Let's Get Physical

Body of Art presents various ways artists capture the human form

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Body of Art, at Northside’s Prairie gallery through Aug. 20, presents work by a dozen artists who all show their own or someone else's physical form in vastly different ways.

Cincinnati artist Michael Scheurer's new video “Far Away Eyes” breaks a couple of conventions. It's visible outside the gallery and not in, and seen at night rather than in the day. The work is back-projected onto the balcony space of this second-story gallery and gives passersby on Hamilton Avenue the distinct impression that someone could be watching. Scheurer has combed magazines from around the world for images of eyes — spectacled eyes, Bollywood eyes, eyes of all sorts — for a video that startles, amuses and leaves a disturbing line of thought about how easily and unknowingly we can be under camera surveillance in today's world.

Another video, by New York-based Kate Gilmore, explores the relationship of an actual body (hers) with an actual camera (also hers), suggesting that the human might not always have the upper hand. She calls the 2005 piece “So Much It Hurts” and leaves us to draw our own conclusions as to who's in charge — in the video and perhaps in the larger world.

Artists have always found the self-portrait useful. It's convenient (the subject is always there) and cheap (no model fees) but also can be a telling means of comment. Mortality might be the underlying subject matter of Boston photographer Karl Baden's “Every Day,” which draws from the project he began nearly 25 years ago: Photographing himself daily, a head shot against white backdrop. He uses the same camera and set-up each time, so rigged that the components can travel with him if necessary. He plans, his statement says, “to measure obsessively and incrementally” his own face “for the rest of my life.”

The daily black-and-white still portraits, the project's raw material, are manipulated in a couple of ways for this exhibition. Nine generously sized prints of his long, unsmiling face are hung to be read left to right, younger to older. He has a large nose and sad mouth, the face thickening as time goes by and bags developing beneath the eyes. He takes a second approach to the material, using a digital time-lapse video that incorporates stills from Feb. 23, 1987, to Feb. 25, 2011. The images quiver on the screen as small changes register. Hair lengthens and shortens, depending on trips to the barber, I suppose. There is also less of it, inevitably, as the film progresses.

Regan Brown's “American Reliquary No. 1” (2011) has a lot to say about our country's propensity for war. The Cincinnati artist’s assemblage incorporates a round, gold-rimmed, eagle-mounted mirror in a triptych that also includes human figures caught in the sights of a gun. Toy-sized rockets, a medicine cabinet and hurricane lamps are other elements in Brown's installation, a witty but concerned commentary on, among other things, the ability to say one thing and mean another. The conclusion of this piece invites the viewer to look through a tiny hole set off by gun sight markings and see on a small video screen a scrolling list of American wars.

Evan Hand's lighthearted photographs are a relief among all these heavy thoughts. His own bearded head becomes the playground and home ground for a set of extremely small toy figures going about their business in the thickets of his hair. “Sunset Cliff” is set on the rosy underside of the photographer's chin, his head apparently upside down. An Indian with a gun draws a bead on some nearby threat in another print and an industrious figure is at work in “Beard Tiller.” These new inkjet prints are palely colored; in a couple of them the sun appears as a white ball. A fairly fearsome dragon dominates another, confronted at a perhaps safe distance by a fuzzy human-ish shape. Hand, a recent Art Academy of Cincinnati graduate, has fun here, and so does the viewer.

Women bodybuilders, minimally clad and buff, strut their stuff in Tiffany Dawn Nicholson's 2011 digital photographs. Suspended from the ceiling to hang at eye level an inch or two from the wall, the delicacy of color contrasts to the wall’s whiteness. Titles of the works undercut the subjects' visible pride: “Several Small Meals a Day No Sugar,” “The Fat Flush Plan,” “Lean Protein.” Nicholson's mother, we're told, practiced serious bodybuilding, an enthusiasm her daughter has grown up to satirize.

Three artists working at the studio of Northside’s Visionaries and Voices headquarters — Mark Smith, Brianne Crable and Ramando Love — contributed to the show. Smith's drawings of masks, in colored ink or marker, use slashes of line to convey the peculiar lack of expression common to masks. Smith's and Crable's paintings reflect body-involved gestures.

It's refreshing to see a subject as art-worn — coining a phrase here, meaning done to death — as the human body given thoughtful and original treatment by a variety of artists. Most of the works in Body of Art date from this year, making it a very current presentation. The inclusion of artists from other areas sets off the work by locals and puts their achievements in the larger picture.

BODY OF ART is on view at Prairie (4035 Hamilton Ave., Northside), through Aug. 20. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.

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