Whether in his photography, curatorial endeavors or seminal gallery, Soundvision, TJ Norris has always been a reliable purveyor of conceptually and visually elegant projects with a minimalist bent. His latest outing, Off the Plain, extends his signature aesthetic into the conceit of photography-as-sculpture.
The 17 artists Norris (who has contributed to WW) has assembled—all but one either born or based in the Northwest—deploy an arsenal of media above and beyond photography. Norris is interested in what happens when the medium stops referencing both the geographic "plain" and the "plane" of the two-dimensional photographic print. Artist Richard Schemmerer takes up the challenge with his sliced, diced and reconfigured photographs, which resemble origami. Brooks Dierdorff, donning a metaphorical hunter's cap, shoots an arrow into the wall, scoring a crumpled image of a deer. Jennifer Vaughn's Silence Apart, a portrait on round steel, rotates on a 45-rpm record player. Several pieces incorporate unusual presentations: Sarah Knobel sheaths her imagery in Plexiglas, transparencies and colored gels, while Ben Buswell fastidiously hand-scores photos of sand in his First There Is a Mountain, eroding the surfaces as sand erodes terrain.
No one will dispute that all this toying with photography's possibilities of texture and form is terribly inventive, but just as a porno leaves you hankering for the real thing, these works incite in the viewer a rabid longing for, say, a classic Ansel Adams, Richard Avedon, Robert Mapplethorpe or Nan Goldin—a nice, flat photograph of an intriguing place or person. The closest this exhibition comes are two prints by Melanie Flood. One shows a piece of pastel-colored fabric draped opulently over a box; the other, an insouciant chunk of melted cotton candy. Although these works would have benefited from a more asymmetrical composition and savvier use of negative space, they exude a straightforward playfulness lacking in the show's more contrived work. Off the Plain is a rigorous and well-executed exercise, but ultimately, a photograph is truest to its nature when it is a picture of something, not just a glorified sheet of papier-mâché to be cut apart and turned into paper airplanes.
SEE IT: Off the Plain is at Pioneer Place Mall, 700 SW 5th Ave., third floor, placepdx.com. Through June 2.