Review: Everything's a Game in the Compelling Show, Just Playing, at RedLine | Westword

Art Review

Review: Everything's a Game in the Compelling Just Playing, at RedLine

RedLine, the brainchild of artist and philanthropist Laura Merage, is both a major exhibition venue, with its handsome and spacious galleries, and one of the top studio complexes in town. The studios are occupied by artists serving either as “resources,” meaning their rent is completely subsidized, or “residents,” who pay...
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RedLine, the brainchild of artist and philanthropist Laura Merage, is both a major exhibition venue, with its handsome and spacious galleries, and one of the top studio complexes in town. The studios are occupied by artists serving either as “resources,” meaning their rent is completely subsidized, or “residents,” who pay partly subsidized rent. Periodically, RedLine presents an exhibit dedicated to these artist-members; the current edition is Just Playing, which closes this weekend.

The compelling show is the first in a series of exhibits, talks and other events that elucidate the theme “Play It Forward,” a phrase with myriad meanings that will be extrapolated in different ways over the course of this year. To put together Just Playing, RedLine tapped independent curator Petra Sertic, who has served stints at MCA Denver and the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art.

Sertic’s skill as a curator is readily apparent here, because although the roster of Just Playing is limited exclusively to RedLine artists and recent alums — regardless of the character of their artistic practices — it is tight and really reads like a themed show.

Sertic’s underlying concept was to deconstruct the idea of “work versus play.” While she notes that the language of business permeates contemporary culture, Sertic sees the act of playing — or relaxing — as critical to getting things done. “The best ideas,” she writes, “require freedom of exploration and a certain amount of leisure to germinate and grow to full potential.”
The fun is serious for Sertic, and that’s conveyed by the ceremonial entry into the show via a three-legged Gothic arch titled “Passage,” by Nikki Pike and Tom Dodds. The monumental piece is made of bark-covered steel and plastic with LEDs lining the interior of the vertical members. Immediately beyond the arch is another work that balances seriousness and whimsy: “Mutually Assured Fun,” by Laura Shill. Piled on top of a square of AstroTurf are a group of identical fuzzy orange pillows in the shape of comic-book-style bombs that resemble Goldfish crackers. Viewers are meant to pick up the “bombs” and even throw them around. The orange looks super against the green.

Also lighthearted is Dylan Scholinski’s “my ducks in a row,” in which the artist has arranged dozens of nearly identical found plastic ducks in a straight line that runs up one side of the gallery. There are several other striking floor pieces here as well, most notably “Knucklebones,” by Claudia Mastrobuono. On a base that resembles a black-and-white tile floor, Mastrobuono has placed a set of oversized jacks that are made of ceramic glazed black. It’s gorgeous.

Mastrobuono’s piece is based on a game, though you can’t really play with these jacks, since they’d break. Other artists have created games that you can play, like Daisy Patton’s “So Long, Farewell.” Patton has taken digital images of animals on the endangered-species list and printed them on one side of a playing card. The cards are placed face down, and players are meant to match pairs over the course of the game, discarding those that are matched up — a metaphor for their extinction.
Chinn Wang’s “The Golden Fleece” is based on Lenormand fortune-telling cards — six of them in particular. On the wall is a yellow super-graphic of a buttercup with three small shelves; to the right is another set of three shelves, these mounted on a plain background. The cards are made of screen prints on wood; there are images of card backs on one side and figurative images on the other, and they have been placed on the second set of shelves so that the figurative side faces the wall. Viewers are meant to choose three cards, move them to the shelves with the buttercup image behind them, and then turn them face-out so that the three together may be read for meaning. It’s clever, but Wang’s accomplished and thoughtful pop-based style is what really makes it work.

Christina Battle takes a different approach to games. She has created a video game played on two screens called “Games to Help You Get Ready to Live in the Police State.” In it, “players” are instructed in ways to simulate being a victim of police brutality — like rubbing crushed chile peppers into their own eyes to convey the experience of being pepper-sprayed. The piece is pretty emphatic if not bombastic, qualities that are tamed in some sense by the video format.

Another artist uses video to refer not to games, but to travel — a leisurely occupation akin to play. Suchitra Mattai has created the installation “A Pilgrim of Sorts,” which is anchored by a pair of videos displayed in gaudy white-painted frames so that they read as mirrors.

The images on these would-be mirrors depict the shadow of a gondola as it is cast across the landscape near Barcelona. Below the videos are wall brackets on which there are miniature landscapes set in tea cups. It’s pretty cool.
Also smart, and smart-looking, is Evan Mann’s video “The Otherworldly,” which has been projected onto a large screen, with a group of props used in the video displayed to the side. Described as “a story about birth, death and the space in between,” the video is hypnotic and abstract. Although it features a lot of special effects, Mann also employed those physical props — a cotton ball headdress and a giant faux-fur ring, among other objects — to create his virtual visuals.

Video is a component of Andy Rising’s “Hypernatural Surface Flow and Core Extraction…” as well; the piece is a monolith in mixed materials that looks like a rock column. A wedge has been cut out of this form, and lining the two sides of the opening are screens on which shots of the artist’s view from his dirt bike are projected.

Some pieces work because they are so simple, even if they don’t overtly refer to play or leisure. These include Collin Parson’s signature geometric wall installation in wood and mirrored acrylic from his “Reflections” series. That same utter simplicity allows Dmitri Obergfell’s “Scalar Fields” to work. The post-minimal panel is done in interference paint on aluminum, which changes colors as the viewer passes it.
A different take on minimalism — in this case, its cousin, patterning — is seen in pieces like the suspended threads and feathers of Jennifer Ghormley’s “Blush.” Done in a pinkish hue, it reminded me of a valance. It hangs just over visitors’ heads and may be brushed by them. It’s pretty delicate, though. Ghormley’s piece definitely resonates with Amber Cobb’s “No Need to Play Cool,” in which the artist has taken objects from her studio to represent how she creates work. Cobb uses mattresses as key components in her oeuvre, annexing the quilted patterns to serve as her compositions. She does it to great success. Falling into this same kind of post-minimalism with a domestic slant is the cut-and-sewn felt game created by Heather Doyle-Maier in her “Zen Garden.”

The other artists included in the show are Theresa Anderson, Libby Barbee, Katie Caron, Sandra Fettingis, Homare Ikeda, George P. Perez, Tara Rynders, Mark Sink, Jodi Stuart, Chris Ulrich and Katie Watson. The standards by which artists become RedLine members are pretty stringent, so it’s no surprise that just about everything in Just Playing is worth checking out. 

Just Playing
Through March 1 at RedLine, 2350 Arapahoe Street, 303-296-4448,

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