‘Absence’ takes root in Artspace

The interior of 50 Orange St. looks like the common room of a Yale suite on move-in day. Canvases, tools and various other supplies are strewn across the floor. The walls, for the most part, are bare and starkly white.

In one corner, Carolina Pedraza works diligently and meticulously. Carefully marking out a neat grid on the floor with masking tape and bolting a series of writing desks into the floor, she creates a classroom scene familiar to any student as a part of her exhibit “presence within absence.”

This Friday, Artspace, New Haven’s contemporary art museum, will unveil its newest exhibitions, which feature an eclectic mix of art forms, themes and ideas.

Along with Pedraza’s work, which will occupy The Project Space, Artspace announced that the exhibitions will feature scenes created by Rachel Hellerich to be displayed in the Artspace Lounge, as well as Melanie Carr’s piece “Delicates,” a creation for the John/Jane Project, inside the Artspace bathroom.

Eleven pieces from Artspace’s City-Wide Open Studios 2006 will also be on display in the untitled (space) gallery, in addition to the Flatfile, curated by Debbie Hesse.

The pieces in three of these exhibitions — The Project Space, the Artspace Lounge and the John/Jane Project — are distinct and unrelated. But the Flatfile and untitled (space) gallery present a more united body of works by various artists.

Also running concurrently is the Lasso Project, which features work from nine current and former New Haven artists displayed at nine street sites around the Ninth Square and includes a telephone audio tour so visitors can access the works 24 hours a day. The Project will continue through Dec. 14.

Katherine Wells ’08, an intern at Artspace, curated the audio tour for The Lasso Project. Wells sees the interactive nature of the installations as an opportunity for Artspace to reach out to the community and bring art to a wider audience.

“It’s not just a gallery,” Wells said. “We do a lot of community organization-type projects as well.”

In the Project Space, Pedraza’s “presence within absence” finds meaning in handwriting and the concept of written correspondence. Her work involves hand-penciled letters on natural wooden writing arms from 16 different people. Each person’s letters are positioned on top of another layer of writing, obscuring the words but creating a sense of hidden meaning.

“I’m really interested in handwriting,” Pedraza said. “Handwriting — when you start to overlap it, it becomes almost a drawing. The overlapping shows you that as much as language allows you to communicate, it can also lead to confusion and misunderstanding.”

Pedraza’s work also toys with the dual ideas of intimacy and isolation in letter writing — communication between two people seems so personal, and the observer is at once drawn into it and repelled by a sense that he is invading someone else’s privacy, Pedraza said.

The four other separate bodies of work that will be shown in Artspace’s galleries will also be installed soon.

Hellerich will present the first of her two paintings in the Lounge. The second part of her work, which is influenced particularly by Japanese art, will debut midway through the show, according to the exhibit’s brochure.

Carr’s “Delicates” will seek to explore gender through materials such as wires and fabric, creating “bumps” that evoke feminine curves, Artspace Communications Director Jemma Williams said. The untitled (space) gallery will display pieces by 11 artists from last year’s City-Wide Open Studios, chosen by juror Laura Donaldson.

The works of Erin Anfinson, Marion Belanger and Barbara Weissberger, displayed in the Flatfile, all embrace the central idea of human interaction and intervention with nature.

Anfinson’s works include paintings of animals with human elements, while Belanger’s photographs depict human interaction with natural settings in extreme environments, and Weissberger’s use of visceral materials and watercolors evokes forms that juxtapose delicacy with strength, Williams said.

As Friday’s opening reception for the new exhibits approaches, artists and Artspace staff are working feverishly to prepare the exhibitions, as evidenced by the energy and urgency that fills the staff office.

Williams hopes the exhibitions will attract an assortment of people and help Artspace achieve its tripartite mission of catalyzing artistic efforts, connecting artists, audiences and resources, and redefining art spaces.

“I think it’s an exciting way to engage the community,” Williams said. “It’s reconnecting artists who’ve gone on to bigger things and encouraging people to engage with art on the street level.”

The new exhibitions will run Nov. 17 through Jan. 19.

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