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June 25, 2013

Black Abstract — Mary Ann Aitken — 1983-2011

By Jim Welke

What Pipeline -- Detroit

What Pipeline — Detroit

Divided between two galleries, Black Abstract, an exhibition of works by Mary Ann Aitken, opened on 7-June-2013. Artifizz got to the show during the ArtDetroitNow monthly gallery crawl known as Third Thursday, which as the name implies happens every third Thursday of the month; the initial one back in February 2013.

Logically, one would first visit What Pipeline, a new gallery on Vernor in Mexican Town at 24th Street. What Pipeline presents Aitken’s earlier work (1983-1989). During this time, she worked in Detroit, acutely aware of and in proximity to Cass Corridor and its notable artists. Her studio resided on the fourth floor of the Cary Building, at the corner of Gratiot & Broadway. Yet she was not strictly a part of the Cass Corridor movement — her work took shape as offspring of that notable Detroit phenomenon with shared traits, but not identical DNA.

Due to the logistics of Third Thursday gallery navigation, this writer took in Aitken’s show in reverse, starting at Trinosophes on Gratiot, just north of Russel Street. Taking on the work in reverse chronological order might have been the right approach. On entering Trinosophes, one sees an assortment of paintings, but also several dense mixed-media works. Formed as rectangles, these pieces consist of what appears to be tar, like the kind they layer onto wharves to protect them from the onslaught of destructive, burrowing sea worms. The surface of Aitken’s work appears sticky, just like the wharves, and embedded in the tar you can see various manifestations of the sea such as tiny snails, lobster shells (cracked open, as though discarded from a meal), small stones, and stems and leaves of plants. In these nascent fossil-like accretions, one senses that the artist felt compelled to convey the notion of relentless reclamation by nature. Everything we see and touch exists in a state of perpetual transformation.

mixed-media 2007-2011

mixed-media 2007-2011

At the time she made these works, the artist faced the late stages of a fatal cancer. Knowledge of her imminent demise may have compelled her to say with these works, “Look. Look at what happens. You won’t escape it. So embrace it, and don’t waste time.”

But the show is not about futility. The later works convey urgency; a yearning to capture aspects of the world the artist saw with clarity, yet struggled to express with the inevitably inadequate materials at hand. One senses the same urgency in works as diverse as those by Vincent van Gogh, Georg Baselitz, Jackson Pollock. This same level of urgency one does not see in the more precise representational works of earlier individualistic revolutions in art beginning with Mannerism, then Romanticism, even Impressionism which all sought to emphasize the artist’s point of view, but conformed to established representational ideals of the time.

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Established ideals notwithstanding, artist point of view took on new importance. To quote a bit on Romanticism from the ever helpful Wikipedia:

According to Isaiah Berlin, Romanticism embodied “a new and restless spirit, seeking violently to burst through old and cramping forms, a nervous preoccupation with perpetually changing inner states of consciousness, a longing for the unbounded and the indefinable, for perpetual movement and change, an effort to return to the forgotten sources of life, a passionate effort at self-assertion both individual and collective, a search after means of expressing an unappeasable yearning for unattainable goals.”[16]

Aitken’s art springs from that now ancient but no less compelling frustration with the gap between what eyes see and hearts feel, and what applied media express. One senses that certain artists perceive things most of us never will, yet could never perfectly express the manifestations of their senses and, once enveloped by that dichotomy, confronted torment.

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Looking back to Romanticism, it seems the very definition of who pursued artistic expression changed. Moving towards industrialization and urbanism, one no longer needed devoted patrons, or to be a denizen of the royal court — to cultivate business connections — one did not need to paint hagiographic religious imagery, flattering portraits of aristocracy, Greek mythological melodrama, or pleasant landscapes anymore. From that point forward, more solipsistic, more turbulent personalities indulged in artistic expression — at their peril, of course, because they still had to earn a living. But at least a down-class artistic aspirant could get off the farm and into the city and find other artists, galleries, museums, and myriad sources of inspiration. That led to wild turmoil for art throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and onward.

