Tag Archives: Toledo art scene

Once Upon A Place Comes to Toledo

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The world of immigration is calling from a phone booth in Toledo.

When was the last time you found yourself in a phone booth? I don’t remember, and I bet you don’t either. These little, closet-like structures used to dot the urban landscape, providing points of tinny contact with far away people and places. The internet and cell phones have changed all that, and now the lowly phone booth is a seldom-seen and even more seldom operated relic of the analog era.  But global citizen and Afghan American artist Aman Mojadidi wants you to pick up the phone right now, and reconnect with the outside world via 3 re-furbished and re-purposed phone booths installed in downtown Toledo until October 22.

Born in 1971 to a prominent Afghani family (his uncle is a former president of Afghanistan), Mojadidi grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, where he learned to navigate the psychological contradictions and similarities between his family’s traditional Afghani culture and the values of the American south. From his unique cultural vantage point, Mojadidi drew satirical comparisons between the macho culture of the Afghan mujahedeen fighters and American “gangsta” culture in staged photos such as “A Day in the Life of a Jihadi Gangster After a Long Day’s Work (2010) and made pointedly humorous artworks like his fashionable suicide vest,  Conflict Chic.

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A Day in the Life of a Jihadi Gangster After A Long Day’s Work

The phone booths Mojadidi recently designed for Once Upon a Place move away from satire and toward a more journalistic approach to the subject of immigration. As part of his Times Square Arts residency, Mojadidi was drawn to the phone booth as a perfect vehicle from which to tell the immigrant story.  “I learned that phone booths were being removed from the streets… the idea immediately hit me. The fact that so many people have used these booths in the past… made them a natural way to present new stories.”

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Conflic Chic Suicide Vest

He researched the full variety of immigrant experience by studying census  records, articles and reports on immigration and then went out into the community to contact immigrants directly in community centers, mosques and temples.  There, he admits, his interest was suspect, “… there was a lot of suspicion from them, which added an extra barrier to reaching people. They wanted to know why I was collecting information on immigrants. Many people who spoke with me were illegal and stayed anonymous.” Rather than a scripted interview, Mojadidi’s methods were open-ended. He asked his subjects to tell him anything they wanted to share, such as, “why they left home… [or] why they came to NYC. Was there something unique that happened on the journey?”  In the end, he collected over 70 stories of immigrants from 26 countries.

When I visited Once Upon a Place in Promenade Park recently, Mojadidi’s skill in putting together a moving collection of stories was apparent. As I listened to the interviews in the phone booth, I often couldn’t understand the language that was being spoken (I’ll admit here that my Urdu is weak). It gave me a sense, though, of how large and interconnected the world is, and amplified the emotional impact of the interviews. Whether the speaker was a young man carried over the Mexican border by his mom when he was three years old, or a man from Yemen whose attitude about politics was completely changed by 9/11, or a Puerto Rican woman who came to New York to make a change in her life, each story was deeply personal and unique.  Or as Mojadidi said in an interview, “Picking up that phone and listening to someone’s voice is an intimate experience; it’s different from hearing someone’s story on the news or through some other medium. In a way, the project just cuts out the politics; the person just tells their story.”

Local arts organizartions sponsoring Once Upon a Place’s Toledo residency include Contemporary Art Toledo, River House Arts, the Arts Commission and the Toledo Museum of Art. Next, Mojadidi’s phone booths are headed for Miami, before returning home to New York. The artist told me that he is working on plans for a European variation of Once Upon a Place for Paris and beyond. He also plans to begin “working on a commissioned project related to notions of Home within the context of conflict, at the Imperial War Museum in London early in 2018.”

When asked about his experience as a visiting artist in Toledo, Mojadidi replied, “I was very touched by the warmth and enthusiasm of folks… both those who helped bring Once Upon a Place there, and … the engagement of students during talks I gave at different Universities.”

This post is reprinted from The Toledo City Paper.

