rolemodelplaytime: Recent works by Hannah Barrett, Caleb Cole, Jane Maxwell, Randy Regier, Kent Rogowski, and TRIIIBE

By: Elysian McNiff

David Winton Bell Gallery, Brown University • Providence, RI • • Through July 8, 2012

TRIIIBE, Miss, 2010, digital print on paper, 42 x 56″

Exhibition and Bell Gallery curator, Dr. Ian Alden Russell, seamlessly knits together a narrative about the construction and deconstruction of personal and social identities in his playful rolemodelplaytime, an assembly of works by five New England artists and the collective, TRIIIBE.

Kent Rogowski’s series, Bears, introduces the perverse identity based humor of the exhibition. Rogowski inverts teddy bears and photographs them unsettlingly. The experience of looking is two-fold. At first, the inverted bears appear identical but under closer investigation one differentiates Winnie the Pooh from the Care Bear.

Randy Regier’s “toys,” like Rogowski’s bears, make a nod to childhood play. Regier creates objects and strange narratives by physically melding together masculine identities to recall childhood role models. One toy, Dime Star, is a male figure dressed as a police officer, with a cowboy hat beneath an astronaut’s helmet.

Seemingly gazing towards Regier’s “toys” are Hannah Barrett’s portraits of a multigenerational family from Boston. Barrett blurs gender by incorporating copies of historical photographs and paintings in her Weimar period-emulative oil portraits. Her collages refer to the role of inherited traits in the formation and expression of identity.

Barrett’s gender-ambiguous portraits contrast with Jane Maxwell’s series of collaged silhouetted women called Walking Girls. Maxwell uses vintage magazine clippings to suggest that pop culture plays a part in the construction of identities across all generations.

Maxwell’s anonymous women face the pop culture images of TRIIIBE. The striking, massive, altar-like triptych, Pink Lady, references a teen’s changing relationship to her childhood role model, Barbie. A photograph of the triplets posed as beauty queens, Miss Represent, Miss Lead, and Miss Apprehension, implies that identities can be disingenuous.

Caleb Cole, often shown with TRIIIBE, likewise plays with the (mis)representation of identity. His deadpan “self”-portraits are spectacles of curiosity. Cole imagines new identities for people who would wear clothes he finds discarded in thrift shops. His skill in creating new and believable identities is evidenced in the dozen photographs displayed. Cole, like the other artists, demonstrates that identity forming is a fascinating process that can be creative, playful, and purposeful.

—Elysian McNiff

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