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Review: Carl Mellor on Melissa Catanese’s The Lottery

This review is written by Carl Mellor, a freelance writer. He covered visual arts for the Syracuse New Times from 1994 to June 2019. Mellor continues to write about exhibits and artists in the Syracuse, New York area.

The Lottery, Melissa Catanese’s solo exhibit in Light Work’s Kathleen O. Ellis Gallery, gathers together disparate and seemingly unrelated images from archival sources and the artist’s own work. Indeed, the show moves from a gray view of ocean waves to the striking color of poppy fields, from angry molten lava to a placid but ominous iceberg, from oil erupting from a derrick to rows of motor vehicles linked to no one.

Photos of humans also have no obvious connections at first glance. There are images of a man swimming furiously, of two men scaling a huge sand dune, of a crowd in the street celebrating the end of World War II, of a figure kneeling down by a prone individual. Perhaps he’s helping someone who fell from a bike or was injured during a sports event. We don’t know.

And yet, there’s no basis for assuming that the exhibition is focusing on life as random and absurd. Catanese is playing a very different game. She’s created a visual idiom to deal with a time of struggle and anxiety, a period of political strife, and an unprecedented environmental crisis. Global warming and climate change pose myriad threats: potential extinction of species including right whales, flooding of communities ranging from Pacific islands to New York City neighborhoods, and much more.

Catanese, for her part, isn’t erecting signposts listing reasons for alienation. Rather, her show hints, suggests, engages with the question of why so many people feel unhappy and confused. The images work together to influence viewers in a subtle way.

For sure, the show has key images that help develop central themes. Thus, a mushroom cloud speaks to nuclear weapons and the specter of nuclear war, while rocks speckled with gold color refer to radiation.

image: Melissa Catanese, Figure #2

In addition, The Lottery delves into our relationship with nature. Various photos portray an active volcano and lightning strikes, as well as oceans, the primal source of all life on earth. One of the best images depicts a large rock situated on water, framed by shadows.

Elsewhere, two cormorants stand on land, not far from each other. They aren’t near the fish they feed on. And kelp washed ashore makes its own point. Kelp forests underwater trap and store carbon dioxide. It’s estimated that such forests are declining at two percent a year.

Certainly, the show communicates a sense of people struggling with isolation. We see a lone figure mountain climbing and another solitary individual running aimlessly on a rock formation near water. In a third photo, two people embrace, but we barely see their faces.

Yet another direction emerges in a large photo of a crowd packed into an auditorium. Although their faces are visible, few smile, many look as they would prefer to be elsewhere, and there’s a sense of unease and discomfort. This may not be a mob, but it’s painfully close. At the very least, there’s no sense of community.

Beyond that, the photographer took great care in organizing the portfolio of images that appears at Light Work. She mixes black-and-white and color photos, large and small prints, and images from various decades. On one wall, the photos begin at eye level and descend almost to the floor, influencing viewers to look up and down.

Catanese also builds physical energy into the exhibition. In many of the photos, something active is happening. The swimmer and the climber are in motion, a volcano has erupted, oil is propelled into the air.

Melissa Catanese, Sunset #3

Finally, the exhibit’s title relates directly to Shirley Jackson’s classic short story, The Lottery, in which a small community goes through a yearly ritual of selecting an individual and then stoning him or her to death. No one knows when or why the ritual began.

Clearly, Catanese is working in a different medium and living in a society quite different from the United States in the 1940s. However, she, like Jackson, is exploring culture, examining how influences direct and indirect impact our lives. That exploration requires a subtle grouping of images, an ability to play photos off each other, and confidence that viewers will respond to a singular type of exhibit. Catanese is up to the challenge, and the show is well worth extended viewing.

The Lottery is on display through July 22, 2022, at Light Work, located at 316 Waverly Ave. on the Syracuse University campus. The gallery is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, and from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call 315-443-1300 or access www.lightwork.org.

