On Exhibit at Troy’s Collar Works: How much do we really notice or understand?

‘Unseen’ opens at Collar Works in Troy
Left: “Overton Window 1” Jesse Meredith, Oce print, oriented strand board.  Right: “XN” Aurora Andrews, oil on canvas.
Left: “Overton Window 1” Jesse Meredith, Oce print, oriented strand board. Right: “XN” Aurora Andrews, oil on canvas.

The latest exhibition to open at Collar Works prompts viewers to ask “what’s missing?” 

Prints with sections blocked out, fragmented installations and shadowy paintings are featured in the Troy gallery, all woven together in a show that calls attention to what’s absent from each work just as much as what’s present. 

“Unseen” is curated by Akili Tommasino, an associate curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and it includes works from 23 artists. There’s no label copy next to each piece; there’s simply a number that corresponds to a checklist one may or may not carry around with them, deciding whether they want to look at the “unseen.” 

In one of the first pieces viewers may come across, a shattered-looking figure emerges from a murky background of blurred lights and reflections. Called “Kevin Cancelled” by Sarah Sweeney, the shattered figure builds up a sense of loss or unsatiated longing in the piece. It references what we don’t see on Instagram or Facebook, the unsmiling photos people don’t post. It may also point to cancel culture and how boycotting or isolating people on social media can create a sense of loss.  

Close by, paintings with roily blues and greens that seem to shapeshift with the viewer’s perspective. In Aurora Andrews’ “XN” faint brush strokes and curved lines come together to depict a figure’s face, made somber by the blue coloring. “XN’s Plant (green)” is murkier, requiring more time to come into focus. They both seem like they were inspired by the time of night when light pollution creates an almost eerie glow around otherwise familiar objects. 

In another section of the exhibition, Victoria van der Laan plays with light in “Invisible Quilt.” The installation features a carefully made pink quilt backlit to show the precise stitching. It illuminates the complexity of quilting and, according to the artist’s statement, Laan hopes it also illuminates the connection between what’s considered “Women’s Work” and “contemporary art and innovation.”

A nearly blinding light comes from another installation nearby. The untitled work features a beat-up old newspaper box with light pouring out from it. Created by Carla Dortic, it points to how much media has changed over the years and how it’s become difficult to turn away from it.

It presents an introduction to “Search Engine Vision ‘ISIS,’” a high-speed fragmented video compiled and created by Eric Souther. Through hundreds of YouTube searches and clips of videos from politicians to influencers, it explores how language shifts online and how search engines are part of that shift. The first few seconds feature hundreds of YouTube videos that are popped up when the artist searched the terms “ISIS goddess.” It created a mixture of results related to the goddess Isis and the group ISIS. Throughout the video, viewers hear snippets of political speeches and newscasters and other clips where the language seems jumbled. 

What might be the largest piece in the exhibition is also perhaps the most abbreviated. In “Rx” by Richard Deon, the mid-section of a figure wearing a white garment stretches across one wall. The figure’s bright yellow hands appear to be writing on a pad of paper, what they’re noting the viewer can’t tell. The piece presents a slice of a narrative that is so slim it begs the viewer to build upon and question it: is the figure writing out a prescription for pain meds? For a life-saving drug or an addictive substance? Or is the figure a waiter taking down an order? 

Artist Jesse Meredith plays with this idea of the missing narrative with “Overton Window,” a print that features an image of a dingy white-brick building and a bush with a large hole cut out of it. The absent surface area is perhaps large than the image of the building. The print’s title references the spectrum of ideas on public policy and social issues during a given era, thus it’s nearly impossible to not make connections to today’s frenzied political scene, to wonder whether the piece is pointing to the width of the window or to the frame through which we see it. 

“Unseen” dredges up questions about just how much humans can really notice or understand about themselves and the world around them. Some works loudly address the topic and others are more subtle, however, they all come together to create a satisfying show that’s well worth the trip. 

The exhibition will be up through December 14. Collar Works is located at 621 River Street, Troy. For more info visit collarworks.org.

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