The Concept of Narrative Examined Through Art

Ever since Aristotle identified “Mythos” or “plot” as a core dramatic principle, the concept of storytelling has remained crucial in the arts. The current show at Southampton’s Cultural Center, “Contemporary Narrative,” allows us to examine the nature of such an idea, with variations and interpretations. We’re not quite sure if all the examples in the exhibit curated by Arlene Bujese are truly narrative, but they are certainly intriguing.

Some works are literally about storytelling: Kevin Teare’s “I Wanna Be Your Man” is taken from a song by John Lennon and Paul McCartney where words and musical notes are reproduced on the canvas. Paint dollops are intermingled with the visuals, a particular signature of Teare’s. Another type of narrative (based on history) is represented in pieces by Adler Beegan. One special image of a wildebeest proves the point. Similar to the Lascaux Cave paintings, the wildebeest documents a creature that once played a significant part in the existence of ancient inhabitants, living a million years ago.

Photographs by Marcel Bally suggest an historical narrative as well, reproducing present life, rather than the past, in various societies around the world. Often, sociologists use similar images as a tool to determine and define diverse cultural elements. Of course, Bally’s photographs are fine art and not scientific observation, where light, shadows, composition and points of view convey his own subjective perspective. However, a narrative is still present, motivating the viewer’s imagination. For example, we want to know more about the woman in Iran walking down an alley, away from the camera. Or about the close-up of three boys squinting in the sun. Or about the priest in a long shot, walking through a plaza. With these images, Bally has created both stories and characters. (By the way, Aristotle did affirm that “characters” were the most important aspect of drama, even more so than plot.)

Talk about characters, William King’s figurative sculptures are always extraordinary. But the spectator may ask what they have to do with a narrative? Plenty, if we consider that King’s figures are so idiosyncratic that we question the nature of their behavior and what will happen after they break away from their “pose.” It’s as if his individuals and couples are caught between the past and the future in a present moment that freezes time.

Finally, there’s storytelling as metaphor, featuring photographs by Ann Chwatsky. While we might describe these images as psychological in nature, this “Curtain Series” shows various windows masking the outside with layers of curtains. Thus, we conclude that the curtains are barriers we establish which hide our “ interior” psyche or perhaps our id. Such barriers come in all shapes and settings, from an eloquent velvet curtain with the word “masquerade” on its ballast to a simple blind and cord concealing a blurred image of a tree outside.

“Contemporary Narrative” will be on view through May 22 at The Southampton Cultural Center, 25 Pond Lane, Southampton. 631-287-4377.

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