Culture- ART FEATURE- Terra nova: Uncommon ground at SSG

"Today we seem to be increasingly fixated on things (cell phones, PDAs, televisions, cars, celebrities), and have less and less time to appreciate or even notice our surroundings," writes curator Jonathan Stuhlman in his essay accompanying Second Street Gallery's current exhibition, "Landscape at the Limit."

Yet an interesting aspect of this group show is how the disparate artists have almost all incorporated "things" into their works. Sculptors Matthew Picton and Tara Donovan, for instance, use plastic beads and cellulose tape, respectively, as principal materials, while collage artist Dodi Wexler stitches together everything from sheets of stamps to photos. For other artists, such as photographer MJ Sharp and painter Paul Wacker, manufactured objects form focal points of their "landscapes."

Two of the most innovative works on display take "things" and alter the interior lay of the gallery itself. The branching network of Picton's "Cracked Parking Lot," created from candy-colored translucent beads, rubber, and pins, appears to organically creep across the main gallery's east wall, extending into windows and crawling onto the floor.

Meanwhile in the Dové Gallery, a mind-numbing number of cellulose tape loops, clumped together at varying heights, spread across the floor in Donovan's lacy "Nebulous." Although curator Stuhlman suggests the piece evokes "swirling drifts of snow" and "a topographical view of alpine peaks," its white and grey ephemeral nature seems more cloudlike.

Another work that's less earthbound and more celestial is Wexler's "My Many Moons." For this large wall piece, Wexler has sewn together swirling arcs made from a variety of blue, grey, and green papers, all Swiss-cheesed with haphazard circular cutouts, to yield an airy crater-pocked moon.

Of all the contributors, Sharp takes the most direct approach to landscape, offering color-saturated, time-lapse vistas shot at night. Her eerie compositions, highlighting the tension between human construction and the natural world, call to mind Charlottesville photographer Jon Sheridan's images. Unfair as it may be, I found myself fixated on Sheridan, thinking how his photos would have enhanced the show.

Wacker's desolate, mosaic-like pieces– all but one painted in mournfully drab tones– seemingly addressing a post-apocalyptic future, and Ingrid Calame's abstract pencil drawings on mylar, round out the exhibition. 

Although the artistic terrain of "Landscape at the Limit" is all over the map– sometimes even veering away from landlocked directions– its strength lies in the contributors' consideration of how "things" keep the landscape in flux.

"Landscape at the Limit" is on view at Second Street Gallery through April 28. 115 Second St. SE (in the Charlottesville City Center for the Arts). 977-7284.