“The Uncanny” is the latest show featured by arts organization Visionaries and Voices, highlighting the work of multiple artists in an eclectic variety of media. Largely a portraiture show, these works highlight the inner being of people rather than creating a sole focus on external appearances. It is a powerful play of conceptions and notions of what a person represents or who they are, and how we can further view beings who are recognizable yet altogether unknowable.
Freud described the uncanny (or “unheimliche”) as something that is simultaneously terrifyingly mysterious yet familiar. There exists a gray space between that of the comfortable and that of the unknown and it is this locus in which the uncanny thrives. The eponymous group exhibition successfully delivers an exploration of that theme through art.
Freud makes the statement in his essay that, “The better orientated in his environment a person is, the less readily will he get the impression of something uncanny in regard to the objects and events in it”—a statement which allows this show to grow even more fascinating, allowing the viewer to stand in the familiar gallery space of white walls and frames and still explore the depths and variations within the concept of the uncanny.
One highlight of the show can be seen in Aaron Rogers’ various portrait studies. Works such as this inspires further inspection—what may, at a glance, appear to be identical figures may gradually dissolve and one can recognize identifying unique features. Each labeled with a different celebrity, the viewer is confronted by names that are altogether familiar, juxtaposed with faces that are almost anything but. The portraits represented are very minimal in detail, appearing almost to be altogether separate from who the labels they say they depict.
One can begin to make connections between celebrity and their portrait, connecting the slight cleft in the chin of Tobey Maguire or the signature eyes and rounded brows of Twiggy. This mental balancing act of shifting the eyes between that of what one is viewing to making connections with the memories of faces leads to closer study of the faces—further questioning the accuracy of memory—of those whose visages have been plastered all over popular media.
Furthermore, many of the works feature examples of abstractions and further separations from the human form. Shifting, alternating viewpoints of the physical allow for a viewer to walk through the gallery, surrounded by figures and images that can be connected to that of humans and human features but which are strongly separated, evoking strong emotion and drawing one in to review them further.
A powerful characteristic of this show is how diverse the presentations and explorations are of the uncanny through portraiture. What represents the human form—or rather, the underlying humanity within the form—is presented not only through representational art but work far beyond, examining the figure through busts made of found media, a created meteor with a scroll for a tail, even pen drawings featuring the desiccated corpses of cockroaches.
The choice of portraiture as a subject for the uncanny highlights the broad array of faces that the concept of the uncanny is able to take on. What connects to a viewer or a creator as being familiar or understood can be widely different, and this show highlights that. The uncanny is not easily explained, thoroughly understood, or even concrete in nature—existing instead as a rather nebulous and gray area in which altogether new and expansive forms are capable of developing. Needing neither to be fully explained nor understood to be appreciated, these works reflect the uncanny in a well thought-out range of expression and diversity.
“Uncanny” runs through May 25, 2017 at Visionaries + Voices, 841 Spring Grove Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45223.
Written by Taryn Zust