Sense of Place: Both Near and Far at Gallery 501

It’s about the here, there and everywhere — all at the same time.

click to enlarge Andrea Modica, Sun City, Florida, photogravure, 22.5 x 30 in., 2000, photo courtesy of Graphicstudio, University of South Florida Collection - Andrea Modica
Andrea Modica
Andrea Modica, Sun City, Florida, photogravure, 22.5 x 30 in., 2000, photo courtesy of Graphicstudio, University of South Florida Collection

Both Near and Far

Through Oct. 28

Open during school hours and by appointment.

Gallery 501 at Howard W. Blake School of the Arts

1701 N Boulevard, Tampa

Event page on Facebook.


Now more than ever, travel is as much a part of our daily lives as other basic necessities. It’s important to experience many places in order to define how one place compares to another. Whether it’s a short commute to work, or a long flight overseas, it can be easy to forget how a place influences us — not just in how we form our identities, but also in how we understand and look at the world around us.

In a multimedia exhibition co-curated by Amanda Poss, Gallery Director of Gallery 501, and Noel Smith, Curator of Latin American & Caribbean Art at the USF Institute for Research in Art, the show includes works by the duo Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse, Victoria Trespando, and Matthew Drennan Wicks, as well as works on loan from Graphicstudio by Abraão Batista, Josiah McElheny, Andrea Modica, José Restrepo, James Rosenquist, and Janaina Tschäpe.

Many of the works are not just about “place” in general; many either reminisce on the Sunshine State or are about where the artist has come from since traveling to Florida. Approaching the topic from an environmental perspective, I can imagine that for Andrea Modica, who grew up in New York City, coming to Florida and being inundated with the lush swamps can be quite a sensory overload. Working with Graphicstudio on a series of photogravure prints, she approaches the countryside with a pair of fresh eyes that see the childlike wonder in the natural realm.

Her perception of the land is so personal that even Florida natives will be able to see their home in a new light. Not only does Modica's art conjure up a wild, prehistoric setting — it also reminds us of our place within nature, whether it’s with a tire lingering in the background of “Sun City, Florida” or the almost architectural tunnel in “Thonotosassa, Florida.”

Abstracted elements of the environment come out in “Breath of Cypress Moon,” a large installation by Mickett and Stackhouse that was assembled at Ringling College of Art and Design in 2013. Requiring the audience to walk around the piece, it makes you aware of your body in relation to the cycles of the moon as you walk from the brightly lit front side to the darkened back.

It’s cleverly ironic that a site-specific work about place isn’t present in this room. Since the installation has been taken down, what is seen in the gallery is documentary; it serves as the last remains of a place that used to exist. In a way, these photos and sketches are not much different than Modica’s views of the landscape: the photographs become a new iteration of the “real” place.

Place doesn’t necessarily have to speak of the present. USF alumni Wicks is a transplant from the west, so his sculpture “The Weekender” resides somewhere between missing the mountain ranges back home and being culture-shocked by his new home. Between the sunlight and bright color palette that marks both nature- and cityscapes, Wicks’s work brings the essence of being blindsided with the glow of purple neon reflecting off the glaze of his ceramic rocky tunnels. Using personal histories of place, there’s something mesmerizing yet ominous in the way the mouths of each tunnel barely open before leading to the next tunnel in an endless loop where the path leads only to itself.

Since many of the works are black-and-white or in neutral colors, with the inclusion of some neon in Wicks’s and Trespando’s sculptures as a pop of bright light and color in the room, the concept of place becomes moody and ethereal. While it might seem obvious that place is understood, the dreamlike quality of many of the works provides enough personal removal to shake up perception.

Batista approaches place by speaking about the future in his book A Brazilian in Florida. His line-work of woodblock prints pulse with the notion of compressed time and space, denoting globalization. One small print depicts a man riding an airplane like a cowboy while another image is a series of portraits smashed together as if to form a continent of faces. Providing further narrative to the visuals, his poetry is striking in its open, honest view of the world. The last line reads:

“Now they are even talking

about a wormhole gap

in the world, and a fellow can travel

quick as a popcorn can snap —

he transports himself to infinity

and returns home to his trap.”

Sense of place is different in contemporary life than experienced previously: we can be simultaneously present in multiple realms, whether in various digital platforms, time-based planes, mind-place existences, or bodily presence. From here and there and everywhere, defining place is a way to root ourselves to life.

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