Dynamics of disconnection
Artists let body language tell the story
I felt like an outsider at a family reunion viewing “Familiar Bodies’’ at Carroll and Sons, which features work by photographers whose subjects are family members and partners. I could see the charged glances, the simmering disconnections, and the casual intimacies, but I could only infer the stories behind them. Not knowing the details pricked my imagination.
Tina Barney documents her well-to-do family and friends. In “Tim, Philip and Phil,’’ she focuses on a middle-age man standing between two blurry young men. Philip, in the center, wears turquoise tennis togs and stares with commanding authority at the camera. Tim and Phil look ready to bolt; Phil throws a panicked glance in Philip’s direction. Behind them, we glimpse a wing-backed chair, expansive windows, and a lake in the distance.
I saw a frosty relationship between father and sons. Barney captures discomfort and perhaps fear, and a power dynamic that’s ratcheted up by the cushy surroundings.
In “Dad, Hampton Ponds III,’’ photographer Mitch Epstein’s elderly father surfaces in rippling black water. His face is pink, his bald scalp freckled; he wears a wedding ring, and a Band-Aid on his arm. The camera takes a godlike and detached perspective from above, and the man appears frail, despite his swim.
Also at Carroll and Sons, Cobi Moules’s self-portraits in paint and graphite are technically exacting. The sharp realism implies a high degree of objectivity and a blessed lack of either self-criticism or self-aggrandizement. It makes room for us to simply look, without hair-trigger judgments about the content. That’s helpful in this context; Moules is transitioning from female to male, so the content may make some uncomfortable.
There’s nothing especially risque or clinical here. Moules fantasizes his way into his masculinity. In one untitled series of drawings, he gleefully experiments with different styles of facial hair. In another, he sprawls in his briefs in a chair, showing off progressively more body hair. I first saw one of his paintings in a group show last year and was struck by the craftsmanship, and by my inability to tell whether the subject was a man or a woman. That ambiguity is edgy, but it’s especially effective because Moules doesn’t force it on us; he merely documents what he sees.
But Wing turns the installation into an affecting narrative: She documents each room on an index card, and cross-references. The personal detail turns the potential drudgery of ceiling after ceiling into a life story.
Plus, even the plainest photos are visually engaging. One shot on June 21, 2006, in a cousin’s old room in an aunt’s house in Vermont, shows two sky-blue walls intersecting with a white ceiling, looking like a modernist painting. Such photos slow a viewer down to truly look, just as shooting them must have focused Wing to find the most intriguing perspective on a scene most of us ignore.
Most of Weiman’s works, such as “Still, twenty five,’’ have clean white vertical stripes forming a screen over a bright, hard-to- contain under-painting. She counterbalances these with white-covered pieces sporting a handful of stripes in one color. In “Still, four’’ it’s lavender. What’s on the surface, and what’s beneath it, peeking through? Weiman doesn’t answer, nor should she. In “Still, twenty five,’’ a couple of sloppy blue and mauve streaks brute their way over the white stripes. Life is messy that way.
Vinette’s drawings look as if they were made on graph paper, with careful color over the lines and no coloring in the white squares. The result is again a screen, but the screen is the picture itself, with white blankness behind, suggesting that everything is porous; everything fades. “Two Towers in Paradise’’ sets the World Trade Center’s twin towers in a bucolic landscape, in what appears to be a weirdly saccharine memorial to 9/11. The honeyed content (Vinette’s other pieces feature rainbows) put an odd spin on these drawings, which read like greeting card platitudes despite their intriguing forms.
Also at Bromfield, Jemison Faust veers away from her previously deeply layered painting style toward a crisp, light realism. Faust has a day job as a professional organizer. Her “Tipping Point’’ series depicts one client’s toy-strewn basement, with an astonishing array of plastic items. Chaos in the playroom, in all its cheery colors, is laden with satisfyingly dark portent.
Cate McQuaid can be reached at email@example.com.