Announcing 2022 Light Work Artists-in-Residence

With great excitement, Light Work announces the following 2022 Artists-in-Residence: Mónica Alcázar-Duarte (United Kingdom), Nando Alvarez-Perez (Buffalo, New York), Simon Benjamin (Brooklyn, New York), Gary Burnley (Ridgefield, Connecticut), William Camargo (Chicago, Illinois), Jasmine Clarke (Brooklyn, New York), Paula Damasceno (Greensboro, North Carolina), Mercedes Dorame (Burbank, California), Dylan Hausthor (Peaks Island, Maine), Musuk Nolte (Lima, Peru), Elle Perez (Brooklyn, New York), Nona Faustine Simmons (Brooklyn, New York), and Claire A. Warden (Phoenix, Arizona). 

Each year, Light Work supports emerging, under-represented, and previously excluded artists working in photography and related media with support totaling more than $60,000. In addition to receiving an unrestricted stipend of $5,000, each artist has access to our technical and professional resources and facilities.

“It’s my great pleasure to congratulate the 2022 Light Work Artist-in-Residence recipients,” said Light Work director Dan Boardman. “I know I speak for the entire staff when I say we are thrilled to have artists working in our space throughout 2022. This year’s cohort exemplifies the wide range of approaches making up contemporary photographic practice, and we are looking forward to providing space and time to each of these practitioners.”

This year, Light Work has two exciting collaborations with distinguished organizations in support of three of our artists. Autograph in London, UK, has sponsored the residency of Mónica Alcázar-Duarte, the latest in a partnership that dates from 1996. Additionally, the Darryl Chappell Foundation has sponsored the residencies of Jasmine Clarke and Gary Burnley. The first year of Light Work’s partnership with the Darryl Chappell Foundation advances our shared mission to foster an appreciation of the fine arts among members of the African Diaspora through grants and to deepen an appreciation of the fine arts in the larger community. 

Light Work’s highly competitive residency program dates from 1976 and now receives nearly 1,000 submissions annually. Following an international call for submissions, we select twelve to fifteen artists and invite them to come to Syracuse for one month to pursue creative projects. To date, more than 500 artists have participated in the Light Work Artist-in-Residence Program and many have gone on to achieve international acclaim. The artists who receive this distinction embody Light Work’s mission of providing direct artist support to emerging, under-represented, and previously excluded artists working in photography and digital imaging.

We are pleased to announce the 2022 Light Work Artists-in-Residence!

Mónica Alcázar-Duarte (United Kingdom)

Nando Alvarez-Perez (Buffalo, New York)

Simon Benjamin (Brooklyn, New York)

Gary Burnely (Ridgefield, Connecticut)

William Camargo (Chicago, Illinois)

Jasmine Clarke (Brooklyn, New York)

Paula Damasceno (Greensboro, North Carolina)

Mercedes Dorame (Burbank, California)

Dylan Hausthor (Peaks Island, Maine)

Musuk Nolte (Lima, Peru)

Elle Perez (Brooklyn, New York)

Nona Faustine Simmons (Brooklyn, New York)

Claire A. Warden (Phoenix, Arizona)

See past Artists-in-Residence at www.lightwork.org/air
Applications are now open for 2023. Apply at lightwork.slideroom.com

The Daily Orange on Scott McCarney's "VisualBooks" Exhibition at Light Work

“I get excited about the materials of the book… The physicality of the book is an ephemera of experience.” – Scott McCarney

There’s a nice write-up about Scott McCarney’s “VisualBooks” exhibition in The Daily Orange.

The exhibition will remain on view in the Light Work gallery through December 16th.

Notice for Stephen Chalmers: Unmarked

Syracuse art historian, critic, and writer Nancy Keefe Rhodes has posted a great article about the exhibition Stephen Chalmers: Unmarked, which is currently on view in the Light Work Main Gallery. Having come upon the opening for the exhibition by chance, she appears to have been pleasantly surprised by the series, the photographer, who gave a talk in the gallery, and Contact Sheet 156, which features the work.

Fractionmag also has an article about the show, which will run through May 29, 2010.

Covering photography

The Special Collections Research Center at Syracuse University’s Bird Library, which is right down the street from Light Work, contains an amazing 100,00 printed works and 2,000 archival collections. As part of its Spring 2010 programming, the Center is featuring the exhibition Covering Photography: Imitation, Influence, and Coincidence. The show’s guest curator, Karl Baden (Light Work Artist-in-Residence, 1985), is the founder of the web-based archive Covering Photography. Both the website and the exhibition explore the relationship between the history of photography and book cover design. Comparing the book covers to their “source” images, this relationship ranges in strength from direct appropriation to the possibility of subconscious influence on the designer.

