“Translucidity” Envisions a Clean, Sharp and Concise Photo-Universe

Alex La Ferla, Staff Writer

According to the Merriam-Webster and Oxford dictionaries, “Translucidity,” the title of College seniors Caroline Casey and Skylar Sweetman’s Senior Studio collaboration, is not a real word. In the absence of a dictionary-sanctioned definition for the word, a more accurate — but significantly less catchy — title for the show might have been “translucence,” a characteristic evident on a number of levels in the work on display. Light and ethereal, yet surprisingly potent, Casey and Sweetman’s work was revealing, but still shrouded in a disquieting air of surreality.

Casey perhaps embodies this trait more literally in her work, which consists predominantly of small rectangular Polaroid-style film photographs taken through draped or shuttered windows, then organized in a grid according to a general color scheme. This grid is then encased between two sheets of Plexiglass and a frame, these elements altogether evoking the effect of a large window.

In Casey’s own words, the ultimate effect of her art is to “transform the representational into the abstract through fragmentation and reconstruction,” and when viewed from a distance, the result of Casey’s work is a playful and delicate, yet cogent abstraction. The large-scale wash of color and light is made all the more evocative by its contrast with the highly detailed, crisp “pixels” that compose the work itself.

The artist’s photographic compositions are further accompanied by three geometric watercolor paintings on tracing paper pasted over light boxes. Though perhaps slightly less convincing, these pieces serve as a solid addition to the show thanks to their strange glow, focus on primary colors and part vs. whole composition, making the watercolors thematically consistent with the rest of Casey’s work.

The pieces on display by Skylar Sweetman were no less compelling. Her year-long project, which documents the interiors of Chinese, Japanese and fusion restaurants in Northeast Ohio, reveals the degree to which the immigrant owners of such restaurants have conformed to Western conceptions and expectations of an Eastern aesthetic in order to assimilate into American culture. Her photographs emphasize how Disney-fied, homogeneous interiors strip away legitimate cultural differences, instead projecting an ethos based entirely on a generalized “otherness.”

The haunting emptiness of the scenes depicted in Sweetman’s series produces a jarring effect, preventing the viewer from evaluating these spaces uncritically. However, the unsettling uniformity of the empty interiors in her photographs doesn’t detract from the beauty of the work itself; Indeed, the richly saturated and carefully composed images are elegant and sumptuous. The empty booths and tables in her photographs remind us that the artist is not simply documenting these restaurants, but challenging those who frequent them to realize their strangeness.

Sweetman’s work in “Translucidity” was displayed in two sizes: 30”x40” and 20’’x24”. As noted by visiting artist Roni Horn during a critique of her work last week, some of Sweetman’s photographs could perhaps benefit from enlargement: For example, it would be interesting to see certain images, such as those which feature strong horizontal lines obstructing the viewer’s perspective, blown up to a massive scale.

In the end, however, Sweetman and Casey’s work complement each other brilliantly. Together, the two artists create an environment rich in both material and symbolic subject matter that forces us to view our world through a different lens.