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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Daniella Dooling at the Esther Massry Gallery

3459 Macomb Street, installation by Daniella Dooling
in the Esther Massry Gallery's Vertical Gallery
Navel-gazing as an art form can be messy - and, worse yet, it is usually boring. Fortunately, neither is the case in Daniella Dooling's solo show at The College of Saint Rose's Esther Massry Gallery in Albany (which ended on Dec. 7).

The somewhat perplexingly titled Bloody Dick Road in the Big Hole Valley: Files from the Girl in Room 10 is essentially a full-gallery installation that features archival arrangements, combine-type sculptures, sound, video, and text. Dooling, an art professor at Bard College, devotes most of the space to critically nostalgic renderings of her childhood and teenage years, using carefully preserved artifacts from her life and the lives of certain key relatives (more on them in a bit), as well as other (presumably) found and created objects and materials.

Busing Break (for Amy)
While such self-centered expression can easily descend into ranting, spewing, and overall self-indulgence, Dooling's is as carefully considered as a Smithsonian scientific display, and is delightfully engaging. Dooling's approach is complex and inclusive, yet spare (as is clearly evident in the installation view shown below). Her sculptural style tends toward a very limited palette and an elegant, pared-down presentation, reminding me of the scientific and philosophical principle of Occam's razor, which favors the simplest solution to tricky problems.

Installation view
Much of the show's content is presented in showcases, cabinets or vitrines, aptly enough for archives, and effective enough as an art form, though I found it sometimes a little tough to see the details sufficiently to satisfy my curiosity. And, with this level of personal material from a teenage girl's drug-filled life, that curiosity easily bordered on morbid fascination.

Witchiepoo
Equally fascinating were the elements of the show that focused on Dooling's remarkable great-grandparents, who explored and promoted healing with homeopathy; grandmother, who published the important progressive journal Parabola; and an uncle owned a rustic Montana guest ranch. Dooling seems to have held on to everything of value from her forebears' and her own past, and here she organizes many elements of it into precise, unblinking displays of reflection and self-revelation.

But Dooling is not a sensationalist, and, to my relief, I found that this is not shock art. Rather, it is sincere almost to the point of sweetness, and was for me especially nostalgic for a number of reasons. Though my own teen years predated Dooling's by about a decade, it seems she relived similar experiences to mine, and though it seems she suffered more for it (the titular Girl in Room 10 was being held in the psych ward after a tough acid trip), it's clear to me she also had some fun (as I did) and got through it all in one piece.

My Grandmother's Parabola
I'd be curious to know how others react to this material - if they had a crappy teen-hood, would this be an unpleasant experience, or would it perhaps be cathartic? If they had a wholesome one, would they be repelled by the young Daniella's drug use and sexuality? My own teen years were drug-fueled, sexualized, and wholesome, and for me personally this show was an especially uplifting revival of memories of those dangerous-yet-innocent times.

Dooling's open sharing of diaries, mementos, and experiences is a gift to be savored, and it has left a pleasant afterglow - not at all the way I would expect to feel after viewing similar content handled by an artist of lesser skills. Bloody Dick Road in the Big Hole Valley: Files from the Girl in Room 10 is one of the year's best shows by an artist who deserves all the serious attention she gets.

1 comment:

Ed said...

I also really enjoyed this show. Delightful. Did you get any clues about the show's odd name?