Arts preview: “Town, 5th, Main, High” at Urban Arts Space

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From the August 21, 2014 edition

For the exhibition “Town, 5th, Main, High,” local artists (and Ohio State students) Jesse Mervis and Robert Ward attempted to capture the character of downtown by investigating six city blocks, from the ground to the sky. Mervis and Ward made more than a dozen expeditions around the six blocks (from South High to Fifth Street and East Town to Main Street) over the summer, snapping photographs and collecting found objects of anything that personified the “zone.”

“[The concept] was to have as natural a reaction to it as possible,” Mervis said. “We wanted to let it speak for itself, which is why we included some of the objects. We wanted it to feel like you were maybe not walking through this area, but find a comprehensive view of something.”

Both Mervis and Ward walked into the project with no requirements about what to shoot, only where, because it was an area the pair hadn’t experienced in-depth.

“It has hints of a survey because if you come up with an area you haven’t been to before and want to find something out about it, you send people to take pictures and collect things,” Ward said.

The result of their journeys, some together, some individually, is a collection of 60 photos (varied sizes hung salon-style in the Urban Art Space foyer) with a handful of objects — from scratch-off tickets to a discarded headlight. The photographs offer an assortment of subjects and styles, partly because of the area’s diverse nature, but also because of each photographer’s method.

“Robbie shoots digital, and I shoot film,” Mervis said. “So he does a bit more rapid-fire stuff and … tends to work a little bit closer to things. I have, as far as photographic instincts go, more of a pull back, landscape way of looking at things. So I was a little bit more interested in composing pictures and thinking about the landscape, whereas he would get closer to things and look for more abstract patterns.”

Regardless of procedure, both used the terms “democratic” and “omnivorous” to describe the project because the process was exploratory, not calculated.

“What I’ll take away from this is to look at things. The grounding concept isn’t our goal,” Ward said. “I think I have a sense of what it’s like to be there. If our project can deliver anything, I’d like it to be that sense.”

Robert Ward photo