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Before Shifting to the Blackness


They used to be everywhere you know, and nowhere more prevalent than in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I’m referring, of course, to construction sites. Wedged tightly between extant neighborhood buildings, you knew them by their fences. Plywood and adorned with city permits, they dotted the area like love letters; promising some form of future consummation.

You see them less often now, but their remnants remain. This is New York after all, and we are forever walking under scaffolding, enduring jackhammers, and coughing past the dust of some new destruction or development. It is the detritus of these endeavors that seems to catch the focus of artist Davina Semo, and the simulation of these materials figures largely in her work.

“Before Shifting to the Blackness” at Rawson Projects (339 Bedford Ave) is a one-person show of the artist and it is a stunner. Using industrial materials (steel chain, reinforced concrete, and steel scaffold braces), Semo creates minimal, sculptural work that packs punches into the slightest of gestures. In “I WATCH THE ONCOMING OF THE NEW THRUST AND DO NOT CLING TO IT AS IT SUBSIDES” the artist installs 35 stainless steel chains into a tight square shape. This work is a joy, enigmatic in that over the course of a just a few moments the artwork intimates alternately; a glittering fetish jewel, a substantial abstract painting, and an op-art color-field mind-trip where links seem to expand and float, vibrating in space.

In the gallery center sits, “HE DOESN’T RECOGNIZE OUR COMPULSION TO LEAVE THE HOME WE BUILT FOR OURSELVES”, a sculpture comprised solely of two steel scaffold braces, center bent at right angles, forming a large, if thin, folded X shape. This work puzzled me initially; so spare were its constituents. Compelled in wide berth around the form, I found myself vacillating between a figurative and an architectural read (the bottom limbs of the X were as flayed legs and the top, as arms flung up in distress). Commanding my imagination and respect, this work impressed, especially considering its hairline material components.

The X shape seems a reoccurring motif for Semo as it appears additionally in two concrete pieces and three etched glass works. My favorite of these is, “THE WORLD AND THE PEOPLE IN IT HAD SUDDENLY SLIPPED BEYOND HER COMPREHENSION AND SHE FELT IN GREAT DANGER OF LOSING THE WHOLE WORLD ONCE AND FOR ALL”. Here the chain link, diamond-like X shape is etched repeatedly across the entire surface of a transparent, mirrored glass pane. Suspended before the gallery’s windows, the work effectively reflects it’s interior and reveals the world outside. This delightful interplay of opposites and paradox seems of paramount concern for the artist; the interior and the exterior, the substantial from the slight, the vibratory and the concrete, and an art objects ability to suggest it’s own meaning whilst echoing the story of the person standing before it. (through Oct. 23rd).

—Enrico Gomez