Floating in an ocean or lake, 49-year-old Japanese photographer Asako Narahashi partially submerges her camera and aims the lens back toward shore. The resulting four-and-a-half-foot-wide pictures present skewed horizon lines, with distant landmarks listing beyond the dark, scalloped waves that make up the foreground of each shot. The simple conceit of filling much of the frame with water works surprisingly well in its abstract mix of textures: Ueno (2003) features smooth green swells that give way to a pink stippling of cherry blossoms; in Kawaguchiko, blurry droplets unify a composition of soft, indigo undulations against the stark triangle of Mount Fuji. Although a paddleboat can be identified in one corner of Ueno, any feelings of playfulness are trumped by the absence of solid ground; the large scale pulls you into these off-kilter images, conveying a sense of legs and torso swaying beneath the surface, where the unknown might slither up and nuzzle you. In Zeze, a tawny, irradiated glow emanates from the frothy water that fills most of the picture, and the wedge of far-off hills offers scant salvation from the steepening crests. Skyscrapers and bridges seem to rise directly out of the waves, lending the imagery a dystopian vibe. In Jonanjima, a steely incline of water dwarfs a plane angling through the pewter sky—with no land in sight and little color save for molten grays, the passenger jet might be some futuristic Flying Dutchman endlessly cruising over a drowned world.
Sonya Blesofsky folded bricks out of Glassine (an archival wax paper) and used them to “fortify” one of the gallery’s windows; this filtered luminosity reinforces the nimble tone of the show, which employs paper as its unifying motif. Nearby, a section of the gallery has been colonized by Sarah Kabot’s faux ceiling tiles and lighting tracks, fashioned from paper and foam core (Permutation, 2008). The ersatz light stanchions form stalagmites on the floor and jut stiffly from the walls, mimicking the actual fixtures suspended from the ceiling. Noriko Ambe’s Plexiglas flat file is filled with layers of paper from which irregular holes have been excised, creating portable topographies; Susan Hamburger presents a rogue’s gallery of Bush-administration officials rendered in blue ink on paper plates and arrayed like Grandma’s best china in a foam-board cabinet. Elsewhere, Andrew Scott Ross has transformed cut and crumpled gray card stock into a miniature prehistoric encampment that includes figures, cave dwellings, and wispy primitive imagery. The poignancy of this monochrome dreamscape easily transcends its homely materials. Mixed Greens, 531 W 26th, 212-331-8888. Through August 15.
‘History Keeps Me Awake at Night’
By turns kicky and plaintive, this group show offers a spirited homage to the life and work of Lower East Side artist and AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz (1954–1992). Performance duo Lovett/Codagnone’s slide projection (lavender letters onto a black-leather jacket) of a passage from Pier Paolo Pasolini reads, in part: “Where everything has become transgression, there is no more danger.” Carrie Mae Weems’s photo of a blurred viewer taking in a scene of buffalo tumbling down a cliff evokes the self-destructive pressures felt by the “Other” in America; Wolfgang Tillmans’s enigmatic shot of a crawling figure radiates a pungent vibe through its green, seraglio-like light. At times hilarious—when not shocking with footage of the brutal beatings doled out by Mayor Daley’s cops during the 1968 Democratic Convention—Frédéric Moffet’s 2006 video, Jean Genet in Chicago, revisits the French provocateur’s coverage of America’s political and psychic meltdown. A photo by Zoe Strauss, one of the most moving works in the show, riffs on a portrait of Wojnarowicz with his mouth tightly stitched shut: A woman revealing her unglamorous torso is bisected by a picture of a bird flying between taut wires, its wings meeting on the downbeat as if in prayer. PPOW, 555 W 25th, 212-647-1044. Through August 22.
Scott DavisMost of these nocturnal photographs of gas sta-tions, shuttered buildings, and deserted parking lots were taken in California. Davis has a sharp eye for inanimate drama, and his black-and-white prints have a rich physicality—in one shot, raking headlights illuminate a sandy roadside, giving crisscrossed tire tracks the hefty presence of fossils. In 2008’s Thrift Store, San Fernando Valley, a diagonal slash of fluorescent lights casts a dingy glow on cinderblock walls; one of the tubes has burned out, echoing a pair of dark posts and their shadows in the background, forming a geometry of late-night desolation. In another vista, painted lines in a parking lot are repeated in the strips of triangular banners strung between light poles, creating a cat’s cradle of palpable space. These lonely parked cars, forlorn streetlights, and darkened billboards capture a mundane noir, the shad-owy flip side of sunny paradise. Hous Projects, 31 Howard St, 212-941-5801. Through September 6.