Of course, the above elucidation strays into the overbroad — even goes overboard. There were a lot of wrinkles in the progression from Mannerism in the early 1500’s to Romanticism in the early 1800’s to Impressionism in the late 1800’s. But after all that, we come to Expressionism, which finally renders the artist’s state of mind transcendent. Expressionism, from Wikipedia:

The Expressionists had many influences, among them Edvard Munch, Vincent van Gogh, and African art.[20] They were also aware of the work being done by the Fauves in Paris, who influenced Expressionism’s tendency toward arbitrary colours and jarring compositions. In reaction and opposition to French Impressionism, which emphasized the rendering of the visual appearance of objects, Expressionist artists sought to portray emotions and subjective interpretations. It was not important to reproduce an aesthetically pleasing impression of the artistic subject matter, they felt, but rather to represent vivid emotional reactions by powerful colours and dynamic compositions. Kandinsky, the main artist of Der Blaue Reiter group, believed that with simple colours and shapes the spectator could perceive the moods and feelings in the paintings, a theory that encouraged him towards increased abstraction.

Aitken, one might argue, falls into the category (if she must fall into a category) of Neo-Expressionism, which:

… developed as a reaction against the conceptual art and minimal art of the 1970s. Neo-expressionists returned to portraying recognizable objects, such as the human body (although sometimes in an abstract manner), in a rough and violently emotional way using vivid colours and banal colour harmonies.

Take a look at what George Baselitz did, and you might spot some parallels to Aitken. That said, many of her works could appropriately be called Abstract Expressionism, but to this writer her work often diverges from the “emphasis on spontaneous, automatic or subconscious creation” inherent in Abstract Expressionism.

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Aitken’s gestures in her painting, although they often feel a little haphazard, more often feel deliberate, as though she had something very specific in mind she struggled to convey. Labels probably do not matter. Surely they would not have mattered to Aitken, although with her formal art education — BA Fine Art (1983), MA Art Therapy(1989), Wayne State University — she certainly knew them well. To look at her work, one realizes right away that she did not paint to be part of a clique; to please gallery operators; to be pigeonholed in market categories.

She painted for her own edification, and when you observe her layered, re-worked brush strokes you realize she was not likely edified; at least not in her early work.

 

Untitled (white abstract), 1989

Untitled (white abstract), 1989

Some of her early work does reveal a sense of completion, of being finished to her satisfaction.

Untitled (red building), 1989

Untitled (red building), 1989

 

Iron, 1989

Iron, 1989

A degree of calm refinement, a restraint less prevalent in most of her painting, appears in some of her watercolors from the same period. The grace of her work projects unmistakably.

Untitled (brown leaves), 1989

Untitled (brown leaves), 1989

 

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In her later work, her frenetic tendencies persist, but she seems more willing to get down what she could, and leave it alone. Maybe not call it done, but move on. Time was getting short, and she knew it.

Her inkjet photo prints, mostly done between 2007 and 2011, present an elegiac atmosphere of melancholy, but at the same time express her pervasive sense of wonder at the world, possibly a world most can not, or do not bother to see. The images of flowers shot at the New York Botanical Garden appear washed out, leaving only bleached remnants of their former colors — she saw the real glory of them, but artistic renderings ultimately give us this anemic representation she insists.

2007-2011

2007-2011

The images of friends and family in outdoor settings share the same time-tempered quality; gradual decay infuses them, as though to look at these images is to witness that reclamation of all things by nature that her psyche must have been imbued with to the point almost of distraction.

2007-2011

2007-2011

 

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2007-2011

Some viewers may be tempted to dismiss or trivialize her work, but that would be a mistake, indicating too narrow a view. Take in the entire exhibition, slowly. Study the deliberately but carefully distressed photographs; the refined simple watercolors; the forceful intensity of her painting. Wonder at those tar impastos — think about what forms tar, how long it takes, and what she embedded in it. Mary Ann Aitken embodied both a joyful spirit inspired by experience of her universe and the pressure of melancholy imposed by the realization that the lush beauty that surrounds us does not persist. If you look closely at her work, you can’t help gaining a bit more appreciation of the world we inhabit, and the blink-of-an-eye brevity of our existence.

Do not pass up the chance to experience a mostly unrecognized shred of Detroit history — visit Mary Ann Aitken’s work Black Abstract 1983-2011 at What Pipeline and Trinosophes thru 7-July-2013, curated by Aitken’s longtime friend Ed Fraga, Rebecca Mazzei (Trinosophes), Alivia Zivich (What Pipeline), and Daniel Sperry (What Pipeline).

