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‘Picturing Home’ at Emory Visual Arts Gallery

Bedbug by Joshua Dudley Greer

Bedbug by Joshua Dudley Greer

Gallery review
“Picturing Home”
Through Jan. 29. Noon-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. (Jan. 8-10, by
appointment.) Emory Visual Arts Gallery, 700 Peavine Creek Drive.
404-727-6315.  www. visualarts.emory.edu.

By Catherine Fox

“Home” is one of those four-letter words that can mean a lot of things.
One family’s sanctum of domestic tranquility and emotional comfort is another’s prison of suffering and alienation. There’s home as architecture: the body that houses the spirit, the housing that builds neighborhoods and cities. And, especially notable in a year of foreclosures and the swelling ranks in temporary shelters, there’s home as a symbol of economic woe and personal loss.
Twenty-six artists from across the country demonstrate the concept’s elasticity in “Picturing Home,” an engaging exhibition at the Emory Visual Arts Gallery. Part of the gallery’s yearlong focus on photography, it is the only juried exhibition of the series. Emory professor Jason Francisco and High Museum curator Julian Cox shaped a show from the 700 entries that encompasses a variety of formal and technical approaches, including books, as well as interpretations.
The most literal and most elegant incarnation is Christa Kreeger Bowden’s photo-and-encaustic image celebrating the architectural wonder of a bird’s nest.  Moving further afield, Eric White introduces the notion of homeland, as in Homeland Security, in his photographs of a border fence in Arizona. Karen Tauches draws a rainbow house on a photo of an empty lot in East Atlanta, from a series of “Disappeared Houses,” a commentary on urban development.
The urge to nest is trenchantly evoked in the carefully tended yard that abuts the sludgy mounds of detritus representing the ravages of the mining industry in Ray Klimek’s “Swoyersville, Pennsylvania.”
Joelle Jensen’s “Bambi’s Portrait” and two images from George Bedell’s “Trading Spaces” series continue the theme. A family portrait hangs over a fake hearth in the former, a middle-class version.  A migrant worker has drawn a home on the cinder block wall above his cot in one of Bedell’s photos, a poignant document of living conditions, homesickness and the will to feather even temporary nests.
Going against expectations, Don Chambers’ portraits of the very different faces of homelessness are images of dignity and resilience.
The people posing for the camera decorate their bodies, if not their homes, as expressions of selfhood.
Joshua Dudley Greer’s affectionate “Bed Bug” exemplifies home as family, another abiding theme here. The black-and-white photo captures a child in a semi-backward somersault on an unmade bed. The double-take-inducing headless figure makes for a sweetly surreal image.
Michael Marfione’s digitally manipulated “Memory 5” is also on the surreal side, but to an entirely different effect. A series of frames — door, window, picture — discombobulates the space and evokes notions of looking to the past and voyeurism. The view is of a fleshy woman in a bathtub and a little boy, naked but for socks, who might be trapped in a glass shower stall, in the next room. Freud would have a field day.
In sum, the exhibition is a thoughtful and affecting look at the many interpretations, memories and meanings of  “home.”

Katherine Mitchell is methodical. She is given to working in series that are variations on formal themes that are abstracted from architecture or nature. Change usually comes incrementally.
There’s a big change in “Correspondences, Conversations, and Text” at Sandler Hudson Gallery. The Atlanta artist has made words and numbers major players — both as abstract formal elements and content.
In drawings, paintings and collages created over the past three years, Mitchell uses them every which way to create rich visual effects.
The words in particular are barely legible. Yet, they are not nonsense. In fact, if you listen to the audio of her reading the texts, you’ll discover that they are philosophical inquiries into the nature of art, beauty, truth — questions with which she’s always wrestled, despite the apparent serenity of her work.
“Mantra,” the title of a 10-work series on view, is a sound or syllable that is chanted as a means to spiritual transcendence. The term might be applied to all of her art. The methodical repetition of shapes and lines is an artist’s vehicle to the same end.
The exhibit runs through Jan. 9. Sandler Hudson Gallery, 1009 Marietta St, 404-817-3300. www.sandler hudson.com.
Catherine Fox blogs about art and architecture at www.ArtsCriticAtl.com

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