A hundred years after Picasso and Braque introduced cubism, challenging the idea that painters should describe their subjects from a single point of perception, Bill Shannon has extended cubist principles by using 21st-century technologies.
Pittsburgh-based Shannon is internationally known for his skateboarding and hip-hop movement-based work, which he performs on crutches due to a degenerative hip disease. Some of that work is referenced in Make Moves, at the Irma Freeman Center. But this solo exhibition focuses on recent work in which Shannon grapples with materials — the remains of infrastructure, the human body, substances that cannot be recycled, but that can be reused — and reshapes them in ways both surprising and appropriate.
In Shannon's Fragmentation Series: Live installation, an unclothed model stands a few feet from a "tree" of video cameras and projectors. Video images of different parts of her body are projected onto an assembly of transparent holoscreens, canted at angles to create a video representation of the human figure. The holoscreens have a futuristic feel, suggesting how our screen-oriented identities are neither solidified nor fluid. The screens float in the darkened room, offering a mediated experience contrasting with the physical presence of the nearby model.
Our cultural teaches us to understand individuals as whole, complete and constant. But like the cubists, Shannon emphasizes our complexity and our multiple facets; we know one another by our parts. Scale is mismatched; limbs meet in impossible ways. Shannon adds the dimension of time: Our identities are both complex and elusive. The model's movements break down across screens, moving in different directions, at different speeds. Moments of beauty emerge as different parts converge harmoniously and unexpectedly.
Other works eulogize a broken, threatened world. Using found objects, the familiar textures and terrains of Western Pennsylvania are reconfigured into monuments of rusting metal and broken wood. Shannon has a strong instinct for shaping our associations with these materials into language. "Abstract Landscape" could be a tableau of a post-apocalyptic city that feels too familiar to be about the future; "Here Lies Water" mourns the loss of the purity of our water, contaminated by radiation and methane. The works' solemnity is offset by pixie-like sculptural figures that appear throughout the gallery. Whimsy, rather than detracting from gravitas, invites reflection.