Nefelibata: a Portuguese term meaning “cloud walking.” The term calls to mind religious images: hoards of angels, Zeus and his stockpile of lightning bolts, perhaps Peter at the pearly gates. Five young artists centered an exhibition on this term to explore ideas of the spiritual, and bodily limitations. The show, Nefelibata, took place on the first and second floor of the recently opened Whit’s End Gallery in the Starland District.
Passing through the broad front porch of Whit’s End, one is met with a bright, airy gallery space. Since the gallery is a converted residence, the show met certain curatorial challenges. Traversing media, the work on the first floor presented non-objective paintings by Sami Lee Woolhiser, figurative paintings by Nicole Niederman, jewelry and sculptures by Daniella Zeman, watercolors by Caeleigh Griffin and painting and installation by Daniela Guarin. Though the artists had to deal with special challenges like fireplaces and large windows, they made some smart choices about placement. Nicole Niederman presented one of her works on a narrow wall between two large windows, befitting its content and format. The piece was created specifically for the show, and was comprised of five small stacked portraits of the artists. From top portrait to bottom, the background light changed from a bright white to a deep, saturated blue, and the subjects’ heads moved from looking skyward to down upon the earth. Placed between the two windows, the paintings worked in tandem with the environment to suggest an atmospheric, transcendent quality.
Other interesting choices included the placement of Daniella Zeman’s cast resin sculptures. Utilizing the fireplace mantels, her whimsical creatures had a casual air, emphasizing a toy-like attitude. Further adding to this quality was the grouping of repeated forms, calling attention to small-scale reproduction rather than one-of-a-kind pieces.
In glaring contrast to the first floor, the second floor was a dim, dirty, dilapidated space. One could plainly feel a change in atmosphere while ascending the staircase, moving from bright and air-conditioned, to dark and hot. The space was perfect for Woolhiser’s installation “Passage.” Placed amidst stripped wood walls, the piece became a living form, something slightly too large for its contained space. “Passage” was made of large pieces of fabric hung from the ceiling. The fabrics were placed in close proximity, and moved from white to blue. At the bottom of the pieces were organic cutouts, creating a tunnel as they regressed through the piece. “Passage” conjured the concept of the spiritual that the show had claimed to be exploring. It was a clean, inviting form in an otherwise uninviting environment. “Passage” felt like a Morris Lewis in three dimensions: soft, subtlety billowing and full of life.
In print, Nefelibata was billed with the nebulous term ‘spirituality.’ According to the promotional materials, the show explored “themes of transcending tradition, physical body limitations and spirituality.” This is where one sees the problem encountered with so many senior group shows; where much of the work itself can often stand tall individually, it quickly falls apart when thrown under a broad theme that some of the artists are not working with. Strong pieces become weak with their odd-man-out status. One was left longing for thematic cohesion absent from the show. Despite these shortcomings, the future looks bright for these talented young artists. They each have strong voices and will likely soon be showing in convincing, dynamic exhibitions.