In her essentially untitled photograms, Kansas City artist Wessel presents blobs of light that emerge from dark ground, suggesting water, space, infinity and a variety of similar associations with darkness and light. The images are appealing, but there is nothing chaotic or apocalyptic about the work. Instead, it's serene, offering similarly peaceful images of floating light.
Photograms have been around since the invention of photography. In essence, all that's required to make one is photosensitive paper and light. You simply place an object on the paper, expose both to light and then process the paper as you would a photograph. Areas where the object covered the paper will turn out to be light or white; the rest of the exposed paper will be dark. The resulting image often looks like a photo negative. Wessel uses an enlarger and liquids to create her images. "I often will 'pass' an object, for example a transparent record LP album, through the light for a specified amount of time (say 20 seconds) to create form," she writes. "Likewise, I can put a liquid, for example water, on the paper itself and use a crude 'brush' (a wadded-up paper towel) to draw with."
According to her artist's statement, Wessel's photograms emerge from "the idea of forces, process, and time." This exhibition, she writes, "explores an ever-changing turbulent pattern of forces at work.... A vast array of forms sometimes fluid and undulating, other times delineated and notational surface in an irreducibly mysterious space."
Wessel's description of what she's after is intriguing and sincere, but the work doesn't communicate the wonder that she herself derives from these flourishes of light.
"Untitled (Exploding Cosmos)," the largest piece in the exhibition, is a behemoth depicting an orb of color with small blips floating across the picture's space. It follows the same pattern as the rest of the works here: light emerging from or floating within darkness. Oranges, blues and yellows — Wessel uses limited colors — suggest a celestial or underwater experience or just abstract exercises. That ambiguity, present in all of the Pandemonium photograms, both supports and undermines the work.
Ambiguity allows us to make what we will of the art. But some underlying structure or narrative gives us a frame of reference to help create meaning or, conversely, to react against. We look at art to see an artist's point of view, to experience the world through another's framework. Wessel's lack of evocative titles, her repetitious format and her repeated color palette leave us waffling. Too much ambiguity can lead to apathy.