Respite 

A multilayered new show at Artspace offers an interruption of the winter blues.

click to enlarge VCU alum Sukyena Best creates a poetic link between collaged dances that occur directly under her hanging monoprints for an affect that will warm your winter blues. Pictured here is "Condensation."

VCU alum Sukyena Best creates a poetic link between collaged dances that occur directly under her hanging monoprints for an affect that will warm your winter blues. Pictured here is "Condensation."

For me, January is a letdown. Those more positive than I might disagree, optimistically citing the promise of a new year filled with fresh beginnings. But between the holidays' ending, gray mornings and a polar vortex, January ushers in a heavy, melancholic mood that's difficult to shake.

So interruptions are necessary — those colorful, multisensory and intellectually engaging interruptions that force us to snap out of winter's humdrum routine. A new show at Artspace offers such a distraction. Sampling from everyday life, found objects, ethnic dances and comic book narratives, artists create multilayered works that promise to knock off even the dreariest winter blues.

Sukenya Best's "Dancing Ink" pairs the artist's monoprints with a series of dances: Salsa, Bachata, Afro-Cuban, Caribbean-inspired belly dancing and lyrical hip-hop. The opening features a performance by local professional dancers and troupes: "Claves Unidos," under the direction of founder Kevin LaMarr Jones; Boris Karabashev and Baramon Kolb; "Culture 4 My Kids Inc.," directed by LaShaunda Craddock; the "New Covenant Fellowship Family Worship Center International," and Julissa Cruz's "Latin Vintage Productions."

This collaged dance will happen directly under Best's unframed monoprints, hanging like banners from the ceiling. By juxtaposing the dance and two-dimensional works, Best encourages the audience to evoke a new narrative that breathes fresh life into the fixed images, creating a poetic link between the past and the present.

Influenced by the work of Romare Bearden and Yves Klein, Best began making these highly saturated prints in 2006 while attending graduate school at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Impressed on muslin fabric, each print is a visual trace of movements performed by Best and professional dancers. As remnants of a past performance, the monoprints provide evidence of something unseen, a way of remembering that records the movement of the body.

Similarly, "Art-Mageddon: When Pictures and Words Collide, Comic Collaborations by VCU Artists and Writers," is another multilayered work. The exhibition resulted from a new class called Collaborating on Comics, taught by Kelly Alder and Tom De Haven last fall. Each piece is a joint effort, pairing undergraduate seniors at Virginia Commonwealth University with graduate students.

De Haven and Alder also invited guest speakers, including Stephen Bissette and James Sturm from the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vt., as well as Richmond-based cartoonists, publishers and writers. Students received professional opportunities that mimicked navigating the social dynamics and pitfalls of any working relationship. Writers gave short pitches of their ideas and artists chose a story of interest. The ensuing back-and-forth dialogue created the finalized products on display: 10 storyboards of as many as a dozen pages accompanied with illustrations and scripts.

Finally, Melanie Kluender's "The Year of the Snake" causes viewers to rethink the banality of the everyday. Similar to On Kawara's "Date Paintings," begun in 1965, Kluender created a two-dimensional work for each day of 2013 to represent "steady progress." Her colorful, mixed-media collages on paper will hang gridlike, refering to minimalism's "one thing after another."

But her attention to detail and playful subject matter disrupt the notion of meaningless repetition by asking the viewer to come closer and pay attention to the overlooked. As her artist statement reads: "I focus on the process of change and necessity for adaption. … I'm fascinated by the delicate point at which opposing forces meet to create balance."

Finding that balance is important. Soon, bleak winter days will give way to hints of spring. The fields of dead grass that surround my house will grow into hay. Before long the farmer will come by with his tractor to gather it up into neat, bundled rectangles. Likewise, my own burgeoning belly and the tiny incessant kicks remind me daily that new life is on its way. Seasons change and we continue living, one thing after another. S

"Dancing Ink," "The Year of the Snake," "Art-Mageddon: When Pictures and Words Collide, Comic Collaborations by VCU Artists and Writers" and "The Story in the Picture: The Narrative Content of Image" run from Jan. 24 to Feb. 23 at Artspace at 0 E. Fourth St. The free opening reception is Friday, Jan. 24, from 7-10 p.m., with a dance performance at 8. A gallery talk will be held with the artists Sunday, Feb. 23, at 4 p.m. For information, call 804-232-6464 or visit artspacegallery.org.

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