WESTPORT — Artful journalism or journalistic art? Here’s the nub of a distinction: Journalists follow a strict ethical code. Artists have more leeway. What they produce is open to wider interpretation.
Andy Mills, producer of “Caliphate,” the New York Times podcast about the Islamic State, has never shown work in an art gallery. His photographs and sound are on exhibit at DeDee Shattuck Gallery, in “Witness to Conflict: The Art of Documentary” alongside paintings of explosions by Iraq War veteran James Razko and Kipp Wettstein’s photographs of Sierra Leone’s rain forest.
All three try to make sense of chaos, violence, and degradation. Wettstein shoots tangled, diamond-sharp digital images of the shrinking rain forest near Freetown. His lyrical text matches his camera’s probing reflection of the dense, fertile site, exploring tensions between society and landscape, dissonances brought on by his American privilege, and the symbols, resources, traditions, and horrors that emerge from the rain forest.
Razko saw an eerie beauty in explosions he viewed through night-vision goggles. His small, round paintings echo the goggles’ confined frame. They trap neon green and yellow blasts in resin, making them distant and starry, although details — a melting car, hints of ravaged landscape — remind us of the peril.
Mills freights with devastating information four photographs and three short sound pieces, two excerpted from the podcast. In his photo “Untitled #2 (Blanket),” the dust-covered, lifeless hand of an ISIS fighter pokes out. “Rukmini–Mosul, Iraq; July, 2017” follows Mills’s “Caliphate” collaborator, reporter Rukmini Callimachi, clad in flak jacket and helmet, out of the dark into the sun-splashed rubble of a destroyed city.
Gunshots rattle one audio piece. In another, taut with mounting tension, Callimachi confronts an ISIS fighter with a woman’s accusation of rape.
Journalism documents; art opens doors in our imaginations. All three artists, to varying degrees, do both. Mills’s work is the most visceral. He plants us in a war zone, and makes us grateful to find ourselves only in an art gallery.
WITNESS TO CONFLICT: The Art of Documentary
At DeDee Shattuck Gallery, 1 Partners’ Lane, Westport, through July 1. 508-636-4177, www.dedeeshattuckgallery.comCate McQuaid can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.