Also, do not miss the outstanding catalogue on sale.

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If you dig this review and want to read more like it, visit www.artifizz.org/Blogs. Oh, and a few more likes on our Facebook page can’t hurt, either. Peace.

June 16, 2013

Detroit Print Exchange 2012 — 4731 Gallery Detroit

4731 Gallery, Detroit

4731 Gallery, Detroit

by Jim Welke

Detroit Print Exchange 2012 (on FB) (website) opened at 4731 Gallery tonight (15-June-2013) on the stretch of Grand River Avenue now known as the Grand River Creative Corridor partly thanks to 4731 (their address on same).

Grand River Creative Corridor

Grand River Creative Corridor

A sizable crowd poured into the gallery, where the atmospherics were amped-up by DJ Super Will and an open bar. But the atmospherics mattered less than the art on the walls. First, you should know the premise of the show. According to 4731’s event announcement on Facebook:

20 artists were selected for participation in a themed portfolio of works to be exhibited at the 4731 Gallery in Detroit. The portfolio features a myriad of traditional printmaking, photography and mixed media work. …

Chosen artists were notified in January of their selection and given three months to create work on the theme “The time we cannot meet”. Tasked with creating an edition of 25 pieces for exchange, the show serves as a way to link artists regardless of geography, and build connections to the city of Detroit as an emerging art Capital. Chosen Artists hail from Tempe AZ to Salthill Ireland and anywhere between.

The Detroit Print Exchange was established in 2012, by Andrew Hawkes as a way to build a community among like minded artists who were separated by geography. As a two-part exhibition in September the show moves to New York, announcement for those dates are coming soon. The exhibition is curated by Hawkes along with Sarah Ayers and Nicholas Mark.

The pictures were spread out over several rooms, well spaced; with a big crowd all the works were still accessible. Each picture seemed to occupy its own niche, and this felt appropriate given the scope of the show. Be prepared, with an effort to give each artist a fraction of due appreciation this story runs long.

After signing the guest book and receiving drink tickets from the affable Juan Carlos Perez, a working photographer who manned the door on this night, a straight path in might lead you to a photograph; a self-portrait by Felicity Palma. A nude, shot reflected in a mirror, the picture captures a woman in a pose that suggests classical marble sculpture, her arm thrown back across her eyes as though shielding herself. But the photo presents her image in a mirror, and the mirror occupies only half of the frame. The other half shows a bare wall, old and a bit rundown. Her pose, and her image fleetingly captured as though she arrived and departed that room of undefined purpose alone, aptly suggests the theme of the show “The time we cannot meet.”

Untitled (Self-Portrait) : Felicity Palma

Untitled (Self-Portrait) : Felicity Palma

Across the room, Miska Draskoczy, offers a more explicit explanation for a meeting deferred: bloodied remnants of a car crash and a life strewn on the ground, including a New York license plate; a crimson shoe; a lipstick, cap off, extended; a wallet, folded open, with a picture exposed of the lower half of a woman’s face, the bisected portrait spattered in blood. One wonders what narrative led her to such a regrettable end.

A Time We Cannot Meet: Miska Draskoczy

A Time We Cannot Meet: Miska Draskoczy

Nate Abromowski brought a car into his photograph, too. (With the gallery situated in Detroit, were cars on especially on the minds of the far-flung artists?) But in this case, the car sits alone, lights on, presumably idling in a vacant parking lot underneath foreboding gray skies. That eerie light that precedes a thunderstorm seems to illuminate an otherwise simple scene with an electrified sense of possibility — or possibility evaporated by a missed connection.

Untitled: Nate Abromowski

Untitled: Nate Abromowski

Robert Andy Coombs puts a witty spin on “the time we cannot meet.” He shows a man with mascara tears running down his cheeks as he reclines theatrically in sheer lingerie and holds an old fashioned rococo French phone far from his ear, as though he tragically discovered that an expected or unexpected rendezvous will or will not happen. The melodrama of the scene makes you laugh, but a jagged melancholy edge of alienation rips at you too.

