The gallery at INOVA is a cavernous industrial space, with floors of polished concrete and tall, movable white walls. The contemporary art gallery and research center of UWM’s Peck School of the Arts, it is one of the places in the city that consistently focuses on contemporary, and often challenging, art exhibitions. Currently on view, Marble, Mirrors, Pictures, and Darkness ranks as one of the most austere in recent memory.
The eight pieces by artists Anya Kivarkis and Mike Bray quietly punctuate the space. Bray often works in video, photography, and sculptural pieces that draw references from rock music and film culture. Kivarkis has been described as a conceptual jeweler, and her skill in metalsmithing is revealed by elegant, diminutive works that recall opulent forms of Baroque sculpture or Victorian jewelry.
A physically elaborate piece titled "Intervals of Time" opens the exhibition. It consists of a set of two-way mirrors mounted on light stands. A silver necklace piece by Kivarkis is attached and its pearlescent luminescence repeats over and over, as does the reflection of the viewer. We are refracted through this constructed space, a combination of sleek industrial tech accented by feminine opulence. It is an image we can try on and consider from a position within or without the fabrication of glamour.
It is implied that these are collaborative pieces by the artists; Bray and Kivarkis are a couple and both teach at the University of Oregon. In this spirit, the video pair of Angles of Reflection and Angles of Refraction respectively shows a large gem, taken in hand and turned, and a Kivarkis piece pirouetting on a dark background and shimmering in light. Bray’s aesthetic is apparent, as he often draws on elements of the filmmaker’s arsenal through lighting and visual effects to create subtle dramas of attentiveness. Considering image and physical material, one might suppose that one is the source for the other.
Kivarkis frequently uses source material such as paparazzi, press, and fashion photographs to interpret jewelry pieces worn by celebrities or fashion models. It is a nod to the vanity fair that luxury and fame represent in contrast to the instability of the world’s social and economic fabric.
"Movement Image" appears to be one of these works, as it is a fragmentary necklace with round and teardrop pearl forms, fashioned of silver, pinned to a gallery wall like an entomological specimen. It is not a large piece, and whispers like a ghost against a large white wall. What was the source? Who was the wearer and on what occasion?
What underlies the work of Kivarkis and Bray to varying degrees is a commentary on the process of viewing, and how what we see is mediated through cultural lenses such as the recorded pictures of film and video, or displays of status and desire as recounted by the red carpets of Hollywood.
In this exhibition, the vanity of fame and fashion is most clearly articulated in "Paramount." A cadre of lights and reflectors surround a diminutive necklace on a black metal stand. All eyes are on the star, but she is not there, only a note of personal decoration.
If there is an additional component to this exhibition, it is absence. This can be taken as the extent to which the artists leave out details that may tie back into their source material and metaphors.
This can be seen as problematic, as the single paragraph of text for the exhibition purports that the artists “examine representations of jewelry, luxury, and glamour as depicted in cinema. In an effort to understand and deconstruct the immersive nature of the medium, they are investigating, sourcing, and attempting to reconstruct objects and settings from scenes within the narrative.” From this perspective, the dismantling of the source obliviates some potent connections and the narrative, at a point, disintegrates.
This is an intriguing and deep well of ideas to explore, but despite the marble, mirrors, and pictures in the exhibition, sans context, the viewer might be left feeling a little in the dark.
The concepts of this exhibition may be further illuminated by their juxtaposition with a forthcoming show. On Function, opening April 22, will address utilitarian objects whose purposes are subverted by seven contemporary artists. Both exhibitions will run through June 25, coinciding with the Zoom Conference 2016 (May 25–29) a symposium organized by the Jewelry and Metalsmithing program and the Digital Craft Research Lab at UWM.
Marble, Mirrors, Pictures and Darkness continues through June 25 at INOVA, 2155 N. Prospect Ave., Milwaukee. Admission is free. Visit uwm.edu/inova for more details.