There were more than a few worried whispers when Numark Gallery announced it was closing recently, following in the steps of at least one other contemporary art spot: What did it mean for the scene, which of late has seemed so ascendant ?
Well, folks, for every closing door, there is another one that opens. Civilian Art Projects, though, doesn't need doors. The new "roving gallery" doesn't even have its own space.
Founded and led by Jayme McLellan (no novice in the field, she's a founder of Transformer and cut her teeth at DCAC), Civilian is forgoing a traditional gallery home -- for now, anyway -- in favor of taking up temporary residence in other spots across town, including the Warehouse arts complex for its first show, "Dynamic Field."
The exhibition looks at the constructed world -- our physical and psychological interactions with it -- and features works by Ken Ashton (he of the fabulous "Ken Ashton: De Aqui al Paraiso," at Flashpoint in the spring), Breck Omar Brunson, J Carrier, Lily Cox-Richard, Frank Hallam Day, Jason Falchook, Erick Jackson, Michael Johnson, Nilay Lawson and Jason Zimmerman.
McLellan says Civilian will work consistently with nine or 10 emerging artists who are from the District or have strong ties to the local community. She says she hopes the result will be in the vein of Washington's old Color School, with artists' relationships with galleries, the community and one another pushing everyone forward.
Although based in the District, Civilian is planning future shows to pop up in venues nationwide. The next show, however, will be next month at G Fine Art.
“Dynamic Field”—the premier exhibit by Civilian Art Projects—should be required viewing for urban planners and social geographers: The group show examines people in the context of their environments.
Jason Falchook, formerly a standout at Fusebox, contributes photographs of the urban environment that show off his deft handling of color, and a small selection of Ken Ashton’s photographs document scenes of urban blight in Harlem, Philly, and D.C. Straightforward photography dominates the show, though some artists take a more indirect approach: Jason Zimmerman’s excellent low-fi film Spotting chronicles a nighttime expedition into the Pennsylvania hunting grounds near the artist’s family’s home. The film tracks deer as they range into and out of the camera’s narrow beam of illumination; bright medallions of light (reflected in the animals’ eyes) hover and zip, leaving eerie traces that recall Bruce Nauman’s Mapping the Studio. Psychic and social tension in the film come courtesy of the Blair Witch–esque whispered commentary and genuine suspense (you’re sure a deer’s gonna buy it).
For Red-Roofed Bungalow, Lily Cox-Richard paints depictions of computer desktop images onto screens that form the translucent walls of a makeshift shelter. The cheeky screens are painted only on the interior side, so you can only see the paintings on the walls farthest from you. Circling the installation causes images to appear and fade on the screens, which are illuminated by the glow of electric candelabras. The glow is warm, the sense of hearth is evident, and the comfort seems real, though the source is fleeting and ephemeral: screenshots of Evite and Gmail, the stuff with which urban tribes build communities.