Light Work’s Digital Lab Manager John Mannion worked closely with Baden and the Center to realize the various prints that are staged with the actual books and covers in the show. This project is a great example of the focused, project-specific assistance available through our digital services in Community Darkrooms.

The exhibition runs through April 30, and Karl Baden will host a gallery talk about the project on Tuesday, March 2 at 5pm.

Covering Photography: Imitation, Influence, and Coincidence
January 19-April 30, 2010
Special Collections Research Center
Bird Library, Syracuse University
111 Waverly Avenue
Syracuse, New York  13210

As It Happens special event

If you’re in NYC on Thursday, January 14, 2010, make sure to stop by for a special event at Palitz Gallery. Currently on view there is the exhibition As It Happens, which celebrates the Light Work Artists-in-Residence program. The show features work by recent residents, including Kelli Connell, Christine Osinski, Lisa M. Robinson, Kerry Skarbakka, Amy Stein, Krista Steinke, and Marla Sweeney, among many others. The reception starts at 6, and then at 6:30 David Ross and Light Work Executive Director Jeffrey Hoone will be in conversation about Light Work and its renowned residency program, supporting artists, and recent developments in photography.

If you can’t make it on the 14th, the exhibition will be on view until February 11.

Image: Amy Stein, Peri, Route 64, Outside Lexington, Kentucky, 2005

As It Happens
Lubin House: Palitz Gallery
11 East 61st Street, NYC
212-826-1449

Deana Lawson is today's Flak Photo

Andy Adams over at Flak Photo has chosen Sharon, 2007, by Deana Lawson, as today’s featured image. It couldn’t be better timing – the reception for Deana Lawson: Corporeal is tonight at Light Work from 5-8pm.

Flak Photo has a reputation as one of the best places online to enjoy exciting new photography. The site connects international audiences to online art experiences and promotes the discovery of photographers from around the world. Produced by Andy Adams, Flak Photo provides unique opportunities for artists and photo organizations to share new work, book projects, gallery exhibitions, and event updates with a global photography audience.

Check out Flak Photo’s daily updates, and definitely stop by the Corporeal reception tonight if you’re in the area.

Intermissions gets under way

Syracuse is the site of Intermissions, a multi-venue exhibition project featuring Barry Anderson’s colorful and enigmatic video and still work. The exhibition creates opportunities, sometimes in unexpected places, for a refreshing change of view from everyday life.

The first of Anderson’s installations, including a screening of his video Pigeon at the Everson Museum of Art and three billboards in various locations around Syracuse, are up. The exhibition is already making its presence known, with a long front-page article in today’s CNY section of The Post-Standard. Also posted online today is videographer Ellen Blalock’s interview with Barry Anderson – you can watch the in-depth discussion with the artist on Syracuse.com. Finally, open at the Menschel Gallery in SU’s Schine Student Center is Suspension, an exhibition of Anderson’s moving and eloquent aerial photographs.

Click here to see a list of all the venues for Intermissions, and keep your eyes open for Anderson’s work as you drive around town.

Dinh Q. Lê at Elizabeth Leach Gallery

Dinh Q. Lê opens a solo exhibit on May 7, 2009, at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery in Portland, Oregon. The reception will held the same day from 6 to 9 pm. The show, titled Signs and Signals From the Periphery, will be up until May 30. Dinh participated in Light Work’s artist-in-residence program in 2000.

Elizabeth Leach Gallery
417 N.W. 9th Ave
Portland, OR
503.224.0521

Hot off the printer: Community Darkrooms

Community Darkrooms has been busily printing exhibition prints for Admas Habteslasie. The images are now featured in our exhibition Limbo that opened March 16.

It’s a rarely mentioned secret that Light Work/Community Darkrooms regularly prints entire exhibitions under the watchful eye of our digital lab manager John Mannion. These images end up in world-class museums and collections, like Susan Opton’s prints and banners (shown here being sewn together at Community Darkrooms) that will be exhibited at Casino Luxembourg – Forum d’art contemporain in Great Expectations: Contemporary Photography Looks at Today’s Bitter Years from March 28-June 14, 2009.

When we print the work for our own exhibitions, we only have to move the prints across the hall for framing, yet more often than not these prints travel across the country and the world.

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