May 7, 2021


Keep Fit & Healthy

‘Collective Health’ a smart, layered exhibit at Collar Works

3 min read

What kind of person speaks out for Black Lives Matter? Who refuses to don a mask? Who is left out of inclusiveness, and who prefers to be left out? Who can be alive and have no opinion? Who among us is truly woke?

Answer each time: some, not all. But together, it is nearly all, as we try to figure this out: how to be better, how to persuade, how to not get totally pissed off. How to keep going.

“Collective Health” takes very disparate works by over 20 artists to dig into this big stuff, this “new” conversation. It is our collective health—social and psychic health—that the exhibition shouts about. Or whispers and murmurs, if some of the best works in this timely Collar Works show get their due.

You are almost forced to start with a shout: Georgia Lale’s “404,770 on Inauguration Day,” a large US flag sewn out of hospital gowns. This gentle blue and lavender banner is homage to those who have served at the front lines of the pandemic as well as to those who have fallen behind them—the title apparently refers to the total number of deaths domestically by Covid-19 as of Jan. 20.

But a hushed and yet equally forceful start might lurk behind a freestanding wall where Thomas Lail has added a series of blank protest silhouettes of signs, in pure black enamel, on a banner of burlap. Wordless and emphatic, “ Untitled 519-20 (Protest)” is about the art and the act of protesting in the first place.

Soft-spoken and steadfast, “Collective Health” says things that need saying, with layers. The best of the art is about the interstices and overlaps in the current rush of issues. There are few platitudes here, thanks to the smart, adventurous curation by Valery Jung Estabrook and Rachel Frank.

Take an inobvious example, a series of three searing, compact paintings by Australian artist Christina Lucia Giuffrida. In each, two blue-lilac women adventure into an oversaturated natural world, sleeping under the trees as an orange sunset implodes or flailing in a flooded stream by their 1989 Nissan Patrol. The lesbian experience, within what she calls an “acid washed” world, lays claim to the notion that being fully alive includes not being invisible.

A pair of evanescent pieces by Julie Ann Nagle remind us how important the physical presence of art can be. The almost life-size sculpture “Heartbeats” gives us a seated woman made of painted epoxy clay, with living plants growing under a surreal glow light, visible from behind and through the dark torso. She bends tenderly, a kind of fertility symbol, and the purple and pink flowers gush against the near-black green of the painted skin. Nearby, the acrylic painting “Blaze” resembles a smoky fire at first, but it becomes an orange effusion of flowers under what can also be seen as a head of hair.

A lot of this show surprises with joy, humor, and plain old beauty. Some pieces clearly want to confound, like a projected video showing fragments of figures moving over large surfaces, jaunty and peculiar. Other works take specifics—like the women caught in a cross of cultures in the mixed media painting by Arnela Mahmutovic, or the sponges with money painted on them by Eleanor Aldrich—and make their points faceted and indirect enough to draw out rich subtexts.

Never mind that some pieces cover old ground—a video of hands scrubbing, a drawing of remote learning mayhem—they still add to a show that is a chorus of voices mysteriously devoid of accusations. Even the mannequin hand holding an Asian fan with the word “Covid”

crossed off and the word “Chinese” added manages mostly to remind us of the newer verses being added to the BLM movement, the forward march for everyone, collectively.

If you go:

“Collective Health”

When: through May 16

Where: Collar Works, 621 River St., Troy

Hours: Thursday and Friday, noon – 6 p.m., Saturday noon – 4 p.m.

Admission: Free

Info: or 518-285-0765

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