Prama Artspace: Ghost Opera
Prama Artspace has a well established affinity for the macabre. The recent exhibit of works by Cecelia Ivy Price and Linda Mayer– Ghost Opera—was great material for the season during which the sky gets more grey, the nights get longer. Both artists celebrate the mysterious in these works, and as the title implies, they have about them the feeling of haunted theatre.
Linda Mayer’s half-dozen works in the show are part shadow box and part diorama, built into old mantle clocks and other casements. The front openings are each like the proscenium of an intimate stage, and peering in is not unlike looking into a creepy doll house–creepy because they have openings to un-seen spaces, where something is implied: a light flickers through a trap door to the basement, or a door opens to something left in a closet, or stairs go to an attic where quotidian objects of someone’s life are left behind. She said in an artist talk that the works are influenced by the American sculptor, collage, and assemblage artist Joseph Cornell, and locally by La Wilson, who also built her assemblages within the confines of boxes.
The attention to detail and proportion are effectively life-like, and it is impressive that Mayer has hand made almost everything in each box, down to the miniature books that sit on desks and on shelves. Several of the works—perhaps all of them—have tiny bird nests tucked away in some corner: somehow a bird got in and built its own house within the house. Interior lighting is important to their mystery. The tiny bulbs don’t simply cast light in the main spaces, but they do so from behind windows and doors, creating the sense of depth, that something is going on behind the back wall. There are even tiny window panes inside the dioramas, offering their own layers of reflection.
More enjoyable than marveling at the detail, though, is to take the prompts inside each little world and imagine the story they tell: Each book on the tiny shelf, for example, would have its own story. Whose room are we looking into? What is at the top of those stairs? Why was that door left open, and what is someone doing down in that cellar?
Mayer’s works are an interesting pairing with those of Cecelia Ivy Price. What they have in common is the implication of theatricality, which in Mayer’s work comes in the form of set design, and in Price’s comes via paintings on musical scores. It’s as if in her figures she has provided the characters and the arias, while Mayer has created the setting and with her attention to detail, the sense that something has happened, or will soon.
Price dwells on death and its inevitability, the reality of flesh, the mechanics of it. Her figures are not just celebrations of the sensuality of flesh, but include cut-aways and cross sections, revealing bone and muscle and sinew within, as in her largest painting in the show. There’s a strong Day of the Dead influence throughout—not so much mourning that life will end and flesh will decay, but celebrating the fact.
Most successful in this collection are a series of mixed media works created on sheet music. In each, groups of nude bodies cavort and tumble over each other and strike poses inside or around the borders of decorative, diamond-shaped windows drawn into each work.
Prama continues its exploration of the other-worldly in the second half of October with a group photography show called Images of Haunted Ohio. It features works by Markus Abdelmesih, Laura D’Alessandro, Jennifer Gleason. Prama proprietor Sean Mabin, and Jim Szudy, captured in some of the region’s spookiest venues, such as the House of Wills and the Mansfield Reformatory. It opens October 23.