by Daniel Kaven, Gallery 500, 420 SW Washington, #500, through July 29
With his first major solo exhibition, Divorce, Portland's Daniel Kaven continues to establish himself as a conceptually driven force on the local scene. In this work, Kaven explores the emotional fallout of divorce from the perspective of two children, Vincent and Annabella, who must navigate precarious psychological terrain as their family falls apart around them. And while Kaven claims to have drawn from his own parents' divorce for inspiration, the results are neither cloying nor solipsistic. Instead, these surreal and haunting images approximate a disorienting emotional state as much as they depict an actual narrative.
At first glance, it appears that Kaven has painted over each of his images, imposing a kind of division over his subjects with cold, geometric lines. But closer inspection reveals that each canvas is made up of several smaller images, embedding the dislocation of divorce within each picture. Complementing this series of images is an installation of several spaces that appear in the images: the executive desk of the children's father, cluttered with documents; a sandbox littered with the children's Tonka trucks and other toys; and the skeletal structure of a home under construction, at once transparent and prison-like, with evenly spaced two-by-fours signifying bars.
But what makes Kaven's show so obsession-worthy is not the masterly way he shifts between media. No, "Divorce" comes alive through the information he omits. With only a handful of events and scenes from the divorce represented, the viewer is left to draw connections and conclusions from narrative fragments. For example, the father's presence in the narrative is dominated by images of industrial trucks, a senatorial podium, and heaps of invoices from the fictional Atlas Energy Corporation. And while the inclusion of these clues allow the circumstances of the divorce to come into focus, they may also be read as metaphors for scandal, abuse of power and, by extension, infidelity. In all, Kaven's complex language of visual signifiers offers thoughtful insight into the surreal trauma of divorce.