Arts & Entertainment

Northern Virginia Art Beat

Through Saturday, Oct. 13, at the Ellipse Art Center (4350 North Fairfax Dr., Suite 125, Arlington). 703 228-7710. Gallery Hours: Wednesday through Friday 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. www.arlingtonarts.org/ellipseartscenter.htm.

“Americans are unable to find America on a map, because some people out there in our nation don't have maps and … uh … the artists took the maps of South Africa and the Iraq, and … uh … made like such as art.”

Ok … Well not exactly, but four women artists did make the map oriented art now on display at Arlington Ellipse Gallery (in the Ballston area). Oddly enough, only one of which used existing printed maps in her final work.

Julie Jankowski does aerial view oil paintings and cell phone tower landscapes. The aerial view paintings range from a single sports stadium and five of the Meadowlands, to a satellite type image of the entire United States on the night New York to Ohio was blacked-out (August 14, 2003). The Meadowlands works recall the work of Arlington artist Caroline Danforth (part of the Arlington art work headed to Achhen Germany (currently on display at the Arlington Art Center). Jankowski's aerial images are monochromatic, which abstracts the images a bit more than Danforth's full spectrum works. I find Danforth's imagery more engaging, but the two styles are similar enough that preferences would largely be left to the viewer’s tastes.

Jankowski also offers us a series of oil paintings of cell phone towers. These represent the invisible matrix of wireless connections that surround us. While essentially landscapes with cell phone towers, the sun's position often gives the image something of a commentary feel to them. At times looking all powerful, other times seeming the source of detrimental forces.

Renee van der Stelt works with raw white paper. In one series she's made Globe like images laid flat. Other works are made of pin punched paper. The tediousness of these works recalls the exacting nature of cartographic endeavors. The pinhole maps show the earthly forces of wind currents, while another attempts to map a celestial black hole, juxtaposed with a pinhole image of an iceberg.

Dawn Gavin's works all use manipulated maps in the final pieces. Meticulous cutouts lead to entertaining collages. Other works such as “Arterial Skein (I and II)” uses a road map with all non road cut away, yielding a sort of paper spider web. The two versions of Arterial Skein are flipped. The paper webbing is pinned to the wall with the companion piece's webbing painted onto the wall beneath it. Each with the center cut out offering us a somewhat inscrutable wreath like wall sculpture. “Tract'” uses tiny punched out paper dots taken from a map of some sort, pierced with pins then mounted on the wall. All in a ring. Each dot operates in its own space and only interacts with the other dots via cast shadows, yet taken as a whole offers a sort of Benday dot circle.

Gavin also has a sort of kaleidoscopic video of the road map webbing slowly rotating while snippets of someone manipulating rope plays at the periphery. It's fairly inscrutable and operates more as a sort of moving abstraction as much as anything else.

There is a lot of pressure on artist’s to do video works of late. It's a different aesthetic that not everyone gets. “Reticular” isn't bad, but probably not Gavin's best work here. To my eye the map collages were the simplest and in many ways the most satisfying of the lot, “Bit-Map” probably the best of those.

Karey Kessler, much to her credit, has gone in a completely different direction from the other three here. Kessler offers up what might be best described as homemade psychological/metaphysical maps. They're intricate works of ponderous magnitude. In one we find Eden, while another shows were we can find the Imperfect Garden. “DESERT (solitude)” shows us how the prehistoric crosses motorways and flows into Ruins and War. All these worldly areas are full of activity, while the area marked Heavenly is sparsely populated dots with no connection to anything else at all. It's the sort of thing that makes you go “hmm.” She may have a point there.

Kessler has ingeniously attempted to locate the things of our deepest desires. While infomercial empowerment gurus attempt to peddle the secret formula to success and happiness, Kessler has attempted to take the ethereal, pin it down, and say.. there it is — happiness — it's right there. Just go there. So often art can be staid, serious and dry. It's wonderfully uplifting to see intelligent humor of this sort.