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Conjuring the Invisible
Joel-Peter Witkin, Holly Roberts, Wayne Martin Belger


Exhibition: Conjuring the Invisible: Photographs by Joel-Peter Witkin, mixed-media works by Holly Roberts and camera assemblages and photographs by Wayne Martin Belger

Location:  Etherton Gallery Downtown135 S. Sixth Avenue
Dates:  January 4 – March 19, 2005

Reception:  Saturday, January 8th, 7 - 10 p.m.
Lecture & BookSigning:  In conjunction with the exhibition Joel-Peter Witkin will lecture at the Center for Creative Photography Friday, February 25, 5:30 pm. Reception and book signing to follow atEtherton Gallery
Hours:  11-5 Tuesday - Saturday,11-7 Thursday
Contact:  Jerre Johnston  624-7370

Contents:  An exhibition of photographs, mixed-media works and assemblage, Conjuring the Invisible explores the primacy of the individual psyche and the elaboration of the personal myth born of memory. These mirrors of experience form the poetic narratives for the works, and provide insight into the methods and themes of three acclaimed artists whose works simultaneously reveal and shroud, evoke, and name the self and its shadow. Each of the artists frequents the paradoxical world of fact and fiction, the obvious and the obtuse. Ranging from the soul-searching self speaking through twin sets of mouths to photographic reliquaries of severed heads, arms, legs and truncated bodies, to cameras made of steel surgical tools, insects, plants and carved bone, these artists open the portals of insinuating illusion so often secreted in the dreamer’s landscape.

Joel Peter Witkin: The physicality of metaphor in death as in life, the empathetic capacity for the spiritual attributes of the human condition, and the exploration of obsessions are, at once, Witkin’s singular vision and his life’s vocation. To “seek out and manipulate the forbidden,” granting us permission to stare is realized in images that reanimate the “rich visual tradition” of art history. As Witkin maps out his tableau vivants he establishes the territory of Eros and Thanatos that lies somewhere between desire and sorrow, the unspeakable and the voluptuous.

In works like Poet: From a Collection of Relics and Ornaments (Berlin, 1986), which uses a severed leg and arm with a skull, Witkin's allegorical still lives make reference to Bosch’s denunciations of a sinful world, Rembrandt’s and Soutine’s flayed carcasses of butchered animals, Goya’s Butcher’s Counter, and Gericault’s morgue studies. To focus on the human figure as a vessel for the darkest recesses of our post-modern imaginings is to enter the realm of the indexical sign where the parts of our physical selves become symbolic witnesses to the vicissitudes of the human condition.  It is this borderline frontier, however, that enables the process of restoration and re-creation “lodged in the folds of being,” without which we would be condemned to live in the place of eternal return, a theatre of humanity incapable of changing the interior scenery of life. Witkin’s imagery connects the frontier of the contemporary world with the historical and antiquarian world of myth.

The apocalyptic facts of horror, the linking of sexuality and transcendence, the androgynous, the hermaphroditic, and the ancient symbology of body parts that are natural signs signifying life-affirming attributes, is the subsoil of existence that creates the shape of primal being. Allegorical and collaborative, Witkin’s actors, adorned and arranged like sculptures against the scrim of the world, become living myths asking us to look at them and ourselves as we are.

Holly Roberts:  Known for the unconventional combination of photography and painting in her work, Holly Roberts delves the regions simultaneously inhabited by the routines of daily existence and the world of her imagination. By painting over pictures of her family, friends and animals Roberts captures a bit of the anima, the soul that provides a basis for reflection. But the elusive soul searching self is always secreted, waiting to appear like invisible ink at any given moment. This self-reflexive role of mirroring the subconscious universe of experience is the hallmark of Roberts’ work. The apposition of the photographically derived figures and the illusory depth of the dense color field create a sense of blended grounding. The graphic simplification and economy of drawing lends them their mood and tone.

Wayne Martin Belger Initially trained as machinist with wide-ranging creative sensibilities, Wayne Martin Belger built his first 4X5 camera in 1997 out of salvaged aluminum for a photographer who was doing a pinhole photo series. The result was a functional work of art replete with the baroque inscriptions of insects and rusty keyholes inlaid in the metal.

Belger’s works are both sculptural forms and creative tools. As he says, “ I love the idea of functional art, and the art itself creating art. All the cameras I have built have been the workhorses for the photos I have shot…while each camera is built with a specific shot in mind no two cameras shoot the same. When I start a camera, I generally have no idea what the theme will be…some are working altars to people that have touched my life, others are industrial looking collages of functional metal.” Belger’s cameras all have stainless steel tripod mounts, including other parts that range from stainless steel surgical tools, rusty parts from abandoned mining camps, to carved bone and a real human heart.

Working in the triple edged tradition of form, function, and content; what unites the paradigm and what so magically occurs in the gap between them –those unexpected associations and displaced paradoxes –Belger enters the realm of the pictorial and poetic assemblage process. Like collage and montage this process becomes a self-reflexive construction of the imagination where “visions meet in a new unknown.”