||Sneaking a peek around the other side of the X-ray machine at an airport can be more than a little unsettling.
Never mind that the security guards don't take such snooping very kindly; it's eerie to see the mechanical eye at work, to look through the opaque surface to view the hidden contents of a container. Especially if it's your container.
In "Outside/In," one of four exhibits that make up the "Resident Aliens" exhibit currently on view in the CEPA Gallery (the others are by Gary Cardot, Jeanne Dunkle and Alison Slein), Pat Bacon turns that mechanical eye to several opaque containers to articulate the unease caused by breaches of privacy. Against a black background, photographic images of containers are paired side by side with X-rays of their contents. The interiors contain various arrangements of found objects, ranging from the humorous to the disturbing and bleak.
Positioned in careful tableaux, the meaning of the same objects within the containers transform image to image. An X-ray of a drab structured purse reveals a fish, complete from tip to tailfin; a sight gag that creates a goofy, ambiguous narrative. In another image, the X-ray rendition of the same purse shows ostensibly the same fish. Only this time, the fish has been bent at the belly, its roe spilling out to pool at the bottom of the bag. Bacon transforms the fish from a joke to a reflection of some deep psychological, distinctly feminine pain.
Bacon's containers hold content of emotional value, religious belief and sexual orientation just as our minds hold our identities, which brings up the question: When the line between personal effects and personality can be indistinguishable, is rendering our things transparent any more justified than doing the same to our minds?
While Bacon's work literally brings the inside out, Cardot's photographic images - large-scale black and white prints of urban scenes - focus on the outside.
The images, none of which contain people, project an emptiness in their stoic beauty that seems unnatural. The prints read not as pictures of buildings, but portraits of a time and place. Scenes of urban blight are contrasted against images in which Cardot renders the architectural into the sculptural, turning buildings and industrial structures into graceful studies of form. In these prints, steel girders and grain elevators take on the same clean, sweeping lines as the Saarinen-designed Kleinhans Music Hall.
Slein, like the German photographer Thomas Demand, creates artificial spaces in order to photograph them. Unlike Demand, whose paper reconstructions of actual spaces present complete illusions, Slein's rooms have the cuteness of doll houses, the miniature hardware and brocade wall coverings not quite tricking the eye.
However, the somewhat adorable construction of the spaces creates a heightened awareness of the single exit and entry point in each of the prints, which vary from holes that look like the work of a prodigious Lilliputian wielding a sledgehammer to windows and doors left slightly ajar. The evidence of past work by unseen hands of an unknown scale is disconcerting. But the images are also lovely, evoking thoughts of bygone farmhouses gone swaybacked and put out to pasture.
While Slein's manipulation of scale forces the viewer to re-evaluate his sense of accurate visual perception, Dunkle forces one to recognize the biases of one's visual perceptions due to outside verbal and audio input.
Her installation of artist books, inkjet and silver gelatin print diptychs, and a digital projection with sound, juxtaposes relatively neutral photographic images with emotionally loaded words (white swans against a black lake with the word "yes"; a dirty window and "deaf"), which affects the interpretation of the image. The fickle nature of human perception is further explored in the digital projection, which flashes randomly mixed words and images, recycling the words and images to pair them in different configurations.
If images are worth a thousand words, each of Dunkle's pieces question the autonomy of vision with a thousand and one.