Exhibit at The Frame intrigues and confuses

Walking into WELCOME TO MY FAITH IN YOU at The Frame gallery, I was first struck by a large and impressive bouquet stationed in the center. Though not technically part of the show, the flowers lend a simultaneously homey and austere first impression of the space. The exhibition, which opened Friday, is the culmination of artistic exploration by masters student in studio art Gray Swartzel. Sixteen months ago, Swartzel traveled to Manhattan to seek out a woman who would claim him as her child. To accomplish this, Swartzel put an ad in Craigslist, and, after finding a number of potential candidates, chose a woman on a recommendation from a friend who had responded to his Craigslist ad. This led him to Veronica Vega, a Chilean woman. Their relationship is subsequently the focus of WELCOME TO MY FAITH IN YOU, and includes pieces detailing their relationship in media ranging from video, to color photographs, to mystical multimedia pieces. The most dominant piece in the main gallery space is Freudian Drama II, a large video projection that runs on an 11-minute loop. The name is descriptive: the artist and his Chilean mother Veronica Vega sit in the back of a vehicle while discussing a variety of topics with over-the-top and soap opera-type dramatization. This gives the piece a very old-fashioned and intriguing air. Even if gallery goers do not commit to all 11 minutes of video, the soundtrack from the video, primarily emotional recounting about relationships, plays throughout the room as viewers can look at other pieces.

Two stunning and thought-provoking photographs capture visitors’ attention as they are located directly opposite the door. This piece is called Baptism Diptych (The Day We Met). In the photo on the left, a hand is shown, palm up — presumably Vega’s hand — with a drop of blood in the center, reminiscent of a Saint. Behind the hand is a crowded surface, filled with tchochkes, photos, and miscellaneous items, including the bottom half of an ornate cross. The photo on the right shows a man’s chest and torso with a red cross painted in the center. The religious imagery speaks volumes, and definitely lends a tone to the sort of spiritual contemplation at play in the exhibit.

In one corner of the gallery sat the piece Chest, a small chest of drawers that viewers are invited to look into. In the drawers are leather gloves, a fur mitten, and cyanotypes of Jesus. This piece is fun and gives an aura of authentic items that one may find in a home. Perhaps my favorite piece was Cradle (His Through Her), which was a shiny crib that glowed in the darkness of The Frame’s back room. Inside the crib was velvet embroidered with two different designs, slightly intertwined. The soundtrack playing was of the artist and Vega, speaking and singing together. The audio piece, Something Stupid, made the whole exhibit seem more playful, as it seemed like a mother and son engaged in playful and humorous banter and singing. It reminded me of sing-alongs in the car with my family when I was growing up, only a lot weirder. To me, the exhibit raised more questions than it answered. Who is this woman in Manhattan? Why did she want a child? What were Swartzel’s motives in going on this journey? I left the gallery feeling intrigued, yet impatient and confused. Swartzel’s work fascinates, and makes viewers question the nature of mother and child relationships. Rather than providing answers to questions of motherhood or family, each of Swartzel’s pieces demonstrate closeness between two people, and get viewers to think seriously about parenthood and what it means to be intrinsically linked to another human being. Unfortunately, WELCOME TO MY FAITH IN YOU was just installed for the weekend, but Gray Swartzel’s work and information can be found at www.jgrayswartzel.com.