Finding the Future
SPACES hits the big 30
Only a few constants prop up the Cleveland visual arts scene. The artist-run, not-for-profit gallery
SPACES has been among the most prominent and enduring of such mainstays – which is not to say
everyone loves it. Over the years artists and critics have slammed SPACES’ programming as trendy,
unfocused, elitist, predictable, or just exasperating. All the same, SPACES’ successful attempts to
strengthen artistic community and link the local scene to a wider context, embracing new forms and
confronting unmarketable political and environmental issues, are among its undeniable achievements.
To those who’ve struggled to make art and maintain a sense of self, hope, and purpose in our odd,
always dying and ever-reviving city, SPACES is plainly heroic. For three decades, while galleries and
art organizations have flourished in brief cycles, SPACES has continued not only to show, but show
For the gallery’s thirtieth anniversary this month guest curator William Busta put together a
remarkable exhibit of eleven artists, titled Living in Your Imagination. It is not, as the title might
suggest, a show about creativity, at least not in any narrow sense. Rather it concerns the geography
of the mind, the proportions of mountains to molehills and the fact that our subjectivity is all we know,
however it may abut realities beyond the periphery of our senses and preconceptions.
Consider Miami, Florida resident Billie Grace Lynn’s small herd of three life size Ripstop nylon white
elephants, inflated by the gentle blowing of small interior fans. They stand back from the entrance to
the gallery like well-interpreted clouds. Lynn has made these just the size of real African elephants, so
they loom, smooth and slightly slick, gathered like curtains and devoid of specific detail. As Lynn
jokes, they are “the elephants in the room,” meaning all sorts of things. As the exhibit’s opening
statement they serve as a metaphor for the crowd of obsessions and elisions that billow in anyone’s
mind. They also speak of the precariousness of life in general, precious and ultimately unsustainable,
a matter of surface tension.
Teetering even closer to the brink of collapse are Cleveland-based painter Amy Casey’s grimly
whimsical acrylic on paper fantasias. With persuasive detail and engaging, almost textile-like visual
rhythms, the artist depicts the progress and aftermath of a cataclysm -- the implosion of middle
American infrastructure. In pale tones bleached by bad weather and exhausted patience Casey
renders an industrial urban neighborhood torn from its roots and hanging by thin guy lines, puppet
scenery clenched by an invisible fist. In one work the clapboard colonials and duplexes are
suspended above a pile of carefully painted rubble, as if they were being rescued. In another, titled
Hive Paths, road-like rumpled ocher ribbons twist in mid-air, weaving the space below a cluster of
factory tanks and nuclear chimneys, supported on a ramshackle structure of planks rising from a vast
pile of debris. In Casey’s works functional logic has been removed, as if the city were de-boned. What
follows is a profoundly creative scene of provisional formal reordering, of pure fun constantly haunted
Todd DeVriese of Lubbock, Texas also reconfigures contemporary realities as he orders the world
according to economic and political forces. Some of his maps are hand-painted, reapportioned in
terms of agencies, governments, and monetary standards that currently hold sway. His series New
World Order at SPACES have subtitles like Euro, NATO, and Under the Flag. Several consist of maps
cut up and collaged back together, kaleidoscope-fashion. Others are hand-painted in watercolor, like
Threshold III, where the continents drip down from the cartographer’s flat world across a vast green
arc, into the continent-like mass of a more monolithic perspective.
Over the decades many artists have plumbed the depths of SPACES’ physical structure, removing
sections of wall or floor, prying open the idea of exhibition space and the conventions of construction.
Yet New York artist Jake Beckman does something even a little stranger as he shapes five organic-
looking depressions high and low along the gallery’s long west wall. Several inches across, these
constructed circular intrusions are quite deep, giving the impression that SPACES walls have the
depth of thick stone or adobe. Beckman’s holes seem ear-like, as if they should gather sound, or suck
in the surrounding atmosphere like air pockets in the sand at low tide. The point, the artist explains, is
to explore the inner substance of particular locales, breathing gentle perception into the merely
In Czech artist Jiří Černický’s videos “mere” human structures are gradually replaced by dense, white
text, raining across the projection like code in the Matrix. In a train station, a subway platform, and
outside a huge block of public housing in Prague the artist collected (and invented) conversations
and thoughts of passersby. A thick screen of daily concerns and the minutiae of human thought is
draped sentence by sentence through the interior space. Gradually the original scene is supplanted
by a kind of concrete poetry overlaying the brutally anonymous structures The end result is a lattice
of verbal information, the breath and tissue of a delicate species submerged in the murky waters of
use and purpose.
The remaining six artists at SPACES find various ways to reorder harsh realities or the pain of hard
memories, dancing into other dimensions and potencies. Vietnamese political refugee Pipo Nguyen-
duy’s large-scale color photographs in his East of Eden Series stage mysterious, perhaps redemptive
dramas set in North American woodland, while Patrick Robideau creates a very dark room equipped
with a realistic model of a wrecked sailing ship, on its side in the mud as if discovered after long
centuries. Colette Gidar invites the imagination to travel along unfamiliar avenues in her magical
photos of street scenes in Cuba, often focused on government-sanctioned graffiti and the light-
footedness of human presence. Karen Yasinsky’s three video animations are loops of multiple, nearly
identical drawings showing lovers in the act of embracing or approaching one another. They change
very little over the course of a three or four minute span (in one a thumb moves back and forth),
vibrating with the possibilities of intimacy and the gravity of love that can change time so crucially.
Former Clevelander Kevin Everson (whose work is included in this years’s Whitney Biennial Exhibit in
New York) shows perhaps the simplest, and funniest, of the several videos on view at SPACES: North
features a warmly dressed man trying to unfold a large map in a high wind, somewhere near the sea.
And Claudia Eslinger in collaboration with composer Brian Harnetty, gives audiences the most to work
with. Her The Synergy Project consists of three screens onto each of which visitors can mix and match
a panel of forty-five picture and sound sequences, clicking along a mousepad. Images range from the
nearly abstract to the phantasmagoric -- a DIY dream kit.
Robideau says that the collective memory he wishes to invoke includes “who we wish we might have
been, who we think we are, and who we hope to be.” That’s not a bad summing up of the tenor of this
show and of SPACES over the years, expressing the tenuous footing of art as it tries to find paths
through the inconceivable territories of the future mind.
[Cleveland Free Times 4/23/08]