When independent curator Nadine Wasserman first conceived of an art exhibition around the theme of doubt, she thought it would be a show about “process and image,” she said.
But that blueprint changed with this country’s presidential administration.
“As the political climate started to change, I noticed the show was more thematically related to the political environment,” Wasserman said last week at SPACE gallery during the installation of the art works that form her newest exhibit, “Doubt.”
“I feel it’s very timely, this notion of doubt and uncertainty, particularly in the face of an administration that has its own doubt in the face of empirical evidence, and is quick to accuse the media of spreading false news,” she explained.
Wasserman, who has lived in Pittsburgh since 2012, grew up on the South Side of Chicago in a secular Jewish family, “but we were very Jewish identified,” she said. “I feel like because of the environment I grew up in — one of scholarship and politics and pursuing knowledge — I feel particularly happy with how the theme of this exhibit turned out.”
With the exhibit, she aims to “introduce this theme of skepticism and uncertainty so you actually question, and by questioning, you embrace other narratives.”
The show features six artists: Lenka Clayton, Lori Hepner, Mindy McDaniels, Gina Occhiogrosso, Diane Samuels and Mary Temple. The work of each artist embodies the theme of doubt in different ways. Each of two works by artist Diane Samuels, for example, seems to be a very different piece of art depending on how closely it is examined by the viewer, in effect casting doubt on the initial impressions.
With both “Moby Dick” and “Scheherazade,” the large pieces have an abstract beauty from a distance, but when viewed from closer proximity — and with a magnifying glass provided at the exhibit — it is revealed that the entire text of Herman Melville’s classic and “The Arabian Nights,” respectively, have been meticulously handwritten on the pieces by the artist.
Samuels, who has done a lot of work related to Judaism throughout her career — including with the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh — said she created the pieces “with a lot of joy,” as well as with a rapidograph, a special architectural pen.
“Moby Dick” is an important exemplification of the theme of doubt and where it can lead, Samuels said.
In the book, Ishmael finds himself having to share a room at an inn with Queequeg, who is very different from Ishmael, with a different skin color and performing a different religious ritual.
“Ishmael is terrified,” Samuels said. “But that terror changes to curiosity, and the chapter ends with Ishmael saying that he never slept better in his life. The book is about confronting the other. Ishmael could have been hostile and angry, but that turned to wonder, then to friendship.”
For Samuels, that message “translates to current events” and the potential for the constructive evolution of doubt.
“Of course there is a lot of fear, but that can change your life in a positive way,” she said.
Hepner explores doubt by using landscape and climate change in her abstract images, creating minimalist shapes from photographs she took in Iceland. The photographs are transformed by “using LEDs, light and movement into abstractions that are barely recognizable as landscapes,” said Wasserman.
“I focus on arctic landscapes that show how climate change is affecting the people who are living there,” Hepner said, adding that doubt comes into play in her work because of “climate change denial” as well as the fact that upon first glance, viewers doubt that the pieces depict landscapes.
Clayton’s “Moons from Nextdoor” series shows what appear to be a series of moons, but upon closer examination are photographs of abandoned balls. The artist “takes everyday objects and finds the poetry in them,” Wasserman said.
The show happens to feature all women artists, but Wasserman did not set out to have an all-woman show.
“It is serendipitous that it happened that way,” she said, noting that if the show instead featured all men, or all white men, “people wouldn’t think a lot about it.”
“But that doesn’t make it a feminist show,” Wasserman explained, adding that she hopes the show will help dispel the notion that “difference separates us, rather than difference is what we all bring to the table.”
While Wasserman has her own interpretations of the works in the show, she prefers to let the viewers come to personal conclusions.
“I really want people to discover things for themselves,” she said. “I want people to have doubts and then think about why that is important. I also want people to think about what it means when doubt goes overboard.”
Wasserman intends for the exhibit to be “a starting point” on the subject of doubt.
“Close scrutiny of the pieces included will reveal multiple layers of interpretations,” she wrote in the material that accompanies the show. “There are always counter-narratives, hidden subjects and other ways of seeing. If we choose to only see the world in the way we are told to see it or have learned to expect to see it, then we are surely missing out.”
SPACE gallery is located at 812 Liberty Ave. “Doubt” runs through March 26.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.