mActivity Is “Lovestruck”

Lovestruck  runs through March 1 at mActivity. Lucy Gellman Photo. 

Lovestruck runs through March 1 at mActivity. Lucy Gellman Photo. 

There are two of them, mouths open, garbled language ready to spill out. Green hats on green uniforms on a green background. Red slashes across each shoulder. The rest is a too-long exposure: faces tinged with pink, orange and smudges of bright white. In the bottom left, a drip of pink paint freezes, as if the soldier’s face is not melting off, but unraveling. 

It’s a lot to take in, this screaming sea of North Korean military green. But perhaps the most curious thing about Yikui Gu’s Chorus is its current placement: on the unassuming pea-green wall of a gym, in an exhibition about love. 

Yikui Gu,  Chorus,  2015. Acrylic on bristol board, 9 x 12 inches. Artspace Photo

Yikui Gu, Chorus, 2015. Acrylic on bristol board, 9 x 12 inches. Artspace Photo

So begins Lovestruck, on view at mActivity Fitness Center now through March 1. Curated by Daily Nutmeg Editor Dan Mims, the exhibition takes an unexpected dive into love and its discontents, probing the boundaries of partnership, reverence, affirmation and addiction.

Lovestruck began last year, when Artspace Director Helen Kauder approached Mims about curating a digital exhibition from the organization’s large Flatfile, an archive of previous Artspace artists and exhibitors who have since left New Haven.

Since March 2017, Artspace has been hosting digital Flatfile exhibitions on its website, rotating them each month. Exhibitions are curated by community members on a volunteer basis, with themes and pieces completely up to their discretion.  

“It represents a community of artists,” Artspace Curator Sarah Fritchey said last week, as she installed the exhibition at mActivity. “A lot of the artists in the Flatfile used to live in New Haven, and were working in the region.”

Typically, those exhibitions live only online. But when Fritchey joined mActivity in January, she noticed an installation between the cafe and rows of workout equipment. Delicate sculptures from Susan Clinard hovered from the HVAC system. Multimedia work by Marian Wittink, Hilary Opperman and others lined one wall. Directly across from them, another wall was blank. 

When Fritchey asked, mActivity owner Burch Valldejuli said she was open to another show. She wants mActivity to be a community space, she explained—that's the idea of a gym that has a cafe, free community conference room, and fundraisers for local charities almost each month, "because you have to nurture your soul as well as your body." And Mims’ timing seemed right on—a February exhibition that turned the idea of Cupid and his quiver-full of arrows on its head. 

“I love the idea of an opening with people sweating and coming from the gym,” Fritchey said as she and Paul Theriault mounted the last of the pieces. “Your endorphins are so high, and then you come and look at this art.”

David Borawski,  Untitled (Slick Willy),  2016. Inkjet print on paper, 8.5 x 11 inches. Artspace Photo

David Borawski, Untitled (Slick Willy), 2016. Inkjet print on paper, 8.5 x 11 inches. Artspace Photo

“This is weird!” she added. “And we need more weird in New Haven.”

Lining one wall, works like Chorus are in good company. David Borawski’s 2016 Untitled (Slick Willy) demands a sort of double-take: a pixelated Bill Clinton looks out at the viewer, eyes turned slightly upward, hands clasped just beneath his chin. His posture is fatigued: shoulders rounded, head bent at the smallest of angles, big bags beneath his eyes. Left and right index fingers touch his lips, and touch each other. This is not prayer, but something like wordless confession, and he is asking you to keep quiet about it.

Or Laura Marsh’s Last Cigarette: Cabin Fever Series, rendered larger than life in graphite. Dead center, an estranged pair of lips hovers full and defined, clasped like a clam shell over a cigarette. From a shaded tip, the brand reveals itself—a tiny camel, legs faced forward as its hump rises to the sky. As as white band leads to a circle of ash, you can almost taste it: the gritty smoke, filling one’s mouth and throat with heat. That thing, like those perfectly made lips, that you don’t specifically want, but have to have. That you'll fall for, whether you aim to or not.

These figurative pieces jibe with more abstract works in the show, a lack of pattern, line and reason complicating the narrative even more. In Aspasia Patti Anos’ Trace Movements, we cannot help but think about chance and sparsity, as red, brown and black ink spreads out in no particular direction on the page. 

So too with Kathy DeMeo’s White Lightning, a fever-dream of a monotype with no direct way in, or out, of the piece. Or Dorothy Powers’ Vortex (Red), a multimedia piece in acrylic and oil stick that looks like a descent into madness, if there ever was one. As black lines circle out frenetically, the viewer’s eye is drawn to the center, a red and blue swirl that stares back, an unflinching eye.    

The result is a timely and totally macabre gem. It is the Valentine’s Day exhibition we have all needed—not another glitter- and lingerie-lined piece of froo-froo, but a critical look at the degree to which we control who—or what—we fall in love with. Mims put it a different way at the opening.  

“Like a skilled archer with a full quiver and little if any compunction,” he wrote in his notes, “Love can hurt.”

Lovestruck runs at mActivity through March 1. To view all objects in the exhibition, visit Artspace's website