Dry and not so high: SSG fails to summit

Jason Brown and Elizabeth Scofield, "Mountaintop."
Jason Brown and Elizabeth Scofield, "Mountaintop."
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As any fan of Project Runway knows, judge Nina Garcia would rather see an interesting design, no matter how poorly executed, than a competent outfit that’s dull. “Don’t bore Nina!” mentor Tim Gunn regularly advises contestants who play it safe. It’s egotistical, I know, but I wish Charlottesville’s galleries adhered to a similar proviso: Don’t bore Laura!

Case in point, “Mountaintop,” Second Street Gallery’s current installation by artistic duo Brown + Scofield. The inspiration for this site-specific piece is the ecological devastation caused by mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia, a practice which levels peaks for cheap access to coal. Given the violence of the process and its visual impact on the landscape, the source material for  Jason Brown and Elizabeth Scofield's project is rich. Yet the result is, well, blah.

After walking past a suspended light bulb, meant to look like one used in a mineshaft, the viewer rounds a white wall topped by a particleboard and corrugated metal roof to enter SSG’s main gallery. Three small black fabric “mountains,” illuminated from within by incandescent bulbs, sit on the floor near a rocking chair painted black. Two metal troughs filled with coal run the length of the east and west walls beneath tarpaper silhouettes of mountains (tops still intact).

On the back wall, seven bland color photographs, hung side-by-side, show mountaintop mining in progress. Shot by Denny Tyler and Dave Cooper (Brown + Scofield couldn’t bother to take their own images?), the pictures lack artistry and might as well be illustrations for mining company brochures.

And that’s it. That’s all they made.

The gallery’s wall text says, “The artists are trying to make explicit the relationship between personal energy consumption in the home and the larger ecological devastation of the Appalachian region,” but the piece fails to deliver. Neat and sanitized, there’s no violence, no upheaval. Worst of all, “Mountaintop” doesn’t hold the eye; there’s nothing to discover no matter how long one looks.

Meanwhile the Dov© Gallery’s video piece, “Faustus’s Children,” by Michele O’Mara with David Jones and Tim Jackson, offers 45 minutes of self-congratulatory tedium. O’Mara and company parody mainstream moviemaking conventions by using garish handmade sets and artist-friend actors to play out a clich© horror plot with hackneyed dialogue. But purposefully bad filmmaking with irritating camerawork is, in the end, just that. (Don’t give Laura a headache!)

Is it worse to be boring or self-consciously awful? Why even ask? Just move on.

Brown + Scofield's installation, "Mountaintop," and Michel O'Marah's video, "Faustus's Children," are on view at Second Street Gallery through September 26. 115 Second St. SE. 977-7284