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“Mutual Intelligibility”
Bullseye Projects, Portland, Oregon
Recommendation by Richard Speer

Anna Mlasowsky, “Rorschach I-XXI” (detail), 2014, sheet glass mounted on plastic, 102 5/8 x 134 3/8” (21 panels, 34 1/8 x 19 1/9 each)

Continuing through February 3, 2018

The latest entry in curator Michael Endo’s heady, often semantics-based investigations, “Mutual Intelligibility” takes as its thematic crux the ability of speakers of related but non-identical languages and dialects to understand one another. Endo has chosen three artists to illustrate this thesis, each of whom endeavors to convey personal experience to viewers who do not share that experience. This assignment, while daunting, is not as impossible as it might initially seem.

In the case of Minnesota-based artist (and former U.S. Army soldier) Jeffrey Stenbom, the experience communicated is post-traumatic stress disorder, chillingly symbolized in “Every Year,” a vast grid of 7,300 kilnformed-glass dog tags, collectively representing the number of military or ex-military personnel who commit suicide annually, based on Department of Veterans’ Affairs statistics. Madison, Wisconsin-based Helen Lee deploys a virtuosic array of media — sculptural installation, video, glass and an interactive work — to distill the trajectory of her life in a Chinese-American family. Finally, German-born, Seattle-based Anna Mlasowsky conveys the need for meditative practice in our culture of sensory overload via an 11-foot-long, 8 1/2-foot-high wall adorned with sheet-glass and plastic panels which reference Rorschach tests. Can art and language bridge vast divides of experience and elicit empathy? This exhibition answers, if obliquely, in the affirmative.

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