fills with balloons, the gestures of each individual who has passed through the installation will become an illustration of community. In tandem with the exhibition, Fowler will present a programming series with his St. Louis based community collective called N2EXISTENCE.
Taken altogether, the works in Songs of Fire speak to a moment of combustion and regrowth. Drawing in the personal and the cultural, the local and the global, the past and the future, the exhibition embraces and innovates upon the irreconcilable truths of our present, finding ecstasy and community in our emerging era.
Text by Jack Levinson, April 2022.