Island hopping for art lovers

The artists of “Archipelago,” a show at Long Island City’s Dorsky Gallery, may play on the tectonics of divisive human nature, but there are no astonishingly explosive volcanoes at this fault line.

SUNY New Paltz Fine Arts alumni Jaanika Peerna, Anthony DiMezza, Jennifer Schoonmaker, Christopher Manning, Ryan Pfluger and Meng-Hsuan Wu exhibit their works in various media, from the two- to four-dimensional, the fourth being video-recorded time. In this way, every artist is an island off the same coast, a fine arts education at his alma mater.

Mapping their present selves on film, paper and on suspended clusters of Plexiglas, the group finds their common topography thematically. Kathy Goodell, one of the exhibition’s three curators, believes “everyone’s work in the show is linked through extreme scale relationships; intimacy versus the grandiose — all characteristics of mapping and geography.”

Scale is of foremost importance in DiMezza’s whimsical selections. His diminutive sculptures, two of which belong among curios at an antique store, are intended to illustrate the human fight-or-flight response as persistent yet ineffectual. “Pepper,” a constellation of crumpled tinfoil pellets lodged in a gallery wall, suggests a spitball assault that, if anything, only grazed its target. “Sparrow,” which upon close inspection depicts a snail on a firecracker, anthropomorphizes the flight impulse, and “Python,” a miniature lobster brandishing its claw in Shakespearean posture at those who would dare squish it, the fight impulse.

Schoonmaker, who graduated from New Paltz this past spring with an MFA, has clearly fought the instinct to work in paint, her usual medium. Instead, she’s sewn patches of crumpled paper on which she doodled what may be the contour lines of varied elevations or the personalized whorls of fingerprints. From afar, Schoonmaker’s organic lines blend into unsightly stains; up close, they’re intricate and hypnotic. Moving closer, in this case, affords a better appreciation of Schoonmaker’s quirky craft.

Ryan Pfluger’s photographic series, entitled “The Men I’ve Met,” is hardly as original. According to the artist’s statement, the virtually pornographic work maps Pfluger’s encounters with gay men he’d met through chat rooms, print ads or mutual friends. The work’s homoeroticism recalls Robert Mapplethorpe’s controversial black-and-white portraits, but fails, more than 20 years after the icon’s death, to make the same impact.

Manning, who experiments with mixed media, alludes to Mapplethorpe’s earlier work in his use of Polaroids. In his piece “Polaroids,” 120 are blurred, shredded or scribbed over, some featuring Manning’s face, others showing scenic views and more still of his sculptures, also on display. Manning’s work best encapsulates the exhibit’s overall mood and purpose: his grid of pictures appears as an unremitting search for identity undertaken, again and again, through still moments of creation. We the spectators are supposed to connect the dots, or, in cartographic terms, envision the exhibit the undersea terrain between islands.

Meng-Hsuan Wu definitely elicits such undersea inferences from her audience. In “On the Move,” a film documenting an expedition she took across the United States wearing a white dress, a pair of double-sided boots and a cardboard book bag shaped like a house, complete with a video screen reflecting her surroundings, she spoke only to people who asked her what she was doing and encouraged viewers to answer their own questions. “You’re creating a home of all the places you go,” a woman in Las Vegas suggested.

In her own words, Wu, who was born in Taiwan, explains that “being in between a traveler and a resident, I am like a river, a container of myself and also a container of all the environments surrounding me. The flow makes me affect the places where I am passing by and reflecting them vice versa.”

It may be difficult to hear some of the dialogue in Wu’s film, due to poor sound recording, but the message that erupts from her work is still the loudest in the gallery.

The SUNY New Paltz program clearly empowers artists to explore unfamiliar landscapes. While some in this exhibit have acclimated to foreign terrain, others are still searching for solid ground.