Stepping inside No Place Gallery, the first work that greets visitors is “threshold,” a striking photograph by multidisciplinary artist Kearra Amaya Gopee that depicts a tattooed foot crossing a rice-lined doorway. Its placement is purposeful, with curator and Columbus native Reg Zehner adopting the piece as an opportunity to “set the tone."
"It's like you’re entering into a new sphere,” they said during a mid-November interview at the downtown art space.
The exhibit, dubbed “Tangible Possibilities” and on display through Dec. 10, exists as a conversation between two artists: Gopee and Cleveland-born Shalla Miller, but also between the works and the gallery, with the pieces placed in such a way that they are given room to breathe. This spacing creates purposeful room for reflection, drawing out unexpected dimensions in the works by both artists. On the gallery’s south wall, for instance, Gopee’s “Tutorial on Radiance,” an otherworldly, cinematic photograph on metal, sits between two comparatively stark, beautifully rendered images by Miller, the contrasts raising questions related to identity and the sexualization and perceived gendering of Black fem bodies.
“I was interested in works that fit the concept, which was an all-Black fem show that spoke not only to their identity, but also their craft,” Zehner said. “I think art can fall back on an artist of color’s identity without talking about the technical aspect of how great the work is, so I really tried to uplift that. I also wanted to expand this notion of how representational politics can be inserted into different mediums, like this metal photo or a video.”
To that end, “Pappyshow in the Dark Time, My Love,” a three-channel video created by Gopee, plays in a loop in the rear of the gallery. In the video, the artist engages in deep conversation with a pair of friends, the subjects ranging from colonialism and the nature of justice to revenge and anti-Blackness. The ominous, dub-heavy soundtrack adds further gravity to the trio’s words, which collectively have a way of bending and reshaping the air within the exhibit once a visitor reenters the main gallery space – to the point where it can feel almost like an entirely new experience.
“The video work holds you in such a way that it feels serious and deep, like you’re lost within this different world,” Zehner said. “You sink into the conversations and the music, and then you come back out and go back to the pieces, and you go down this even deeper hole. … Then you begin to make associations to words in the video, and to specific parts of the conversation, and you notice how detailed the work is, where it feels super tangible and you can almost touch it with your own eyes, it’s so textured.”
Zehner, who recently moved to New Jersey, initially studied fine arts at CCAD before pivoting to curation, drawn in part, they said, by a desire to carve out a space in the art world for those who are not often given a platform. “What I’m drawn to is making space; and making space that doesn’t currently exist for people who look like me,” they said. “But also narratives and histories that don’t usually get the room to breathe.”
This sense of intention shaped every aspect of "Tangible Possibilities," with Zehner considering every detail from the physical space at No Place (they weighed everything from the lighting to the “funky way the floors are” before hanging the work) to the immersive nature of the pieces, which they said necessitate the exhibit's minimalist approach.
By paring down the number of pieces on display, Zehner also amplifies the sense of mystery, since there are fewer places to turn for answers – an element they said they were drawn to in pieces such as “threshold.”
“It leaves so much to the imagination in terms of what’s happening, or the sense of possibility,” Zehner said of the photograph. “And I like not knowing too much about the artwork, because that can lead to more open-ended conversations.”