Going Under Cover

by Cassie Paton

Jen Davis, December 18, 2009, photo, 2009

Recently, the group exhibition Under Cover premiered at MICA’s Decker Gallery and hosted an opening reception organized by MICA’s Exhibition Development Seminar (EDS) class. Under Cover, a collection of mixed media works by 11 artists, is an effort to reevaluate the definitions of shelter and privacy and observe how the over-sharing of information online has blurred the line between public and private spaces. Between constant surveillance both online and in public, Under Cover suggests that the human mind might be the only truly private space we have left– a bold assertion, but maybe not too far from the truth.

Mary Mattingly Wearable Portable Architecture, 2011

The exhibit features pieces spanning a variety of mediums including photography, video, and recycled materials. When you first enter the space, you’re greeted by a large, spidery structure by artist Mary Mattingly, which is made from multiple costumes combined and transformed into a shelter. Wearable Portable Architecture is a pop-up private space in a world where “existence is increasingly rootless and contingent.” The camouflage sleeves and hoods that dangle off the sculpture aren’t exactly wearable, but at least it makes good use of resources.

Patrick McDonough, installation view of Awning Studies: Florida Ave. NE, Trinidad neighborhood D.C., 2011

Awning Studies by Patrick McDonough has a similar meaning behind its two awnings– like any you’d see in a Baltimore neighborhood– which are fixed to the gallery wall. Here, McDonough pokes fun at how people make the distinction between public and private spaces. (As it turns out, awnings are rather useless as far as privacy goes.) For his ongoing project, McDonough has also installed awnings in trees, over water, and in other doorless locations to emphasize that fact.

Vin Grabill, Frontier, video still, 2010

Artist and MICA faculty member Nate Larson attended the opening reception on February 2nd and gave a talk Friday, February 10th about his work. His collaborative series with Marni Shindelman, Geolocation, is a collection of photographs of places associated with tweets tracked by GPS. Larson said the reception was a hit and that feedback was positive.

“With our series, we’re interested in the amount of digital noise out there and how quickly it fades,” Larson says. “With something in the ballpark of 50 million tweets a day, we see our work as memorializing and preserving a small fraction of them them that say something to us about contemporary life, politics, and the culture in which we live. We’re also interested in pushing the boundaries of privacy– what people are willing to disclose online for an anonymous audience and how location-based services could link the virtual to the physical.”

Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman, Broken Into, archival inkjet print, 2011

Some of the tweets in Geolocation are unintentionally funny. Others, a little eerie:
“Omg! My house just got broken into & they took all our electronics :(“
This tweet is accompanied by a photo of remnants of a house near the mountains, with a single chair sitting among the debris.

One of Larson’s favorite pieces is also one of the most prominently placed works in the gallery that uses images of the room itself. Panoptic Panorama #1: I am standing in an empty room by Seattle-based James Coupe is a 360-degree view of the gallery captured by five cameras that serve as a glaringly obvious reminder that we are constantly being watched. Rather than capturing movement, however, the cameras instead filter out any footage containing movement, which makes the gallery appear to be almost empty. It’s a little creepy– suggesting that a watchful government could make it as if you never existed.

The evening of the opening reception had many other highlights, as well, with live music and several MICA undergrads from the EDS class to see their hard work come to fruition. Led by faculty member Jeffry Cudlin over the course of two semesters, students brainstormed, researched, and planned for the exhibition before eventually fleshing it out. The issue of privacy– or a lack thereof– was a theme that really resonated with the students.

“All of these issues are at the forefront of how we live now,” Cudlin says. “They directly affect a group of students who are eyeing the current economic climate and trying to navigate a world in which all activities could be regarded as suspicious—and monitored accordingly.”

Anne Percoco, Indra’s Cloud—Keshi Ghat; Vrindavan, India, 2008

While it’s true that many Americans are struggling to deal with a certain lack of freedom from a watchful eye, a curatorial statement for the exhibit makes a point to distinguish between shelter and privacy– only one of which is necessary for survival:

“Those in developing countries that make up the majority of the world struggle to create the best shelter they can, while those in more developed countries have the more luxurious concern of the loss of privacy.”

Put that way, it kind of gives you a whole new perspective.

The Under Cover exhibit runs through March 11 in MICA’s Fox Building’s Decker Gallery, 1303 W. Mount Royal Ave.

Keith Perelli, Evacuate, oil on paper on wood, 2005