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At Praise Shadows, Pandemic Ennui: All Lit Up

Katherine Mitchell DiRico, bow (lean yellow 2), bow (lean yellow 1), and bow (lean pink) on view at "i'll believe in anything for a while," exhibition view, 2022. Image by Will Howcroft, courtesy of Praise Shadows Art Gallery.

“i’ll believe in anything for a while,” Katherine Mitchell DiRico’s solo show at Praise Shadows, treats us to a multimedia installation vibrant enough to counter any lingering winter blues. With looping video, paintings, assemblage, and more, the room pulses with neon.

While at first glance the bright pinks and oranges feel joyous, spend a little time with the work and you’ll notice an unsettling undercurrent, a snag in the sunny warp. From the bowed curve of the table in i’m always tending to the tattered tinsel on stilling life (settle), the pieces seem almost exhausted by the performance of such sustained ocular optimism, and you begin to notice they’re sagging under the weight of all this fun. Like a party that’s gone on a bit too long, hilarity has turned slightly hysterical.

Thankfully for us, DiRico shines when navigating fraught tipping points. A Boston-based artist with roots in Brookline, her work consistently plays with time and our relationship to it. Constructed over the last two years as a site-specific installation, “i’ll believe in anything for a while,” employs sound, light, and synthetic and natural materials to capture the artist’s personal pandemic experience—beach trips with the kids, solo studio practice, correspondence with friends—and explore the maddening dichotomy we’ve all become so familiar with: the crazed elasticity of hyper-constrained time.

DiRico recognizes just how communal our isolation has been. Each piece shifts and wavers as you make your way around the room, prismatic. Small, domed, nestled mirrors and brilliant, reflective surfaces make the work participatory—your response to the work becomes a part of the work itself. Here you are, engaged in this desperate carnival, always just a little off kilter. The soundtrack of this experience, a drowsy, ambient record spinning on a turntable near the door (and available as a piece in its own right), adds to the discordance.

Katherine Mitchell DiRico, i’m always tending, acrylic, latex, string, pop beads, prism, wire, feather, pigment powder, music box, mirror, magnifying glass, light, table legs, 2021. Image by Will Howcroft, courtesy of Praise Shadows Art Gallery.

Katherine Mitchell DiRico, “i’ll believe in anything for a while,” exhibition view, 2022. Image by Will Howcroft, courtesy of Praise Shadows Art Gallery.

In the show’s most striking pieces, bow (lean yellow 2), bow (lean yellow 1), and bow (lean pink), three large neon acrylic rectangles rest against the wall, curved and glowing. The backing has been carefully stripped away, leaving channels of fluorescence. If the pieces themselves represent tired, striving bodies—as DiRico explains in the show’s accompanying text—these rivulets, lit up and shining, are the bodies’ raw nerves.

Luckily, there is as much hope in “i’ll believe in anything for a while” as there is heaviness. DiRico’s work illuminates possibility, and indeed as we experience this show now, the strictures that informed these pieces—quarantines, mask mandates—are beginning to loosen, just as Boston is seeing its first signs of spring. Now, the arrested quality of her work—interrupted art making, projects in various stages of completion—feels less the product of overwhelm and more that we’ve simply, in this moment of freedom, tossed aside our inside toys and rushed out in the open world to play.

Katherine Mitchell DiRico’s “i’ll believe in anything for a while” is on view through March 13, 2022, at Praise Shadows Gallery in Brookline, Massachusetts.

A catalogue from the exhibition is available digitally here. Jessica Shearer is an editor at Boston Art Review.