From the Lady Boy Series: Robert Andy Coombs

From the Lady Boy Series: Robert Andy Coombs

Jonni Cheatwood presents a bride and groom, done up in their wedding gear and holding hands, but smears of paint obscure their faces — daubed over the bride, and poured over the groom. The background looks like those backdrops with the horizontal bars that indicate height in police lineups. What the hell happened here? Sorry. The happy couple regrets they will not attend the reception, the police hauled them downtown. Notably, the groom’s left hand seems handcuffed to another’s hand. This photo evokes unmitigated mystery and enervates the viewer a bit.

Untitled: Jonni Cheatwood

Untitled: Jonni Cheatwood

Rosamaría Zamarrón gives us “Kismet,” a collage on arches paper where she placed two Polaroid images peeled from their backing and tattered in the process, set over a circular coffee cup imprint. The images show that metallic, blue-y, underwater characteristic that infuses Polaroid images, which aside from their wickedly high cost and bulky, battery-eating cameras, likely contributed to their extinction. The shots used here seem cheerful enough — the subjects show contented half smiles — except the man and woman appear at opposite sides of the same table, but not together. Each occupies their little crumpled image alone, as though incomplete and not quite aware of it. The coffee stain at the bottom emphasizes what may have been a long and fruitless wait by both of them.

Kismet: Rosamaría Zamarrón

Kismet: Rosamaría Zamarrón

Aimee Brasseur Bentley, with “outside looking in,” presents a smiling, but imploring woman in an over-inflated tulle-skirted gown extends a hand to a child in an equally puffy gown. Normal enough. Except both cling to a red cord, and float several feet off the ground. Not normal at all, surreal in fact. And you sense that something disquieting goes on here, that the woman may not be all that good, nor the child all that childish. The pale, ethereal aura of the image enforces the sense that we see something rare.

outside looking in: Aimee Brasseur Bentley

outside looking in: Aimee Brasseur Bentley

Eno Laget, with “till we have faces,” produced perhaps the most elaborate piece. Not that steals thunder, but seems to convey this artist’s creative mode: layers of inspiration build to impart meaning. At first glance, the notion that this work fits the theme, “The time we cannot meet,” might elude you, but in fact it does fit. A pair of prints (two that cannot meet?) fit together into a frame secured by ancient hand cut nails that prop the prints in place. The artist formed the frame from an old orange and white reflective road construction barrier. A pocket centered in the front of one print contains a folded road map. The title card invites the viewer to interact (beside which Mr. Laget penned the words “artspeak for ‘touch me’.”) If you do interact and unfold the map on the table provided, you see a painted over roadmap. On one side, a colossus-like Robocop points a gun into the foreground. On the flip side, an image of Malcolm X (El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz) adjacent to a pasted in description of a harrowing day in which his home was fire bombed, his clothes reeked, his lungs ached from the smoke, he had not slept, and he was due to give a keynote speech at Ford Auditorium in Detroit that night.  All this a week before his assination. One of the two prints that inserts in the frame could be an image of Christ (or some other martyred, mythological figure), the other of Mr. Laget self-portrayed with ram horns (or Dwennimmen, a West African symbol for strength paired with humility) and the gaze of a seer. The collection of imagery here — Malcolm X, the misguided but determined gunman, mythological martyr, Mr. Laget — jumble together to form intersections in time that did happen and should not have, and did not happen but possibly should have. So this writer reads it. No matter how you interpret this piece, its maps and images will send you on journey worth taking.

till we have faces: Eno Laget

till we have faces: Eno Laget

till we have faces: Eno Laget

till we have faces: Eno Laget

till we have faces: Eno Laget

till we have faces: Eno Laget

Danielle Burns offers a spare picture of a man grimacing, hand gripping the back of his head. Behind him two children play on the ground in what could be a junkyard, or a back yard cluttered with old engine blocks. The man wears a sweatshirt and fur cap, while the children kneel shirtless on the soil. Is this a man leaving  behind an opportunity to meet, or recalling a meeting that never quite transpired as expected? It seems unclear, but either way you sense anguish.

