“When Marco Polo Saw Elephants,” Displacement” At Five Points

Work By Kathryn Myers, Stass Shpanin, 
Ebenezer Singh, Jason Wallengren In Torrington

BY SUSAN DUNNE, sdunne@courant.com
The Hartford Courant, 10:22 a.m. EDT, August 14, 2014

In the Five Points Gallery in Torrington, there’s a found-object sculpture made of hundreds of newspapers bound together to form an arch. Half of the papers in the installation are editions of the Hartford Courant. The other half are copies of Nürnberger Zeitung, a German broadsheet.

The arch, made by Jason Wallengren, is symbolic of the theme of the two shows in the downtown art space. Four artists, each with roots in one country, explore life in another country.

Wallengren said the title of the main exhibit, “When Marco Polo Saw Elephants,” also reflects this meshing of cultures. “We’re all from somewhere living somewhere else,” he said. “There is displacement in the work. … It’s one world seeing another world.”

Wallengren, a native of Hartford and Manchester who delivered The Courant as a boy, now lives in Nürnberg, Germany. The greater part of his exhibit is images of an old railroad bridge he passes every day when traveling from his home to his studio. Dozens of photos of the same bridge, from the same angle, at all times of the day and seasons of the year, are arranged in a grid pattern on a gallery wall.

“I wanted to create a catalog of images. It’s a documentary process,” he said. “I got 360 images.”

Dozens more images of the bridge hang in a circle, like a chandelier, from a ceiling. The bridge also is seen in a slide show, a photo book, a small black-and-white drawing and in concrete models on a pedestal in the gallery.

“The wall shows time in a static way, I wanted also to show it in a kinetic way,” he said of the hanging installation.

Wallengren’s exhibit also features photos taken of himself and his friend, artist Ebenezer Singh, a native of India now living in Brooklyn, N.Y. The photos of Singh, taken in 2009, show him in traditional Indian yoga poses. Five years later, Wallengren took photos of himself in mirror-image positions, and melded the two images together.

Singh is the second artist in the exhibit, and his small black-and-white watercolors, on handmade Indian paper, show him experimenting with various permutations of the traditional Indian elephant motif.

“I started doing elephants in 2007. I started using them as an emotional substitute,” he said in a phone interview. “Indian elephants fascinate me. From childhood days, I would see them in the temples. They are more like cows. They are not treated as wild animals. People interact with them every day. They came to me naturally.”

Singh’s other works, large-scale acrylics on canvas of animals and kids. “Pleasure Ride” stands out for its unique subject matter. “In India, there is this funny shaped automobile called an ambassador car. From the days of the British, they are called pleasure cars. One day I was taken in one of those pleasure cars to a graveyard. It was not a pleasure ride. I am deconstructing the past,” he said.

Judith McElhone, the gallerist at Five Points, says that Singh “gives an Indian’s perspective on the world,” and Kathryn Myers, the third artist in the show, “gives an American perspective on India.”

Myers — an instructor at UConn whose video work is on exhibit now at the Constitution Plaza Gallery in Hartford — creates pretty little gouaches of daily life in India. Curiously, most of her images of that heavily populated country include no people. Some of the images are presented on meticulously treated paper and others are matted to resemble keyhole views of a foreign society.

In the East Gallery, a separate exhibit, “Displacement,” features oils-on-canvas by Stass Shpanin. Shpanin, who was born in Azerbaijan and raised in Agawam, Massachusetts, went to the University of Hartford and is starting his M.A. work at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia.

Even though Shpanin’s exhibit is separate, its theme is the same. The American-raised artist created the artworks in the exhibit while on a trip to Russia, where he noticed that popular imagery of the country could be divided into three categories.

“There’s the era before the Soviet Union, with the czars, there’s the visual identity of the Soviet Union, and then the current Russia has its own visual identity,” he said.

He recreates images found in old photographs, employing abstractions and white space to comment on history. His “Replacement of Power” is taken from a pre-USSR photo of protestors. He removed recognizable faces from the tableau and replaced them with vague blurs.

“This is less about this particular revolution and more about replacement of power,” he said.

“DISPLACEMENT” AND “WHEN MARCO POLO SAW ELEPHANTS” is at Five Points Gallery, 33 Main St. in Torrington, until Sept. 6. An artist talk will be held on Aug. 22 at 6 p.m. Hours are Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m.fivepointsgallery.org