Visible language: Pranger exhibit a sight to see
If someone were accidentally to happen upon Ben Pranger’s exhibit at the Second Street Gallery, it would be perfectly acceptable to forgive them for thinking they had stumbled into Ikea.
Not unlike showrooms of the Swedish furniture retailer, Pranger’s work is made up entirely of white space, watercolor tones, and unvarnished wood. His sculpture, some of which can literally double as housewares, also has a touch of the minimalist and might actually rival Ikea for sheer volume of hole-y blocks of wood and dowel rods.
In actuality, Pranger is up to much more than arty emulation of Swedish furniture design. Pranger is intensely interested in pattern and language, and these concepts play out in novel ways in his work.
His “Blind Faith” looks like an unfinished screen or temporary gate. The work consists of two rectangles of wood crossed with wooden slats, which are in turn intersected with oddly placed groupings of wooden rods. The two rectangles are joined at the sides by three sets of hinges.
Without explanation, the work would appear pretty obtuse. However, if there were someone in your party who could read Braille, they might notice that the dowel rods fitted between the cross-slats actually form words– in this case, the entirety of the Milton poem, “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent,” encoded into the structure of this sculpture.
The inspiration for Pranger’s language objects came from an H.G. Wells story, “In the Country of the Blind,” and similarly literary and blind culture references inform much of the rest of the work, including theme-minded quotes from Helen Keller, lines from the children’s song “Three Blind Mice,” and excerpts from the Wells story.
Pranger’s watercolors are very much two-dimensional extensions of the same concepts. In subtly varying degrees of the same hue, Pranger’s watercolor marks form lines of Morse code arranged in brilliant, dense patterns. In an almost too-clever gesture, “Blindspot” uses the code for, as Pranger describes it, the texts of thesaurus words between “blind” and “sight.”
The lines themselves are arranged in this loosely rhizomatic pattern, snaking out at right angles from dense nodes scattered across the canvas. Penciled in among the watercolor lines, Pranger has left words of the old fashioned variety, which seem very much related to adjacent words in what looks like a game of denotation and connotation. “Proficient” comes next to “skilled” and “qualified.” Beyond that, “perfect,” then “spotless” and “clean.”
In all, another layer of depth to an already novel and often beautifully realized exhibit.
Second Street Gallery presents “Blindsight: Sculpture and Drawings,” by Ben Pranger through December 1. 201 Second St. NW. 977-7284.