Melissa McGill at The Powerhouse
— By NATALIE HARRIS
In the exhibition Otherside at the Power House, Melissa McGill is concerned with turning negatives into positives. According to the artist’s statement, these works are an investigation of the interior, the unseen and the other side. Visually, the show is an exploration of frozen moments that are somehow still in motion, calling into question the interactions between a person and an environment.
Upstairs in the North Gallery, the viewer encounters the installation called Shadows, a collection of silver gelatin prints and porcelain figures. The prints, which are a series of inverted street scenes from early morning, can be grouped into two categories: those with referents and those without. Facing the viewer at entrance to the space are three prints, all of which show a collection of figures walking on the street. As the series progresses, the viewer moves through the scene with the subjects of the work. The shadows turn into positive forms with the inversion of the photographs. Due to the time of day, the figures are strangely abstracted and distorted. They are squished down to a fraction of their size and oddly elongated. The adult forms, although clearly viewed in the photographs, do not translate as such in their shadows; they look like children at play.
The remaining photographs do not have humans to anchor the scene, an aspect that divorces them from the other works. Objects float in an upside down world, their distorted shapes rippling over the pavement.
The aspect of distortion is carried into the other works in the North Gallery. The sculptural pieces, which were brought into existence through casting the interiors of figurines from flea markets, are abstracted figures executed in white porcelain. The large group consists of four of these castings, three of which are arranged in a mime of conversation, their heads cocked to the left and right as though they are listening to one another; the fourth figure curtseys to an audience that is not seen. Overlooking this scene is a large bust, whose head has been left open in the back and glazed with silver. The glaze creates a funhouse mirror in which the outside world is reflected, but not clearly articulated. Much like the photographic works by the artist, these sculptures seem oddly fluid. Their distortion is much like the abstractions that occur when running water is poured over an object. Their presentation seems temporal, as if at any moment the tension will break and everything will change.
Downstairs in the South Gallery, this theme continues. The two works in this gallery, Here and Now and Boomerang, are series in blown glass. Here and Now, 10 pieces of black glass situated on the white gallery floor, reflects the space around it with alien distortion. The sizes and forms of the egg-shaped objects vary, but each shows 180 degrees of the gallery space in its reflections. No two are alike, so the reflected world that the viewer experiences is different with each drop. Reflecting the world above it, the viewer’s notion of their orientation within the space is distinctly defined by these objects.
The work Boomerang also plays off the space in the gallery, calling attention to the building and its wounds. The pure silver color reflects the space, but on a much smaller scale. Points of light from the windows and fixtures are the only distinct reflected aspects. Situated in the pockmarks in the walls, hanging from the remnants of industrial stains, and clinging to corners, this work makes the gallery appear almost as if it were bleeding.
These two pieces create the space of the gallery as a living entity. In her statement, McGill claims that the works are completely activated by their environment in the Power House. However, it would seem that the converse is also true. The South Gallery becomes a living entity that reflects and interacts with those who come inside. As in the photographs and porcelain works of Shadows, there exists a tension and sense of frozen movement that is a powerful interactive force.
Presenting the world in a different light, the installation pieces in Otherside emphasize that sometimes it is important to create presence from absence.