The ICOSA art collective is a nimble organization. Since they moved from Pump Project studios into the Canopy complex in 2018, the 20-member collective has figured out ways to overcome the challenges of rising rents and the rigid gallery model, showcasing the work of its members while also growing community relationships and offering educational programming.
Under COVID-19, the collective is now devising ways of showing art and encouraging the exchange of ideas.
This summer’s exhibition, “In the Absence of Time” pairs the mixed media works of Jonas Criscoe with paintings by Jana Swec. Since becoming “by appointment only,” the gallery doors remain locked a lot of the time. One might imagine the artwork sitting motionless in the dark, like ancient statues in a tomb. To the contrary, on my recent visit, Swec tells me the work has been moving, and she and other ICOSA members have had fun trying out different exhibition formats.
The biggest change is that ICOSA has been taking advantage of its front window space, making it a focal point. Not only are they hanging art in the window, but they are rotating it out on a regular basis. “This will allow those who feel more comfortable seeing the show from afar the opportunity to view the exhibition over a four-week span, in an outdoor setting,” a statement from the collective says.
Swec adds that with the periodic swaps, rather than simply placing works back in their previous positions, she and Criscoe decided to reorganize the art entirely, keeping things fresh inside and out.
Another device they’ve adopted is the QR code. While QR codes have been used in museums for a while now with varied success, it seems they’re having a comeback. From outside the gallery window, you scan the code with a smartphone and link to information about the exhibition including video talks by the artists. There’s also a handy code that gives you access to the exhibition checklist. In a situation in which audiences are increasingly distanced from the actual art and all of the education and dialogue that goes along with it, the code content offers a connection, and something to take home, making the experience more meaningful.
Also making things more meaningful, was my conversation with Swec. The artist has eight works in the show. On the day I visited, the large-scale (72” x 120”) “Ebb and Flow” (2020) took up most of the window space. With her background in commercial sign and mural painting Swec was accustomed to using bright colors, and “was surprised how dark these works became.” She started painting them, she says, after Trump took office. Feeling depressed, she allowed the paintings to manifest the process of working through those emotions. To fully appreciate the dramatic changes her work can go through, she documented its stages and posted “the life of a painting…” on Instagram.
The final version of “Ebb and Flow” features a stark tangle of driftwood emerging from the sea. Clinging to the driftwood, a man-made net encloses part of the marine relic. The net conveys a struggle, and dark clouds loom, yet the scene is also remarkably serene. And while threat to environment is conveyed, Swec’s goal is not political but personal. She talks about these painting being therapeutic, chronicling her highs and lows, ebbs and flows.
Like Swec’s paintings, Criscoe’s works reflect interests in pattern and transformation. Known for silkscreens, collage and encaustic work, most of Criscoe’s imagery is rooted in the urban environment rather than the natural one. He draws from high and low, repeating isometric cubes resembling colorful children’s blocks, mixed with circuit board diagrams, mixed with Jean- Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ canonical “Odalisque.” Increasingly, Criscoe has been moving from collage to assemblage and sculpture becoming what he calls “less about window on the world and more about object.”
The wax element in encaustic makes it an inherently textured media and Criscoe’s addition of insulation caulk, wood bits and rendering of 3-D shapes emphasizes the built up-ness or growth of the piece, while rough, missing and unfinished parts suggest removal or decay.
Lastly, I must mention Swec’s “Isolation #2,” an acrylic on panel from a pair of works that also appeared in ICOSA’s previous show “Coping Mechanisms.” Dramatically smaller in scale than “Ebb and Flow”, this abstract work is an example of how something simple can evoke complex responses. The shape resembles a veil, similar to the net motif in other works. Or maybe it’s a trace of a bioluminescent wave? A gas? Some supernatural phantasm or merely a thread of cotton trapped in airspace? The artist experimented with black paint finishes to create the flat shiny background. Delicate white ribbons of painted on top, look like they might slip off the support, like a wisp of smoke, and disappear.
ICOSA will continue to use their front window in an upcoming show, “public (be)longing | SGMRT” showcasing textile panels from Singapore MRT (subway) stations. The group has also discussed reaching out to others who perhaps during this unusual time would like to show art in their windows.
“In the Absence of Time: Jonas Criscoe & Jana Swec” is on view through August 8. For more information contact: https://www.icosacollective.com/.