Reviews: Mika Horibuchi and Brittany Nelson at PATRON

New Art Examiner / Oct 1, 2016 / by Kate Hadley Toftness

The exhibitions of Mika Horibuchi and Brittany Nelson, on view this summer at PATRON Gallery, highlighted a noir quality of both artists’ work. Horibuchi, in particular, is exploring ambiguity as a genre. Her work occupies the gallery’s front space was an installation pseudo-trompe l’oeil paintings, including a meticulous array of pixel pieces on the floor, at least as solemn as they were playful. Nelson takes mystification equally seriously. Her silvery tintypes have an air of resurrection - as if a technique from the past could revive objects from the future.

In “Controller,” Nelson’s tintype photographs were mysterious, yet instructional. Nelson, a graduate of Cranbook Academy of Art, is currently a professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University of Virginia in Richmond. Julia Fischbach, who co-founded PATRON with Emanuel Aguilar, commented on Nelson’s witty presentation style and the well-equipped studio where she trains her students. Gazing at her works, I felt I gained an understanding of the art’s preoccupation with ways of knowing, from the scientific to the absurd.

Primary shaped levitated on dark emulsions; rendering geometry with an almost spiritual quality. There was a signpost aspect to the orientation of Nelson’s works, each with their own oblique cant against the wall. One work, titled Map #1, includes an amorphous orb of boxes and arrows, hovering in a low corner of the tintype like ants arounds picnic food, each miniature arrow carrying more than its own weight of information.

Due to their slanted structure, the photographs asserted an outward presence in the space, yet their placement was simultaneously particular and arbitrary. As these works migrate from the gallery, one might expect to find them as sculptural objects placed on a self or table, perhaps even along the space of a wall, as two of the tintypes were placed here.

Megalith #2, the largest of Nelson’s eight works in the show, also has the most skewed orientation, tilted toward the viewer by degrees and adjusted in multiple directions. At PATRON, it hung at a confrontational angle, as if rising to meet the viewer who turned the corner into the second gallery. The works occupy dimensions under utilized in gallery architecture. You might think of them as tilting in orbit, each with a nuanced gravitational plane.

An artist equally absorbed by dimensionality or the lack of it, Horibuchi’s work, at first glance, is all surface finish and precision installation. Her paintings of curtains have a convincing photographic appearance that doe not hint at a deeper meaning. But she merges technical ability with sleight of hand. The work promotes a basic question: Is a thing what it looks it is?

The tightly executed works were sparsely arranged and made to construct a larger stage. Horibuchi, a BFA graduate of the School of the Art institute, lives and works in Chicago, which surely had an influence, as her work was coded for PATRON’s space. The result is a quiet reminder of the power of presentation. If you choose to play Horibuchi’s game, the gallery itself must be implicated in the construction.

Horibuchi’s exhibition title, Draw the Curtain, reinforced a theme of concealment and exposure rooted in the physical layering of objects. Six oil paintings of curtains were framed behind dark Plexiglas and spaced at irregular intervals, white frames vanishing into the wall (especially in bright sunlight). In order to decipher the unusual narrowness of the paintings, it was necessary to observe the corresponding dimensions of the room’s walls and doors. Small details were relevant: the paintings were the same width as a thin column on the wall.

Screen Door (oil on linen) hung opposite the entrance. Even studying Horibuchi’s floor work, Puzzle, and mentally rearranging the carefully disconnected piece, it was not until gazing upward toward the ceiling that a pattern came into focus.

The gallery director explained that the decorative ceiling tiles, original to the building, were echoed in the design painted on the fiberwood board pieces. Through the display puzzle pieces could not form a whole, the discovery of an embedded visual code hunted at a solution.

Both Horibuchi and Nelson’s art poses riddles. Image Photoshop after death. Through mastery of their mediums, they question the limits of representation and bring humor to a morbid fascination with unknown forces.