Untitled: Danielle Burns

Untitled: Danielle Burns

Jennifer Belair’s silkscreen shows the face of the same man three times, with Cubist eyes, as though glimpsed in passing, topped by a gray and black miasma of what might be thoughts choked with memories of figures, places, and words (as characters embedded therein). The man appears to have clownish daubs of paint on his cheeks like a clown would do with red for blush, but these are mostly pale white and he wears a frown. Below him, an almost silhouetted village looms up. The man appears banished from the village and haunted by those murky memories. Meetings in that town permanently postponed. The title of Belair’s work reads, “erinner sie sich” (should that be “erinnern”?), which translates to English as “they remember.”

Erinnern Sie Sich: Jennifer Belair

Erinnern Sie Sich: Jennifer Belair

Eimear Jean McCormack created an abstract serigraph (a print made by the silk-screen process) for the show with intersecting planes of color overlaid with a wire-frame cube the lines of which transition in color as they cross from one plane to another. The colors here suggest almost a negative of a mountain profile. Or an overhead view of a shoreline. Or neither. But the artist chose “Firmament” for the title so the notion of terra firma lingers. This image feels a bit inscrutable, the opposing planes might be a minimalist means of implying the thematic unmet meeting. That cube almost but not quite penetrating the boundary between the planes further reinforces the notion of a meeting not quite realized.

Firmament: Eimear Jean McCormack

Firmament: Eimear Jean McCormack

Renee Willoughby’s “Darling, there’s no such thing as purity” brings a digitally composed abstraction which includes a reclining female figure draped in a gauzy fabric along with a series of geometric images, a series of mathematical-seeming glyphs, and a pyramid-shaped, ray-imprinted outpouring of handwritten prose. A nebulous cloud fills the background, and film-labeling frames the entire image to give a sense of antiquated decay. The image clips the prose streaming from the woman’s fingertips so the narrative becomes broken chatter as though from a talking doll with internal dysfunction. But a sense of motion pervades this image, like objects in orbit that seem destined to collide, but never do and instead circle forever. Meeting forgone.

Darling, there’s no such thing as purity: Renee Willoughby

Darling, there’s no such thing as purity: Renee Willoughby

Tisch Mikhail Lewis presents an image that can trick your eye like those old pictures one sees of a wineglass that suddenly becomes two women. It actually seems sometimes in motion. But the artist created her image with much more subtlety than that. As the image resolves, you see the gentle face of a woman that appears to rest on a flower, and above her a more stern visage of a man drawn in finer detail and printed with a rectangular background, as though a fading snapshot to preserve the equally fading memory of the woman. An arm seems to embrace the woman and the flower and hold the scene together, but possibly it hangs heavy, limp, and lifeless. Black lines on a white field dominate the image, while flowing red echoes some of those lines, and to this viewer suggested spilled blood, as though violence separated these two.

What Do You Know? Tisch Mikhail Lewis

What Do You Know? Tisch Mikhail Lewis

Jared C. Tyler’s photograph shows what appear to be the remnants of violence and bloodshed too, but infused with fantastic detail that sends the mind into an imagined place. A woman, prone on what appears to be a sort of purplish industrial flooring, grips a clot colored, stylized skull. Black, oily smoke rises from one eye-socket of the skull and throughout the image brilliant, blurred, particles descend all around like the glittering particles of frozen condensation that peal away from a launched spacecraft, banal yet somehow fascinating. The wide-open eyes of the woman seem to tell us she died along with the owner of the skull, and we witness the melancholy scene of a Romeo and Juliet-like conclusion.

Untitled: Jared C. Tyler

Untitled: Jared C. Tyler

Georgina Rutherford creates an etching that seems to present night and day views of a surreal landscape, perspective mixed, images tangled. She titled the work “Memory” and that feels apt though a bit unsettling given the jumbled distortions that comprise the picture, as though memory does indeed play tricks. Perhaps night and day are depicted, and similar locations, and similar creatures, but they are not perfectly aligned views. One senses the chaotic elements of nature here, of strange forces coalescing, but this picture does not surrender its secrets so easily, and for this writer at least, remains distant.

