2.14 / Review

2 x 2 Solos: Michelle Blade

By Jeanne Gerrity March 21, 2011

In her solo exhibition at Pro Arts in Oakland, Michelle Blade creates a mystical environment mired in the occult. Replete with gray shadows and translucent surfaces, the eerie installation suggests both an absence and a presence. A lone visitor to the gallery might almost expect to see a specter resting on a chair out of the corner of her eye. Curated by Jackie Im and sharing the space with an exhibition by the artist Taro Hattori, the show is part of 2 x 2 Solos, a series of one-person exhibitions featuring new commissions by emerging artists.

Blade employs a diversity of materials and mediums to evoke the supernatural. On the wall, a single slide shows a black-and-white image of two hands holding a gray piece of paper and another hand holding a crumpled and ripped page over the original. The faint outlines of two sets of fingers in the background appear unconnected to a body, disappearing into the blackness framing the image. The effect of three hands instead of two is also jarring. This slide creates the impression of doubling, a concept that repeats throughout the exhibition.

A chair draped in fine black lace sits on the floor, and a six-foot-tall wicker partition, salvaged by the artist and painted black, displays an intricate pattern that belies a distinct time period. In the corner, three wooden shelves at different heights hold charcoal-black urns and plastic plants painted a deep shade of crimson, representing the common theme of life and death that pervades the exhibition. A wooden minimalist frame juts out from the wall, loosely containing the sculptural tableau. This gesture both situates the work in a fine art context and acts as a portal to another world.  

Between the shelves and the slide projection, a framed 30.5-by-17.75-inch black photograph depicts an ivory lace blanket draped over an invisible form. In Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes asserts that the power of photography lies in its essence, its ability to express "that-has-been." According to Barthes, photography has an inevitable relationship to death because the subject of a photograph will always cease to exist.1 Blade's haunted image literally illustrates this concept, suggesting a hidden shape shrouded by the cloth. Rather than capturing a human subject that will ultimately die, the photograph shows the absence of a person, the suggestion of a being that either never existed in a physical form or is no longer visible to the naked eye.

Untitled, 2011; slide projection, 33 x 37 in. Courtesy of the Artist.


Untitled, 2011; wood, plastic, ceramic urns, ashes; 70 x 61 x 30 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Pro Arts, Oakland.

Two works on Dura-lar, a clear plastic sheeting material, share a Baroque sensibility that alludes further to history and the deceased. Hanging high on the wall, a thin wooden frame surrounds a colored geometric painting that mimics an ocular stained glass window. The other work, a rectangle of Dura-lar stretched over a canvas and painted on both sides with an olive-green pattern, has a yellowed quality that adds to the sense of lapsed time. The light seeping through the work allows for the doubling of the image.

The setting of Blade's exhibition is the only real impediment to its success. In the sterile environment of a white-walled gallery with large glass windows, the haunted environment is less believable than, for example, two Creative Time exhibitions in the past few years: Strange Powers in 2006, and PLOT/09: This World & Nearer Ones (2009). The former was installed in a supposedly haunted abandoned building in Manhattan's East Village, while the latter took place on the no longer inhabited Governors Island. Hopefully, Blade will continue this body of work and have the chance to display it in a less traditional venue in the future. 

The exhibition at Pro Arts is a distinct departure from Blade's earlier social practice–based work that celebrated community and displayed a rare optimism that counteracted the cynicism of much contemporary art. This show expresses uncertainty and even fear, a natural response to the current state of the world with its economic crises, terrifying natural disasters, and violent wars. However, the exhibition avoids delving into the sinister and overly serious, while also managing to eschew the ironic humor present in so many other contemporary artists' investigations into the occult.



2 x 2 Solos: Michelle Blade is on view at Pro Arts, in Oakland, through April 8, 2011.



1. Roland Barthes. Camera Lucida (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), 1415.

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