Nora Byrne
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Words

Arts, Arabic, Adventures

Drifting Around Seacoast New England

Semi-recently I returned to New Hampshire to spend some time with the family and friends I have on the seacoast, and my schedule of hanging out in Portsmouth for hours on end between morning and evening modeling sessions resumed. Since I spent the majority of July in New Hampshire I decided the month's museum review should be focused on a Portsmouth Museum/Gallery rather than a trip to LACMA. After hearing about the Paley exhibit at the Portland Museum of Art I decided it would be the perfect place to write about, until I saw an advertisement for a Drift Gallery show on Little Harbor Road.

Before I started modeling I worked for the Wentworth-Coolidge Commission, a non-profit dedicated to the upkeep and promotion of The Wentworth-Coolidge Historic Site (I still write about it like it's a press release). The site included an pre-revolution Governor's mansion with an attached barn that housed a small art gallery, called The Coolidge Center for the Arts. The space was great, but like many donation-funded organizations during a recession, the Commission had a hard time maintaining the grounds, holding annual festivals, caring for the sculpture scattered around the grounds, holding art classes in the space and continuing year-round gallery shows. Before I left there were talks about getting a dedicated director for the Coolidge Center to use the space to its full potential.

So when I saw the address for the Wentworth-Coolidge site on a Drift Gallery poster, I was intrigued and determined to check it out. After driving the familiar dirt road down to the gallery I walked into a pristine white-walled space with the same exposed beams I had gazed at for hours the past summer. The beams supported a what used to be a cramped and cluttered closet, but is now a loft showing a series of photographs. Underneath this hung photographic works by a variety of artists, while the side gallery displayed work by the well-known Sally Mann.  I was floored. A chat with the gallery attendant taught me that the local Drift Gallery had rented the space, renovated, and put on this modern, well-designed exhibition. They planned to begin holding art classes in the near future. It seemed the Commission's plan to hand over responsibility for the gallery had worked out incredibly.

Kirkpatrick, Wallportrait Ashley 3
(The Garden of Earthly Delights), 2013

The work at the Drift Gallery was really great. While I had heard (and partially agreed) that the photos, like most photos, didn't have as much visual depth as say, paintings, the photography on display made me reconsider my position. Granted, I found the talked-up spartan stills of young thai boxers slightly underwhelming, but the rest of the photography, especially the portraits overlaid with historical works of art (it's like they know me), actually sparked my interest.

The series that really did it, Other People's Clothes, was displayed in the loft and consisted of the artist Caleb Cole often cross-dressed and photographed in different situations that he, as a young white male, would rarely be found in. Since the majority of the works in the Drift involved cross-dressing, the work seemed Cindy Sherman-esque, yet Cole seemed to declare that the modern generation no longer finds it necessary to expose the ridiculousness of gender-designated roles, but rather has moved onto ridiculing the idea of gender itself. He poked fun at both the concept of space designated to the female and the extent to which our everyday actions and clothing choices are seen to reflect our identities.

Cole, Girl in the Backseat, 2007
Photo courtesy of calebcolephoto.com

Cole delves into the concept of identity by taking on other people's. The only consistent element in the photos is the artist's strangely blank yet soulful eyes, always seeming to express a sense of dissatisfaction. No matter what role he takes on, whose shoes he walks in, Cole never seems happy. It's a wonderful visual representation of a commonality in the human experience. The photos, directly referencing of cultural norms and sterotypes, reach a level of depth that even paintings, lacking the sense of documentation that comes with the photograph, may not have been able to replicate. It made me truly appreciate an effectiveness of the chosen medium for a work, how different concepts lend themselves better to certain styles of expression.