Memory: Georgina Rutherford

Memory: Georgina Rutherford

Caitlin Grames uses the figure of a woman overlaid, goddess-like with images of galactic star formation in her work, “Asunder.” The figure throws back her head and extends her fingers with taut muscularity as if inducing something momentous to happen, or possibly enduring the pain of recognition of something that will not. The vast expanses of time all but insure that inhabitants of those stellar expanses will never communicate much less meet, and the thought of that should induce a bit of angst and wonder in all of us. That Ms. Grames overlays the image with an explosion of red (and the title) suggests in this moment that angst — defined as that ineffable feeling one encounters standing at the edge of the abyss and contemplating the free will imposed option of leaping — might outweigh wonder.

Asunder: Caitlin Grames

Asunder: Caitlin Grames

Jonathon Russel shows two airplanes, vapor trails pouring from their engines, and one airplane parked at a gate in his work, “8872 Miles 13 Time Zones 3 Continents.” This constructivist-like image evokes our perpetual motion in near frenzy, which almost precludes meaningful encounters. The planes allow us to meet anywhere, but at the same time keep us hopping, and thus disallow more intimate meetings. The planes at oblique angles in this picture seem to suggest we too often fly past one another.

8872 Miles 13 Time Zones 3 Continents: Jonathon Russel

8872 Miles 13 Time Zones 3 Continents: Jonathon Russel

David Gerhard’s “Searching” implies a soulful quest for something ineffable but necessary, and perhaps not inevitable. A wistful image of a man staring into infinity, almost that infamous thousand-yard stare of a man who has seen too much, overlays a circular, symmetrical, maze-like print suggestive of those found in an Aztec codex. Beneath this, we see ghostly images of figures fleeing through the passageways of cryptically rendered buildings. It seems here the artist might be conveying the notion of meetings of the mind that elude us, recognition of commonality that might soothe our distrust, but nevertheless escape us in the endless turmoil of history.

Searching: David Gerhard

Searching: David Gerhard

Mark Andrus offers a wistful view of “A Time We Cannot Meet” with his photograph that shows a man and a woman separated by a short distance on a sidewalk, but what appears to be an infinite emotional distance. The woman holds a red balloon straining aloft while the man clutches a rose, held downward at his side, and a greeting card in his other hand. The two wear dour expressions, as though both have come to the same realization that they must go in opposite directions despite a palpable urge to do otherwise.

A Time We Cannot Meet: Mark Andrus

A Time We Cannot Meet: Mark Andrus

In “Colophon,” Jeremiah Britton creates with unreal colors and swirling lines a picture reminiscent of art nouveau. (Colophon refers to a publisher’s emblem or imprint, esp. one on the title page or spine of a book.) This serigraph creates a collage feel with disparate images intersecting, but independent and not quite meeting physically or intellectually — they exist apart from one another. At the bottom, a man and woman in Victorian dress reach toward each other, but the woman ominously hovers in the empty space between two brick buildings while the man stands on the top ledge of one. Is this the same woman we see in the larger image? More importantly, will the grasping figures reach one another, or does the woman drop into the infinity between the towers? The answer probably depends on your state of mind when you see this picture, but if Mr. Britton stays true to the theme of the show, one should anticipate the worst.

Colophon: Jeremiah Britton

Colophon: Jeremiah Britton

It seems from the list on the opening event Facebook page that we missed David Birkam. Apologies! Anyone got a picture? If so, please forward for inclusion here.

If you made it this far, forgive the wordiness, but the works in Detroit Print Exchange 2012 seem to warrant individual recognition. They surely merit a visit to 4731 before the show moves on to New York in September. At any rate, what you read here are the views of one possibly (probably?) misguided writer. Go see the pictures for yourself. And sorry the photos suck, but they are all the more reason to get down to the Grand River Creative Corridor and see the show at 4731.

Cheers to Andrew Hawkes, Sarah Ayers, Nicholas Mark and all the crew at 4731 Gallery for making it happen.

 

If you dig this review and want to read more like it, visit www.artifizz.org/Blogs. Oh, and a few more likes on our Facebook page can’t hurt, either. Peace.

