Disappointment should never come as a surprise to anyone. So while traversing the usual thicket of middling gallery show last First Thursday, I shouldn't have felt confused. But I did. To say I just didn't like the works would be to suggest a kind of critical investment that never occurred. I left feeling like I was at the wrong end of a long game of telephone, and once the message arrived I was frustratingly disconnected but still had to tell the group what I'd heard.
To reconnect, I took my communication breakdown to the Elizabeth Leach Gallery, where Melody Owen's latest exhibit, Torch Songs, seemed to be talking just to me--about how it's hard to talk, hard to be heard, hard to understand. The title works, like Torch Song: You're my Thrill, are songs translated into Braille on sheets of paper that are concealed behind glass. The minimal aesthetic of textured dots runs systematically across the page, but the viewer can't run her fingers across the text. They are lost, unrequited love songs that have meaning only because we're told what they are; we can't hear the song, we can feel it.
The Sonets further explore obscured communication. Two birds perch on a branch or flutter in the air, their eyes connected by a loop of string. What struck me was the simultaneous playful connection and restrictive limitation implicit in an act of communication: we share a connection with others, a connection from which we can't escape.
In the apparently simple line drawings of the Empathy Series, cupped human hands hold small defenseless animals--and a newborn kitten pokes its closed eyes out from gentle fingers. The lines of the work sometimes complicate the viewer's ability to see where the animal stops and the human begins, beautifully illustrating the delicate relationship between subject and object.
One wall of the gallery is covered with a myriad of index pages from atlases, separated from their original context and arranged in flowery forms that descend down to the floor. Formally simple and conceptually complex, the piece is a representation of the whole show, a spiraling visual statement about the collapsing beauty of failed, unavoidable communication.