Drawn to Disaster

Stacy Howe. Sturm and Drang. 12"x4.5". Mixed Media on Paper. 2011.

Drawn to Disaster, the current show at the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art, is a provocative exhibition of drawing, collage, sculpture, film and video exploring the aftermath of sensationalist media bombardment. Curated by ICA director Daniel Fuller, Drawn to Disaster delivers.

In the front gallery hangs a work by Lisi Raskin, who’s known primarily for her collage-ish architectural installations exploring risk, disaster, and covert operations. “Switchyard” wraps around the corner wall of the space, a rough-cut collage of white and off-white papers with drawings and cut-outs of power lines, tanks, helicopters and trees. The work invites the viewer into a scrappy yet understated encounter with military power, inspired by the artist’s own brush with homeland security.

In the back room of the gallery is a large chalkboard mural. “A Brief History of US Interventions,” by Carlos Motta, offers a chronological listing, in white chalk, of some of the 163 U.S. foreign interventions between 1801 and 2006. Inspired, in part, by a flash file from Adbusters, this piece reveals the “progress” of our nation through the lens of war and gives the viewer an opportunity to rewrite history. To the right of the mural, the artist has provided a container of colored chalk and an eraser, inviting the audience to contribute its own revisions, corrections, or fabrications. Step up and get dusty.

Dominic McGill. Whatever Is Conscious Wears Out. 24"x33"x22". Mixed Media. 2010

Dominic McGill’s piece, “Whatever is Conscious Wears Out,” is an engrossing specimen/sculpture of a skull and stomach surfaced with meticulously rendered imagery and text. It sits inside a glass vitrine toward the center of the back gallery space. There are images of buildings, a television, bombers, chains, and sawed-off arms shaking hands. An intertwining chain of words and phrases drawn from multiple sources spirals, reverses and confounds immediate interpretation in a coiling assault on the misuse of power in media.  McGill’s work offers headiness digested and expelled through complex imagery and a thinking-man’s tattooed text.

Of all the works in Drawn to Disaster, the one that brought me immediately in tune with the show was local artist Stacy Howe’s “Sturm und Drang.” Howe’s impressive black-and-white renderings of menacing and macabre animals and objects — everything from killer sharks to gas masks — demonstrates real tenacity and skill. The build up of drawn-and-then-cut imagery creates a disturbing cacophony, exposing the underbelly of sensationalism, war, and fear. Closer inspection reveals flowers, sex and kittens — media at its most alluring.

Sun Xun’s “Shock of Time,” an animation made by hand-drawing and filming illustrations on communist newspapers and magazines, offers an engaging meditation on time. Deb Sokolow’s clever illustrated book, “Whatever Happened to the Pentagon (Restaurant)?” is worth a read on the way out.

— Sarah Bouchard

Drawn to Disaster shows through Sun., Aug. 7, at the ICA at MECA, 522 Congress St., Portland. Hours: Wed., Fri.-Sun. 11a.m.-5 p.m., Thurs. 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Free. meca.edu


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