It’s one of the centuries-old ideas about art that it can mirror the physical world, pleasurably, disturbingly or in other ways. And since its inception in the early 19th century, photography has long been a powerful medium in that respect. But photography, in the art arena, has strayed from this function regularly in the last three decades or so: Creating visual fictions is commonplace. Approaches are myriad and two distinctly different ones are in effect at Quint Contemporary Art in a pair of shows: “Making Space,” featuring Lee Materazzi’s pictures with performing models, and “Every Instance Removed,” Derek Stroup’s photographs that alter the designed landscape we take for granted.
Materazzi, an emerging photographer based in Miami and partly educated in London, makes loopy pictures with a symbolic undercurrent. You might say people are doing pretty dumb things in her pictures: making their heads disappear into the ground, a kitchen drawer or a picture on the wall. As much as we know that their heads haven’t truly evaporated into thin air, in most cases they look like they have. (No, she hasn’t Photoshopped them out of existence in the images; this is straightforward trickery.) So, aside from the smiles or chuckles Materazzi’s photographs may elicit, they play on the degree of willingness we have to delight in visual fantasy. Most are simply playful. And after seeing “Head in Grass” and “Head in Dirt,” you have to think there must be a “head-in-sand” print somewhere in her inventory. But a couple of other images convey a visual and emotional tension: “Head in Utensil Drawer,” with its sharp objects, and “Storage Container,” in which a person is crammed into a plastic canister in the bottom of a closet. There is an art historical pedigree to these pictures too, in dada, fluxus and conceptual art. But you don’t need to think about that to be amused by them. It’s hard to decide whether Materazzi is simply a clever artist or something more than that, based on this show. But I’m intrigued enough to want to see more of her work.
Lack of labeling
Derek Stroup is using Adobe Photoshop to eliminate familiar facets of your everyday world. Take a look at your bag of Ruffles chips or your Snickers bar – in the wrapper. Now, imagine them without text.
This is what Stroup does and it’s a simple but effective conceit. Lettering, in our graphically designed world, isn’t simply informational; its integral to designs. The Ruffles bag looks either abstract or unfinished. Ditto the candy wrapper. It’s as if he’s removing the pop from pop design. Turning to franchise architecture like gas stations, Stroup takes the same approach. There’s a Shell station without a moniker on it; also, a Mobil location sans words. He has pretty much eliminated the designs on American money too, leaving behind the wrinkles and creases. Stroup lives and works in New York now, but he’s no stranger to the area. He’s a 1996 grad of UCSD’s MFA program in visual arts and has previously exhibited at both the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (in 1995) and Quint Contemporary Art (in 2000). But this is the strongest work he’s presented locally. These pictures may be the visual equivalent of one-liners, but some jokes and sayings offer keen insights into us and our world. These pictures do, too.