May 30, 2023
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Life & Culture

The Handwerker Gallery features new exhibition ‘Dark Passage’

The Handwerker Gallery at Ithaca College is showcasing local artists in an exhibition that reflects on the spatial realities modern technology has created and documents a man constructing a mass grave in his own backyard.

The exhibition, titled “Dark Passage,” is open to the public until Dec. 11. It includes two bodies of work created by local artists: “Dissolve” and “The More That Is Taken Away.”

“Dissolve,” created by Sarah Sutton, assistant professor of art at the college, juxtaposes images of the real world with the augmented reality that exists on the screens people carry around.

“[It’s] thinking about how to create a space that incorporates the virtual and the real and kind of our daily interaction constantly looking at the iPhone, constantly looking at the real world and how the two intermesh,” Sutton said.

The 11-piece body of work features small paintings — all in grayscale — that depict images of the virtual realities people see when they look at screens. Sutton said there are elements in each that a viewer may recognize but that it is never absolutely clear what the image is, adding that she wants the audience to find them vague.

“I think there’s enough to kind of get the imagination going,” she said.

The inspiration for “Dissolve” was personal for Sutton. She said seeing the ultrasound pictures of her now 23-month-old daughter, Ella Rose, sparked the idea.

“There was this fuzzy, grainy, blackandwhite image of this whole world going on in another world,” she said. “The images were just so fascinating — how flat they were — yet you could kind of find this dimensionality.”

Sophomore MaryKate Mastrobuoni, a cinema production major, said from a film perspective, the pieces seem experimental — combining landscape and geometric art.

"Dark Passage" also features work by Sarah Sutton, assistant art professor. "Dissolve" juxtaposes real-world images with augmented realities that exist on phone screens.

“Dark Passage” also features work by Sarah Sutton, assistant art professor. “Dissolve” juxtaposes real-world images with augmented realities that exist on phone screens. Jade Cardichon/The Ithacan

“I feel like it’s on such a different level that it’s hard to understand,” she said.

Mastrobuoni said she would have to sit for a while looking at one of the pieces to grasp an understanding of it.

She said she was also fascinated by “The More That Is Taken Away,” the other body of work included in the “Dark Passage” exhibition, created by local artist Ben Altman.

Altman’s work is what he calls “multidisciplinary,” including traditional photos, photos on fabric and video loops. The body of work features Altman himself constructing a mass grave in his own backyard over a period of five years. In some pictures in the work, Altman’s shadowy body sits in the grave.

He said his inspiration came from a visit to his grandfather’s village in Belarus. A member of the village brought Altman and his family to a mass grave that was made when his grandfather was still alive.

Altman said since he has Jewish family ties, many audience members assume his project references the mass graves in the Holocaust. However, he said the sheer number of genocides throughout history pushed him toward a more general interpretation.

“There are plenty of other atrocities and instances of mass graves, including in the present,” he said.

In what Altman calls “Act 1” of his work, he is physically creating the grave, changing and repairing it throughout the first few years. Then, with a video of Altman shaving his head, the pieces transition to “Act 2,” in which he photographs and films himself at the site.

“The More That Is Taken Away” highlights events in history that Altman hopes will compel audience members to think.

“[I want them] to understand that these sorts of histories are relevant to them even if they do not have a personal engagement — that it’s a loss to all of us when these sorts of things happen,” he said.

Mastrobuoni said the exhibit provides a window into the lives of the oppressed.

“It shows you how it really is, and that’s why it’s really powerful,” she said. “It’s sad, but it’s really beautiful, too.”

Mara Baldwin, director of the Handwerker Gallery and curator of “Dark Passage,” said the exhibition is one of four to see the gallery’s walls this school year.

Baldwin said she wants students to disagree with the exhibits and find an “aha moment” that leads them to a take-away they have never experienced before. She said students at the college generally want to form new norms that stray from societal standards.

“That’s why I think that fits really well with Ithaca College’s continuing embrace with the weird and not normal,” she said.

Sutton and Altman will be back at the college for artist talks Nov. 11 and Dec. 1.

Preston Arment can be reached at or via Twitter: @parment