‘Almost Together’ exhibit explores disconnection in social interactions

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The paradox of our technological interconnectedness is a profound disconnect. We’re all guilty of it — taking a concert photo for Instagram rather than enjoying the event, or Facebooking and tweeting to up our social clout. Despite constantly being plugged in, the real-world connections to our communities are more tenuous than ever.

“Almost There,” a group visual art show at the David Brower Center’s Hazel Wolf Gallery in Downtown Berkeley, addresses the rapidly diminishing phenomenon of in-person, face-to-face interactions. The show explores the role of physical spaces — public spaces such as stadiums and city streets — in facilitating or limiting human interactions. More than 250 works were considered for the show. Ultimately, jurors selected the work of 20 Bay Area artists. Although curated from local talent, the resulting exhibit makes a claim about the universal desire and struggle for authentic connection.

From Annie Hallatt’s “Gathering at the Tree of Life: Al-Walaja,” a large mixed-media piece paying homage to a Palestinian protest parade, to Justin Hoover and Chris Treggiari’s “Your Recipes Tell Your Story,” a wood and glass display housing scrawled recipes from various cultures, the exhibition extends beyond the Bay Area and examines critical human connections. “Show and Tell” is a digital video in which volunteers present objects of personal significance to their computer cameras. Two volunteers simultaneously vie for the viewer’s attention in the video’s split screen, and the constructed “Skype date” becomes cluttered and disorienting. We are treated to anecdotes of ancestral violins, fermented kombucha and Incan clay pots. The global implications of our video communication systems come into play when two foreign-language volunteers describe packaged noodles and a carved indigenous urn, respectively.

Clutter is a recurring motif in “Almost Together.” “A Gathering of Soles,” a piece by Judith Selby Lang and Robert Lang, is a tightly cropped photograph of shoes in various states of deterioration at the Point Reyes National Seashore. The cropping of the photograph, as well as the consistent focus on the shoes — there is no romantic blur, no nostalgic vignetting at the photograph’s edges — gives the illusion of continuity beyond the frame, as if the environmental degradation that the shoes represent could extend for miles. The content density in “A Gathering of Soles” is mirrored on the opposite side of the gallery in Brian Donohue’s “Student Section Memorial Coliseum,” a photograph of student spectators at a football game at UC Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium in 2003. The juxtaposition between discarded, decaying shoes and lively spectators reminds us of the disconnect between our lifestyles and their unintended consequences. The gathering of souls at Memorial Stadium is unaware of the decaying shoes on a shore not too far from the game. Disconnect, as it turns out, is no spectator sport — we are all participants.

“Student Section Memorial Coliseum” is one of many pieces that reference the Bay Area. Carlo Abruzzese’s “Mapping: Alameda County Demographics” uses gold, purple, pink, scarlet, orange, peach and white squares to depict the fragmentation of Alameda County population demographics, demarcating borders and internal regional differences with no reference to what populations the colors represent. It is a stunning abstract grid — kaleidoscopic and provocative. The grid is also present in Julie Garner’s “The Chess Players,” a surreal piece composed of woven pigment prints.“The Chess Players” makes a banal street scene more foreign to the viewer than John Watson’s photographs of African villagers, also in “Almost Together.” The woven grid contends that, even in public environments rife with opportunities for connection, our alienation prevents us from interacting authentically with our world.

“Almost Together” manages to connect us with our evident disconnect, bringing together local talent in a highly ambitious exhibition. It is a monumental show, striking right at the heart of what it means to be human in an increasingly technological world.

Contact Natalie Reyes at [email protected].