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Friday, February 24, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Visual Arts

Interplay of images and words at CoCA, Solomon Fine Art

Special to The Seattle Times

Phonetic systems of writing do not have a sense of the word as image, keeping the pursuits of art and reading largely separate. Historically, interesting things have happened when one compensates for avoidance of the other.

Religious pictures and statues during the Gothic era, meant to keep a largely illiterate population from sin, developed a stirring emotionality. Islamic artists forbidden from depicting religious figures in human form turned writing into shimmering displays of calligraphic beauty and attenuation.

Now it's not the separation of art and words but their combination that seems to be a trend. In two exhibits, their relationship gets a closer look.

At the Center on Contemporary Art (COCA), "Shard," curated by poet David Francis, focuses on textual fragments in visual media. "Words to Live By," at Solomon Fine Art, takes a broader view of text as a way of making meaning.

The COCA show started with an open call and then expanded through Francis' contacts at Cornish. His only requirements were that pieces contain both text and images and have a contemporary sensibility.

A number of pieces treat text like captions or labels that don't add much to the visual experience. More successful pieces experiment with gaps in meaning produced by fragmentation, chance occurrences and a more conceptualized approach.

Discarded bus tickets, handwritten notes, ads and fliers humanize a drab industrial area in Jon Gierlich's "Seattle Mapping Project part 1: A journal of the industrial flats." Laid out alongside street by street depictions of architectural features, they provide a human voice amid warehouses and factories.

Visual arts preview


"Shard: Textual Fragments in Contemporary Art," noon-5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, through March 12, Center on Contemporary Art, 410 Dexter Ave., Seattle (206-728-1980 or http://cocaseattle.org).

"Words to Live By," 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, through March 31, Solomon Fine Art, 1215 First Ave., Seattle (206-297-1400 or www.solomonfineartinc.com).

Text has a kinesthetic element in "The Pool," an installation by Judi Strahota. What looks like black gravel covering the floor turns out to be tiny black letters. They crunch when stepped on, and in the middle of this alphabetic entropy, a megaphone silently floats.

Robert Campbell's photos of abandoned concrete gun batteries at Fort Worden are more than a study of surfaces. Aside from the structure's historic significance, the walls have abrasions from the effort to erase graffiti. In documenting erasure, the piece addresses a pertinent social reality.

Layers of meaning

"Words to Live By" at Solomon Fine Art focuses on ephemeral issues: the way text, or more generally — inscription — guides us through vicissitudes of meaning.

Gloria Helfgott's accordion-style book inscribed with the words of Genesis opens up on two sides so that the last page is also the beginning and the start of a new cycle.

Jeffrey Sarmiento, a Filipino-American artist, immersed himself in a third culture, Danish, to experience anew the sense of incomprehension that comes from being in a completely different culture and language.

He breaks speech down into wave forms, cultural comprehension into a study of folk tales and city streets. In "Benene," a mound of sculpted glass legs represents his journey. Each leg is inscribed with a line from a Danish folk tale. Though they appear randomly in the mound, a hidden story underlies the fragmented phrases.

And in pieces by Gerri Ondrizek and Nik Tongas, lines are also graphs, points of information as well as visual forms. Ondrizek's blown up waveforms of birdcalls can be read as audio patterns, or as interesting biomorphic shapes. Tongas' topographic diagrams are a means of mapping, or a way of indicating our relationship to history and to the universe.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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