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Fred Mitchell’s ‘Tangents’ photos expertly probe accident scenes

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Tangents reframes auto collisions dimensionally and digitally.

Every day for several months, artist and UNLV MFA student Fred Mitchell drove past the remains of a fairly dramatic accident: a visibly pummeled home and the mysteriously abandoned vehicle responsible for the damage. Mitchell began to wonder about the bizarre scene. Why was the car still there? Why did everything remain unrepaired? And most significantly, how had the incident occurred?

This obsession with the residue of impact informs the thinking behind Mitchell’s current exhibition at Fifth Wall Gallery, Tangents.

As someone hypnotically drawn to burnout marks on the road and the scratchy skids that populate barriers lining freeway exits, I appreciate his attraction. These blemishes are street drawings, substituting cars for pencils in real-time mark-making that accumulates with chance and abandon. The arcing lines magnetically retain the kinetic duress under which they were made.

Mitchell kicks this association to mark-making up several decibels. Each of the six photo-based works in Tangents engages the remnants of a vehicular collision. The artist photographs a damaged site or car and then manipulates the image, dimensionally and digitally, to retrace its path or correct the damage.

The Details

Tangents
Four and a half stars
Through April 7; Monday, 6-9 p.m.; Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Fifth Wall Gallery, inside Emergency Arts, 592-1467

In works like “Everything Else,” the artist attempts to return a site to its previous condition. A distorted section of fencing is forced back into its pre-collision alignment, with Mitchell not only digitally straightening mangled wrought iron but physically altering the dibond on which the image is printed, literally rebuilding a stone wall dimensionally. Using a process called hydroforming, Mitchell creates a muscular relief out of the surface of the print. This 2D/3D reframing wildly distorts the pristine terrain surrounding the damaged area. Reconstructing the site transforms the point of impact into the eye of a storm, a vortex of tension. Corrective collateral damage multiplies in ripple effect from the manipulated area, swirling shapes and puckering the edges of the original photograph. The past is made almost perfect at the cost of the present, all while smartly interrogating methods of reproduction.

In an altogether different strategy, “Rephotograph” suspends a section of crushed vehicle in a corner of the gallery. The architecture itself appears to hold the car in place, on the wall and in one piece.

Other works literally trace and retrace the “mark” of the car, its trajectory of collision, to wildly abstracted, psychedelic effect.

Mitchell sensitively sidesteps morbidity, more formal exercise than sensationalism or exploitation. The work is vaguely reminiscent of San Francisco artist Guy Overfelt’s muscle car burnout drawings or Richard Prince’s muscular hood series, not to mention a wickedly asexual inversion of J.G. Ballard’s Crash. Philosophically questioning the confluence of fate and chance, Tangents probes strategies in drawing, sculpture and image-based reproduction with an innovative eye.

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Danielle Kelly

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