Brad Carlile/Rio Wrenn

Confronting the myth of the great American road.


This month, two local artists wrestle with divergent but equally mythic conceptions of the great American road. In Tempus Incognitus, photographer Brad Carlile's striking exhibition at Eva Lake's new popup, the Independent, the artist conjures a psychedelic nightmare of corporate hotels across the country. Carlile takes photos inside hotel rooms using slide film in multiple exposures that last from a scant 1/500 of a second to a languid 96 seconds. He keeps his camera on a tripod and exposes film throughout the day, which yields fantastical effects, superimposing wildly varying lighting conditions onto the same frame. As the hues overlap, they produce acidic lime greens and chartreuses, fuchsias and ruby reds in wholly unnatural combinations as light emanates from lamps and television screens and bounces off mirrors and windows. Except for the occasional rumpled sheet, there is no trace of human life in any of the prints, lending a dissonance between compositional starkness and chromatic oversaturation. The hotels themselves are neither skanky nor swanky; they are the kind of middlebrow pabulum palaces that corporate drones deposit themselves in night after night. They are not going to win any awards for design or decor, but they are conveniently located near the airport and the convention center. Carlile is able to intuit and convey the vulgar neon desperation underneath the banal veneer of contemporary business travel. Where are you, America, and who are you—the Marriott or the Mustang Ranch? The only difference, Carlile suggests, is in the length of your exposure.

At Guardino, Rio Wrenn takes us down another American road, this one leading to idylls of Dust Bowl nostalgia. Walk into the gallery and you almost hear Woody Guthrie singing on the radio of an old, rusted Chevy along Route 66. In fact, rust has always played a part in Wrenn's artwork, and the current show features work made with old Chevy parts, which she allows to rust over long periods of time, until their outlines imprint themselves, Shroud of Turin-like, onto bolts of silk. The exhibition's most startling work, suspended by multiple fishing wires to mimic the contours of an antique car, creates the optical illusion of a three-dimensional automobile made out of fabric. In other pieces, such as her Vignette series, she suspends rusted auto parts and black lace in encaustic medium, the lace further evoking the Main Street U.S.A. aesthetic that fascinates her: the doily domain of saloons, soda fountains and barbershop quartets. It is an America that belongs more to the realm of fantasy than of history.

GO: Brad Carlile at the Independent, 530 NW 12th Ave. Closes Aug. 7. Rio Wrenn at Guardino, 2939 NE Alberta St., 281-9048. Closes July 26.  

WWeek 2015

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