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Joanna Manousis at River House Arts

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Pears in Bottles

I recently reviewed Nature Morte by conceptual glass artist Joanna Manousis for the Toledo City Paper.  The exhibit is on view until June 17th at River House Arts in Toledo.  This is the artist’s largest exhibition to date and includes pieces made during her residencies at The Toledo Museum of Art in January, 2017 and Alfred University in March, 2017. Read more here

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Reaching an Ulterior Realm

Projections: An Interactive Portrait Project

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“Interactive” is quite a buzzword in the art world these days, but what does it really mean?  The term suggests an expectation  of physical contact between gallery visitor and artwork. It also subtly implies that the mere act of contemplating a work of art isn’t enough to reach the public in this age of the internet and ever-shortening attention spans.

Andrei Rabodzeenko, though, is confident in the power of visual art to engage his audience. It is on this cerebral level that his work invites interaction.rh-rabodzeenko-portrait-2

The freestanding painted figures in Projections grab your attention and demand a response.  Rabodzeenko’s life-size, slickly painted portraits of his friends (and himself) define the boundaries of the space within which gallery visitors  must circle and observe.  There is an intentional roughness to the way the cut-outs are sited, provisionally propped up on wooden supports and sandbagged in place as if they were scenery in a theater.  Arranged in an informal installation throughout Toledo’s River House Gallery, these flat wooden portraits seem to imply some kind of in-the-round  theatrical performance of obscure significance.

Radzeenko, born in Kyrgyzstan but now living and working in Chicago, is first and foremost an accomplished painter, an art chameleon who can paint in any style. He mixes visual idioms for maximum effect, frequently combining several within one artwork.  In Projections, he seamlessly moves from virtuosic tromp l’oeil illusionism to  flat advertising illustration to religious icon painting.rh-rabodzeenko-selfportrait Whether they are engaging in some activity, or merely pausing on their way, the figures often look directly at you.  The artist offers no explanation for the choice of personal emblem (an out-size ginkgo leaf?  A backpack of musical symbols?) or activity. These are clearly portraits of real people, but in the absence of information about them you must invent your own narrative, as is the artist’s intent:

Our identities are an amalgam of ever-shifting and overlapping projections-we create projections of ourselves, our alter egos, and launch them into the world.  At the same time, the world projects its interpretations of us onto us.

Some figures are more mysteriously resonant than others. The black-suited self portrait in the middle of the gallery is especially successful. The roughness of the O.S.B. ground and the square piercing of the subject’s shirt add interest to the accomplished painting.  The direct and slightly sad gaze of the figure is reminiscent of the mood in Rembrandt’s self-portraits.

I also liked the portraits of  two men digging up (or burying?) treasure. The man on the right is focused on someone or something that is invisible, and raises his hand in warning (or greeting?) The kneeling figure on the left looks delighted at the cut-out blaze emanating from the treasure box before him.

Projections also includes a series of painted hangings which ring the gallery’s outside walls. Translucent outlines of male and female figures float weightlessly across the picture plane, intersecting but not interacting, platonic shadows of idealized humans. They are well executed but lack the specificity and bite of the three-dimensional work.

Rabodzeenko’s continuing confidence in the power of visual art to move us is evident in  Projections. His accomplished portrait figures invite visual engagement and convey an air of mystery that will linger in the minds of his audience long after they have left the gallery.

Projections: An Interactive Portrait Project by Andrei Rabodzeenko, is on view at River House Gallery in Toledo, Ohio, until January 7, 2017.  For more information about gallery hours go here.

Wish List reviewed in Hyperallergic

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Tim Gaewsky’s “If I had a Million Dollars…”

Wish List, an art exhibit described as “a contemporary statement of curatorial desire” has opened in Toledo in a former department store Lamson’s (which was recently the venue for Artomatic 419). The show was curated by Rocco DePietro and Gloria Pritschit of Gallery Project.  It has been reviewed in the online arts magazine Hyperallergic: http://hyperallergic.com/232456/an-abandoned-department-store-stocks-up-on-art/