Displacement and dialogue

The "Zones of Conflict" exhibition of photographs, inkjet prints and sounds opened Jan. 30 at Valencia Community College East Campus, and it's an inventive DIY adventure -- the self-installed debut of two faculty members from Florida State University, Daniel Kariko and Scott Groeniger. After driving down from Tallahassee a day before the opening and taking over the small Anita S. Wooten Gallery, the duo had everything in place by Friday's evening reception and discussion: Kariko's nostalgic photographic collages juxtaposed against Groeniger's taunting graphic treatments.

It's the first time the artists/educators, who've known each other for about a year and a half, have shown this exhibition, and the first time they've worked together. The deliberate concoction is part of the kick, as is the passion of Kariko and Groeniger. The two men's art and approach are very different, as they play off each other in an assessment of the current world condition. With a pastoral ideal behind us and a technologically fearsome future looming ahead, what will stay the same? What will be lost? There are no answers here.

Inside the gallery, a half-dozen of Kariko's 10 dreamy black-and-white photographic assemblages occupy three sides and the rest spill out into the adjoining lobby area, while the 100 or so squares of manipulated inkjet designs -- aka "giclée" prints -- in Groeniger's "Common Tasks: (half life), 2002" take over one entire wall, turning it into a fragmented grid. There is no particular entry or ending point in the arrangement of the works, set free by a surging sound loop -- pulsing ambient music, the whisper of a panting dog and the roar of passing train -- which alternately invades and subsides. Intrinsic provocations -- physical, emotional and cultural -- are both seen and heard.

Kariko, 27, a graduate of Arizona State University, teaches photography and digital imaging. His personal history, however, informs most of his photographs in this exhibit: A native of Novi Sad, in the former country of Yugoslavia (his hometown is now in the republic of Serbia), Kariko left his home and family when he was 17 and continued his education in America.

"Displacement," he told the group on opening night, is what he feels when he creates his patched-together black-and-white photographs. The photos themselves -- of family and friends, some taken in his teen years in Yugoslavia before the town was bombed, some taken after the destruction; others shot in Austria and America -- appear worn and distressed. He washes them, sometimes erasing the backgrounds, creating a filtered, almost surreal appearance. They look lived-in. Then he stitches together two, three or four photos, crudely, with some sort of stapler, leaving a scar that tracks the forced connections.

"Those are the seams," Kariko explains. They knit the images together, suggesting a healing of fractured lives and cultures. Ranging somewhere in a 4-foot by 4-foot stretch, the composition of the collages/assemblages suggests both a sweetness and a sense of loss. A wistful series of photos of Kariko's boyhood friends boating on the Danube River in the work titled "Pera and Nikola, Danube, Yugoslavia, 2003" is a moving example.

Kariko likes working with the conflict and the metaphors. "There is a terrible beauty in these -- at the same time, there is an ambiguity."

"The photos are documentary-derived," says Groeniger, "but taken together, they become a narrative."

Groeniger, 35, a native of Columbus, Ohio, and a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, teaches design, photo, web, typography, sound and motion graphics. He brings several contributions to this installation, each a story unto itself. Inside the gallery, one entire wall becomes a fragmented grid, given over to the combined display of "Common Tasks: (half life), 2002."

The black-and-white giclée prints incorporated in "Common Tasks" came straight out of the book "A Soldier's Manual of Common Tasks, Skill Level 2." The artist zeroed in on the illustrations, exploiting their value into an iconic and ironic statement all their own. There are about 100 arranged elements, each bearing an oversimplified visual and sometimes accompanying text, such as the diagram marked "Sweeping Traverse." Circles and lines indicate, from a dumbed-down point of view, where a gun should be aimed so the bullets jump up and down in a controlled left-to-right "sweep" as opposed to an even "Traverse," also pictured. Another element shows "NATO" placed in an upside-down triangle, another potentially lifesaving symbol. As many times as you scan the piece as a whole, there seems to be no end to the discovery of the individual surprises.

"The graphics are stripped out of context," says Groeniger. "They become ironic and scary blown up five to six times larger than the originals, so the images fall apart a little and it stresses it out. I like that tension and how it initiates a dialogue."

Also mixed into the grid are squares bearing color video-still shots from "Freeway Condition, 2002." "They are about consumption," says Groeniger, "looking into human influence and the maintenance of the lifestyle." For something completely different, Groeniger threw in "Lake Effect, 1996," two ethereal color prints of a vast sea of blue against the elusive horizon, toying with both ideas of the calming influence of water and the power it embodies in sustaining life. On the big list of world conflicts, "water comes up high on the list," says Groeniger, thus the inclusion.

Most striking of Groeniger's work is the commanding "Hanadi Istishadee." The bold red, white and black graphic design started with a blowup of The New York Times photo of the decapitated head -- bearing a haunting smile -- of suicide bomber Hanadi Tayseer Jaradat published after her Oct. 4, 2003, act of martyrdom. The pixels in the photo form the grid upon which he builds maps, Arabic phrases and military overtones. The questioning of that unexplained smile attempts to stimulate the dialogue that's needed to understand the mysteries of the world-endangering Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

There are different levels of interpretation that can be discovered in this installation, according to Groeniger. There are metaphors playing on three or even four levels, for those who seek them out. But there is much to be understood from both artists' use of the underlying grid.

"It's always going to be there; you have to both embrace it and ignore it," says Groeniger, who could use that phrase in teaching his students as well as he could in discussing the meaning of life. Both artists believe that the shadings of the grid in all walks of life can be influenced by action informed by dialogue. And "Zones of Conflict" serves as a spark for communication.

Zones of Conflict continues through March 19 at the Anita S. Wooten Gallery, Performing Arts Centre, Valencia Community College East Campus; (407) 299-5000; free.


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