'Parallel Visions' at Wasserman: 10 years of art from Kresge Artist Fellows

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News
One of two carved wooden puppets from Chido Johnson at Wasserman Projects.

Visually dazzling and intriguingly high concept, "Parallel Visions" at Wasserman Projects, up through Aug. 24, is a show well worth going out of your way to catch.

Celebrating 10 years of the Kresge Artist Fellows program, the exhibition on the north edge of Detroit's Eastern Market features work produced by 13 of the 180 visual, literary and performance artists who've been honored in the past decade. 

The exhibition, said Alison Wong, Wasserman director and curator, is broken into three rooms which could loosely be termed past, present and future. 

"I wanted to honor the artists' past," she said, "where each one was, leading up to their award. And I was curious how the money and recognition" -- each fellow gets $25,000, no strings attached -- "shifts an artist’s trajectory, and what opportunities that opens up." 

Trinidad native Ralph Taylor's extravagant Mardi Gras costume, "Goddess of the Sea," in "Parallel Visions" at Wasserman Projects.

The show kicks off with Chido Johnson's homage to his father who, Wong said, did puppet theater for children back in Zimbabwe years ago.

Two meticulously carved David and Goliath heads from Johnson's childhood had never been mounted on puppet torsos, but that's been rectified, and Johnson shot a video of the two engaging in an African hand-clapping game a bit like patty-cake. 

The video, with its mash-up of a slightly silly children's game and the David and Goliath myth, which most certainly did not involve hand-clapping, is both amusing and oddly compelling, as the two blank-faced competitors go at it. 

 Also in the front room, and not to be missed, are works by the late Gordon Newton, a poem by literary-arts fellow Lillien Waller inspired by celebrated British ceramicist Edmund de Waal, and a parade of handsome domestic ceramics by Laith Karmo. 

Entering the second and largest room in this exhibition, you can't help but be stopped by Catie Newell's "Unlit," a sculpture comprised of thin wooden strips hanging off a wire that resembles the outline of a roof. 

"Normal Nudity 2 & 3" by Olayami Dabls in "Parallel Visions" at Wasserman Projects.

Newell's materials, as the show's brochure notes, are "wood and darkness." And indeed, what gives this strikingly simple composition its elegant power are the shadows it casts on the white wall just beyond. 

"Catie's work is so delicate," Wong said. "and deals with so many contemporary conversations relevant to Detroit – finding the beauty in dilapidation, yet never," she added, "in the trite, ruin-porn kind of way." 

Striking as well are two videos on either side of Newell's piece. Shiva Ahmadi has animated her own delicate works with their monkey-like beings, which come out of the Iranian tradition of painted miniatures. 

On the other side of the room is a gorgeously illuminated video shot in a dramatic space, Oksana Mirzoyan's "Hungry Ghost," with a male figure in black silhouette perpetually caught between desire and what looks like a luminous hell. 

Nearby are Mirzoyan's "Hungry Ghost Casting 1-3," three golden male torsos complete with abundant beer bellies that suggest empty pregnancy. 

"Hungry Ghost Casting 1" by Oksana Mirzoyan, in which a male belly approximates the look of a pregnant woman.

"Oksana plays with the Buddhist idea of the Hungry Ghost," Wong said, which focuses on the dangers of a life of constant wanting.  "I was a little familiar with the idea," she added, "that you can end up in this purgatory, constantly yearning and hungry but never satisfied."

In the center of the large gallery is Christopher Schanck's "Cu," a massive, orange-gold desk constructed out of broken pieces of styrofoam attached to a steel frame, and covered with aluminum foil and resin. It's a remarkable sight, enhanced by more of Karmo's ceramics on top.

Within one of his vessels a speaker constantly plays a mesmerizing harp-based soundscape from performing-arts fellow Ahya Simone. 

Olayami Dabls, creator of Detroit's African Bead Museum, gives us a complex architectural installation with three open windows, "Normal Nudity 1-3," as well as wall-mounted acrylic portraits of snakes on leather panels. 

Almost impossible to miss are performing-arts fellow Ralph Taylor's two spectacular Mardi Gras costumes that draw on his childhood in Trinidad. One was created for Detroit's 2015 Nain Rouge parade, the other for the city's autumnal festival of art and light, Dlectricity 2014. 

At the back of the room from the Tzarinas of the Plane, a pair of performance artists, comes a complex, visually stunning installation of costume and trash, all painted bright gold, titled "The Way Back." 

"Parallel Visions" concludes in a small, dark space dominated by Cuppetelli + Mendoza's "Notional Field (Detroit)," an interactive projection on a grid of elastic cord that produces a trippy, almost hallucinogenic experience. 

By all means, bring the kids. They'll go nuts.

(313) 222-6021

Twitter: @mhodgeartguy

Disconnected limbs play cameo roles in Tzarinas of the Plane's "The Way Back" at Wasserman Projects.

'Parallel Visions'

Through Aug. 24

Wasserman Projects, 3434 Russell, #502, Detroit

11 a.m-5 p.m. Wed.,Thurs. & Sat; 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Fri.