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Sovereign and Tantalizing

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Untitled (2006) by Roy McMakin, at James Harris Gallery.
A Child's Angel Food Cake (2006) by Roy McMakin, at James Harris Gallery.

Because photography is the new sculpture, furniture maker Roy McMakin built his latest series of domestic objects by piling together hundreds of photographic views of the same thing to create flat, dislocated, three-point-perspectiveless, true-to-scale images of the original objects. Technically, no flat representation could be truer to its subject or closer to a clone. McMakin is poking fun at the centuries of competition among artists and philosophers over the best way to render three dimensions in two. But he doesn't leave it there. He is a sculptor and a conceptualist, and these new photographs at James Harris Gallery (his first use of the medium since the 1980s) embody above all a distrust of the savage eye and camera in favor of the diffusely discerning and desiring body and mind.

Each view shows the seams of the construction process, and groups of these digital assemblages are hung together to showcase the original objects from all sides. The whole digitally facilitated operation comes out a little like a primitive, presurgical medical exam. The artist is duplicating the way we respond to sculpture, circumnavigating it in the eternally deferred attempt to form a greater understanding than can be held in a single view. He has made photographs that are anti-photographs. Their subjects are sovereign bodies. They don't shrink from the lens or lean vainly into it. In fact, they are as close to unseen as possible. In their presence, you can imagine yourself as sovereign, too. He calls them Actual.

* * *

I've written before about Mary Simpson's haunting etchings and stop-motion films of lost people and buildings adrift in deep forests of white space. Now Simpson, with writer-musician Fionn Meade and sound artist Rob Millis, has made her first stop-action film, the 12-minute Billy in the Lowground, based on the centuries-old murder ballad "Pretty Polly." (Meade and Simpson talk about it on this week's In/Visible podcast.)

Simpson's best work has always seemed almost forcibly subdued; there's something in there—some anger, disappointment, or raging sorrow—refusing to surface, overwritten in the many translations Simpson makes by drawing an image repeatedly, transferring it to a plate and finally making a print or a prop. Her practice is both sculptural and literary, and it generates the same tantalizing opacity as an object or a book.

What she and Meade bring to live-action film is attention to gaps in understanding. They've forged a productive link between stark, deliberate visuals and the layered abstractions of singing and music. (There are unfortunate breaks for the reading of a text.) Dancers gesture toward no one and actors waltz alone, unsentimentally embracing phantom partners, as the Foghorn Stringband perform the grisly, mysterious song about a woman's premeditated murder. Simpson has two other short films at Punch Gallery, brief tussles with sex, violence, history, and play. It's as though they're symbolist trailers for what happens in the lowground, where Polly never stops dying to a catchy tune.

A new In/Visible podcast is available every Thursday at www.thestranger.com/visart.jgraves@thestranger.com

 

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