The Austin Chronicle

MASS Gallery's "Staycation: thresholds"

The gallery's first exhibit in its new home invites viewers into the private self and into the stretching of one's limits

Reviewed by Melany Jean, November 16, 2018, Arts

In the midst of a multi-weekend studio tour wherein Eastside artists invite you into their places of work and respite, MASS Gallery is continuing the 11-artist group show "Staycation: thresholds," the first exhibition at MASS's new location. The show invites the viewer into points of creation, though through the gallery, not the studio. We are invited into the private self and into the stretching of one's limits. In the spirit of the accompanying catalog essay (a trove for any art-school-jargon bingo card), is a quotation on the nature of thresholds from Susan Sontag's On Photography: "Much of modern art is devoted to lowering the threshold of what is terrible ... that body of psychic custom and public sanctions that draws a vague boundary between what is emotionally and spontaneously intolerable and what is not."

Tucked into a corner are Emily Cross' small, evocative drawings, The Front and The Back, which (respectively) portray in feathery ink strokes a figure in a balaclava-like mask and the open seams of a bodysuit down the back of the figure's skull. The kinky associations of the balaclava and the tenderness of Cross' delicate use of line are captivating despite their small size. Situated between Alicia Link's large wall piece and Simone Thornton and Levi Dugat's large painting, the drawings act as a tether between the soothing palette of a geometric representation of lush interior and barren exterior landscapes (Thornton & Dugat's I Could Not Be Contained, I Would Find You) and the sumptuous and disgusting facts of flesh rendered in the multimedia layering of fatty slabs of red and pink (Link's Bye Bye Beef Grief).

The exploration of the boundaries of public and private selves and the ways we tighten and loosen these continues further down the wall with Betelhem Makonnen's selfie videos. On various screens, the artist is reflected and refracted. In one, Makonnen rearranges small segments of mirror on the surface of another mirror. In another, the artist wipes at a screen with a cloth, cleansing the reflection. Always centered is Makonnen's fascinating, placid face. Yet another screen shows this face twisting into a dizzying spiral in the warping effect of a digital photo booth filter.

These little interplays between the works create a shimmering show in the single-room gallery area. Most notably, this interplay occurs with Andrew Hulett's Sounding Objects in the center of the room. Hulett's sculpture consists of planes and tubes emerging from the ground and the ceiling, sending sounds bending through their surfaces and across the room. By providing an ever-shifting soundtrack to the rest of the show, Hulett offers a generous centerpiece and sounding board to the exhibition. The sculpture reflects the work around it, literally. Stephanie Concepcion Ramirez's large, warm photograph of the sun glowing through a dew-streaked car window catches sight of itself in one of the hanging, silver, mirrored surfaces of Hulett's piece.

While the word "liminal" is nearly impotent with overuse, thresholds are still intriguing, lingering in the possibilities of limitations and beginnings, tolerance and discomfort, invitation and fortification. This is a superstitious place, on the verge, on edge.

"Staycation: thresholds"

MASS Gallery, 705 Gunter
Through Dec. 8

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