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Artist's 'self-centered' exhibit calls perception into question

| Sunday, Aug. 8, 2004

We all wonder at some point how others perceive us -- beyond the image we see of ourselves.

The image someone perceives of you is not just based on your visage. It's much more. It is the total sum of that person's experience of you, from the first impression to the last.

Hence, most everyone at some point wonders about how they are perceived. It just so happens that Columbus artist John Henry Blatter wonders about it a little more than most.

After all, why else would he fill the entirety of Boxheart Gallery in Bloomfield with audio snippets of people talking about him on and on to the effect of a mind-numbing drone?

"A little arrogant." "He's great." "A little self-centered." "He's wonderful." "He just doesn't seem to get it." "He doesn't see the ability within himself."

Those are just a few of the quotes, ranging from sweet sentiments to sharply pointed criticisms, that should leave most wondering why this humble 32-year-old artist who grew up on a vegetable farm west of Columbus would subject himself to such treatment.

A trained sculptor, Blatter abandoned traditional media while still a student enrolled in Ohio Sate University's undergraduate studio art program. After graduating in 2000, he has since gone on to capture regional attention for his video-based installations that have landed his work in such esteemed institutions as the Columbus Museum of Art.

Local viewers might recall his piece "Untitled (shaving)" that was on display in January at Boxheart's annual exhibition of international art, "Art Inter/National, Here and Abroad."

Comprised simply of a pedestal sink and a monitor that suffices as a mirror, the piece featured video of Blatter shaving, as if a mirror in reverse.

Unlike that work, which is in a sense a self-portrait, here in this installation he reverses the whole notion of self-portraiture. "It's a self-portrait in the sense that it's what everybody else sees of me rather than what I see of me," Blatter says.

That's why nary an image of Blatter can be found in the gallery. Instead, visitors will find six video monitors in the storefront windows of the gallery that display those persons whose voices you will hear inside where a dozen video stills, one of each of them, are on display. Each is in its own ornate gold frame with picture light, in the darkened portion of the gallery that comprises the main part of the installation.

As one already might have guessed, the 12 people talking about Blatter are those who are the closest to him: his parents, his girlfriend, his brother, his cousin, his aunt, his longtime friend, even his boss and a co-worker from the cigar store where he works while passing the time before entering graduate school at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., in the fall.

Although the whole piece might sound a little "self-centered," to borrow a term from one of Blatter's antagonists, it's not without concern for larger issues, the artist says.

"A lot of the issues I have worked with, while personal, are more universal, such as insecurities and relationships with others," Blatter says. "Broader issues that I think everybody has experienced to some degree."

In rebuttal to the various comments about Blatter -- which were responses to seven questions he asked his subjects -- the artist has written letters to each of the individuals involved in the project describing his interpretations of them. They are neatly arranged on an end table next to a spotlighted chair in the center of the gallery.

Although, as one might imagine, the letters offer some interesting reading, while sitting in the chair one gets the sense that it might as well be a psychiatrist's chaise lounge when considering the whole piece in regard to the artist.

"It was sort of a revelation," Blatter says about all the comments. "I guess I didn't realize how common some of the stuff was between the different people, because they were all interviewed separately and no one has seen or heard (the piece) put together."

But as for the viewer, the chair offers much more: a chance to question perception -- not just one's own, but that of everyone around them. Additional Information:

Details

'John Henry Blatter: New Work'

When: Through Aug. 17. Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays.

Where: Boxheart Gallery, 4523 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield

Details: (412) 687-8858 or www.boxheart.org

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