Detroit’s Whitdel Arts explores Hiroshima

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

The 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings supplies the premise for “fall-out,” a group show at Whitdel Arts in Detroit’s Mexicantown through Sept. 19.

“We were a little afraid it would be a depressing show,” says Whitdel member JenClare Gawaran, who attributes the concept to fellow member and artist Gualberto Orozco. “But it turned out to be really thought-provoking.”

Indeed. What emerges is a compelling exhibition that ranges from the absurd to the deeply sobering.

Chicagoan Joe Davis’ darkly comedic video, “STAT-IK,” features a bored — or depressed? — guy slumped on a sofa, watching black-and-white explosions and electrical fires rage on an ancient TV.

Set in a mid-century living room, the compositional kitsch makes you want to laugh out loud, a reaction tempered by the distant horror on the tiny screen.

By contrast, Elin O’Hara Slavick’s cyanotype photos of shadows left by the nuclear blasts stun with their utter simplicity. (Cyanotype is the process behind the blueprint.)

Slavick, who teaches photography at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has created negative images of photos taken from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum Archive. With the vaporized object in “Ghost Bottle,” this yields an eery, beautiful white “shadow” surrounded by the rich blue of ocean skies.

Slavick isn’t the only artist drawn to these notorious shadows. The painting “Blast Shadow” by Detroiter Jesse Kassel, who’s also shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, features ruined buildings, violently green grass and the distant outline of an unfortunate pedestrian.

Kate Shannon’s “White Sky,” which dominates one wall, employs digitally animated images from an old film interviews with Sterling Parsons, the Enola Gay weaponeer (and later rear-admiral) who dropped the Hiroshima bomb.

Stitching together individual frames, Shannon, who teaches photography at Ohio State University at Mansfield, creates a sepia-toned video projection of a flickering man in uniform whose untroubled expression never varies. It’s hard to take your eyes off him.

And don’t miss Philadelphia artist Keenan Bennett’s cheerfully absurd “Killa Shippu,” a 3-D construction of acrylic, glass, wire and marbles.

Orange flames erupt from the tailpipe of a super-amped war plane bristling with menace and macho weaponry.

Hanging from the projecting nose of this Flash Gordon fantasy is a webbed bag of marbles — each glassy orb, one assumes, an individual atomic bomb ready to blast some city to kingdom come.

Finally, before you walk out, take a look at the small, punchy show in Whitdel’s lower gallery by the Open Close collective of emerging artists.


Whitdel Arts

1250 Hubbard — Suite B1, Detroit (Enter on Porter)

Noon - 3 p.m. Saturdays (other days by appointment)