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all photos: Alyssa Lesser and Kimberly Cadena

A group show has been around as long as galleries have. You can compare them to living in a group home, if you will. The gallery being the said home, and the artists all united under one roof with some over-arching theme, whether contextual, gender or age specific or else, can be created for any situation and any number of people, though, the more the people involved the less pressure and forced intimacy.

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But when you have only two people involved, the connection between them becomes all the more important. So, with Project 4 opening their Tricia Keightley/Jenn Figg show (and BYT’s Year in Art Spotlight in April), that is the first question we ask Rebecca Jones, gallery’s director: WHY the two of them? WHY together?

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Seemingly, it might not work. Keightley does hyper precise, almost obsessive seeming acrylic paintings, inspired by industry and man made landscapes while Figg’s organic, found-in-nature installations are as site responsive as they are fluid. But, Jones says, this kind of juxtaposition is what she thinks will make the work of both artists stand out (on their own) more.

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Project 4 has always been a space willing to adapt itself to whatever is going to be put inside it: the airiness, the views, the mezzanine style second floor with the little skylights, so much there is open to what is around the building that it almost becomes a non-entity in itself, in the best way imaginable. Keightley and Figg’s work was to work together to transform it for this run and the combination of tactileness of sculptures involved and imaculateness of paintings in the show should complement each other and the space well.

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Both the artists live and work in New York City (albeit both are quick to point out that they both have familial connections to DC, with Keightley originally being from Alexandria and Figg doing graduate work at VCU) so we had to get creative when it came to getting “inside their artists studios”.

First up, we sent Alyssa over to Tricia Keightley’s studio in Brooklyn so you can see the organized chaos that results in her meticulous abstracts, which we learned, often start out without a plan and are never finished until she “knows they are”

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The space itself is brimming with references to retro-futuristic aesthetic she thrives upon: engineering and scientific instruments, how-to manuals (including the Depression Era “Modern Mechanix” magazines) and blueprints

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Each work starts off with an illuminated manuscript inspired base, off of which she builds her world of coils and antennae and industrial topiary.

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A million tubes and specs of paint and ink later, the final product is almost caligraphic in its’ finely calibrated precision, with just notions of chaos escaping the pre-set frame out. Art Forum has compared them to Aubrey Beardsley’s iconic illustrations and it is easy to see why.

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A couple of days after these were taken, Tricia brought the paintings over to Project 4 where, when Kimberly and I stopped by on Wednesday (3 days before the show, when the pressure just starts fully cooking) they were waiting neatly wrapped for Jenn Figg to finish up her installation so they could be placed around.

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And the timing, no matter how busy, is right to catch up with Jenn Figg and Matthew McCormack, her collaborator as they totes tree branches around.

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Jenn works on Governor’s Island, a 5 minute ferry ride outside of New York City but the strict “have to be off the island at 5pm” rules prevented us from dropping in on her studio.

This is not that important though, she points out, because each of these found-landscape structures are evolving and being adapted to the new space they’re in now, so in a way, while Keightley’s paintings began and ended in her atelier, this is as much of a creative process for her as working in her studio on a daily basis is.

This particular show focuses on collected and found discarded wood and creating (maybe unexpected) space for both the materials and human beings to coexist within.

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all the wood, which they collected themselves (under the security blanked of the night) is marked on ends similar to the way “unusable wood” is. Only within the sculptures, what was once considered “unusable” finds it’s new purpose.

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The installation is both visual and structurally functional. While the swing that Figg is building actually has a purposeful point of weakness (don’t sit on it) the ladder which rolls from the top floor to the ground and around the space is intended to be strong enough for ANYONE to climb (for what it is worth, Kimberly and I both hope someone does-ed)

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I ask how hard was it for a visual artist to have to consider structural soundness and Figg replies “Pretty soon you realize that you can make a ladder that works, but maybe looks a little janky, and I am ok with that, or a ladder that is absolutely beautiful but does nothing what a ladder should. We are trying to get people to interact with the show so the usability is important to us”

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Each space Figg and McCormack build is intended to be livable and Keightley’s paintiings will later be interspersed within it (Jones, looking already a little tired, but in the best way imaginable, will be in charge of where they go) to make sure the visitor experiences both at any point in time. Keightley and Figg will not necessarily meet or collaborate on what the final show product will end up being, but having the trust in the gallery and the people behind it is all part of the game.

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Having said that, when we visited they had only 72 hours to finish and a lot of found wood still looking for its rightful new home, so we left them to it. Make sure you stop by Saturday’s opening (6:30 pm to 8:30 pm) to see it all come together.

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Project 4  (http://www.project4gallery.com/)  1353 u street nw, 3rd floor washington, dc 20009, OPENING THIS SATURDAY

Check out our previous “Year in Art” spotlight shows in our Art/Design section and if you want more art updates sign up for our “Year in Art 2010″ newsletter

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