Atlanta is no stranger to the house-as-gallery model, though each example has its own relationship to the white cube industry standard. Jackson Fine Art shows the most fidelity, with its austere walls and brightly lit interior, while at Whitespace Gallery the starkness of the name and refinement of the interior is in elegant contrast to the inviting backyard setting. Kibbee Gallery, on the other hand, does not disguise the initial use of the building, leaving telltale mantels and molding in place. A walled-off stairway positioned like a stoop in the living room gives the space an ominous Shining-like quality. The architecture can sometimes feel at odds with the art, but Little Victories, an exhibition by Jason Kofke, Chris Chambers, and Matt Whitehead, uses this atmosphere effectively with three different bodies of work that speak to relationships with personal space.
Jason Kofke and Chris Chambers collaborated earlier this year on The Ends at Beep Beep Gallery (learn more in Casey Lynch’s review for BURNAWAY.). In that show, the two artists impressively inserted Kofke’s 1980s car into the shoebox of a gallery, dominating the single room and dumbfounding visitors as to how he did it. For Little Victories, Kofke applied that same resourcefulness into details that set the scene, taking over a front room with a well-placed array of vintage office equipment. A steel media cabinet set into the closet bursts with dated typewriters and metal boxes simply labeled “KOFKE” or various years between 1960 and the mid-80s, as well as small screens playing video from NASA missions. On one side of the room, NASA launch films play on a projector screen; working time clocks feature on another.
Interspersed are several etchings in Kofke’s unmistakable meticulous hand, continuing the NASA subject matter and inserting a theme of obsession. In 1970, a male scientist peers into the scope of a large piece of equipment, concentrating on his task with the same focus of an artist working on, say, meticulously detailed etchings. 1998 gives a view of a shuttle passageway, an endless-seeming tunnel teeming with exposed wiring and open panels with endlessly receding depths as limitless as Kofke’s own absorption and fascination with his subject.
Chris Chamber’s photographs open a window into a very different private setting: the cellphone. Chambers took the inside and outer walls of an antechamber, where he installed rows of framed cellphone photos taken over the past few years. The images range from a store display of president-masks, to vintage book covers, to thrift store tchotchkes, graffiti, and bits of trash—in short, little scenes Chambers has found fascinating or funny since he’s owned a camera-phone. None of the images are especially remarkable on their own, but that’s not the point; they aren’t meant to argue for the cellphone as an art device. Instead what they reveal is a personal glimpse into a life, calling attention to the image-trails we habitually create with Instagram and smartphones. An old record player and mildew-stricken records inhabit an alcove; framed by these photographs, they add the feeling of being in someone’s dingy basement den–a physical private space–providing a counterpoint to the images’ electronic origins.
The artworks provided by Matt Whitehead speak to the artist’s personal environment. Whitehead is a family man (incidentally, he’s married to Kofke’s sister) and must make art within the constraints, both of available territory and time, that his situation presents. One series features pages from a fashion magazine, with the faces of models covered with blotches of paint. Whitehead allowed the dark gray colors to drip down the image, the result reminiscent of the mold and decay on the record covers in Chamber’s installation. The most successful images, however, are his series of photographs of wool blankets. Neatly folded and rolled at the end of a bed, the soft pastel blankets seem curled in fetal position with the anthropomorphic quality of Alec Soth’s swan-shaped towels from his Niagara series. These mundane household items are more inviting than the idealized magazine women, and are treated more delicately by the artist.
The works in Little Victories are a celebration of the personal, be it in environment, engrossment in your task or profession, or of the electronic territories we carve out daily. This celebration is not without its complications, and indeed the works bring up questions of self-induced oppression and escapism. The engrossing work of the scientist and the overwhelming glut of technology in pieces by Kofke seem to obscure the scientist as an individual; he seems isolated, as artists toiling in the studio can often feel. Chambers’s cellphone-captured images are surprisingly personal, but even in their entirety, they seem limited, even pathetic. So much of our public persona in social media is made of these kinds of photos. Are these glimpses a satisfactory measure of time, of a life? In Whitehead’s paintings and photographs, we see a life brought into focus, though we must also confront the shrinking of one’s world into a domestic arena. The works in this exhibition are all the more personal and intriguing for the artists’ acceptance of these complications even as are applied to themselves.
Kibbee Gallery will host the closing reception for Little Victories at 7-9PM Saturday, September 29, 2012.
Disclosure: Preston Snyder, the owner if Kibbee Gallery, is a member of this publication’s Board of Directors. In pursuit of featuring work that significantly contributes to cultural discourse, as well as our commitment to transparency, our policy is to disclose instead of exclude.