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4731 Gallery: Detroit Print Exchange Opening

 

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4731 Gallery: Detroit Print Exchange Opening

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4731 Gallery: Detroit Print Exchange Opening

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4731 Gallery: Detroit Print Exchange Opening

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4731 Gallery: Detroit Print Exchange Opening

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4731 Gallery: Detroit Print Exchange Opening

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4731 Gallery: Detroit Print Exchange Opening

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4731 Gallery: Detroit Print Exchange Opening

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4731 Gallery: Detroit Print Exchange Opening

 

June 11, 2013

Christopher Samuels :: New Works and Short Films

Christopher Samuels: New Works & Short Films opened on Saturday, 8-June 2013 at Popps Packing in Hamtramck.

For the show, Mr. Samuels divided the gallery into three rooms, one for film screening, one for dance, and one for installation work. For the latter, Mr. Samuels transformed the gallery itself into an installation. When you enter, your first thought might be, “What the hell?” The works make use of artifacts of the room to cloud the distinction between artwork and gallery. The gallery is the artwork. You will not see a white cube with objects and title cards beside them. In fact, the work here verges on participatory in the sense that the visitor feels disoriented, uncomfortable, unsure how to react — at least this one did, as did others asked for their reaction — visitors mill about, searching for landmarks in a strange dance of their own.

The room feels spare and industrial, unfinished. A sense of the place, Mr. Samuels said, dictated what happened in the room. He looked around at the odd shaped walls, with alcoves and doorways, and tweaked them with objects he placed thereabout. He hoped the objects would feel organic, he said. They do, but at the same time they are jarring — like a tumor, organic but indicative of illness. An LED light down under a sewer grate, glows upward like a compound-eyed alien trapped beneath the iron bars.

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A set of clinical white curtains across a wide doorway to an alcove, backlit with harsh florescent light, forms another work. That streaming glare from between those curtains, like an operating room dropped into this high-ceilinged former industrial space feels spooky; it almost makes you shudder, and it might if you were alone in that room.

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A semi-circular florescent tube set on top of a pipe outlet inset into the battered concrete floor, the electrical parts of the lamp concealed by a rag, glowed like a strange interface to some unseen, menacing machine.

Nearby, prints of three prismatic color smears in various orientations and resolutions hang beside a simple gray scale transition; all unlabeled, as though readily interpretable or usable to those in the know. But you are not in the know. At least not when you enter this room.

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A projector down near the floor shines the image of a hand, index finger extended, pointing to something unseen on the floor. A piece of glass, propped between the projector and the wall at a forty-five degree angle redirects a washed out facsimile of the moving, gesturing, imploring hand onto the adjacent wall.

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Shreds of foliage adorn an apparently functional gas meter, pipes projecting from a wall and disappearing through the concrete floor. The foliage might be reclaiming this room for Mother Nature, except the foliage is dead and desiccated. Reclamation aborted.

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A black and orange plastic spool rests inexplicably in the center of the room, in peril of stray kicks by passersby. No matter, its relevance, or irrelevance persists.

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Black plastic netting drapes the corner of one wall. Remnants of a former purpose that now only form patterns.

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Up high, concealing a row of windows, Mr. Samuels installed a semi-transparent mural comprised of multiple sheets turned out to the street. During the day, you see the mural in the room, but reversed, like a window sign. At night, the image fades and the sheets take on a pale blue due to insufficient light penetrating from outside.

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In the next room, Mr. Samuels ran his short films in a continuous loop. They are: Indian Shield (4:56), Loosie (4:00), Indian Jim (5:24). All of them projected a haunting sense that disaster lurked around the corner, but all imply disaster might yet be averted. The saturated color hints they were shot on 16mm film, but this effect could be digital magic. The sound comes a bit muffled at times, especially in a crowded room; words get lost.

Indian Shield and Indian Jim featured the same actor, telling a self-revealing story, but from slightly different perspectives. In Hollywood’s reductive shorthand, think Midnight Cowboy meets Blue Velvet: the images seem straightforward, but the soundtrack and the editing create a nasty sense of foreboding. Both feature a man recovering from a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery, but both were about more than that. Indian Shield included additional actors, scenes of the roiling surface of the sun (Indian shield?) and a narrator telling of times when it is safe to stare into its glare. A party, after much tossing back of shots, ends with a peculiar toast to art. The film ends with the lead actor and another man doing Tai Chi beside a porta-john, aching it seems to keep their shit together, even if they are the only ones who believe they actually might.

Indian Jim features the same actor and the same shoulder injury, but he does pushups here, insists on recovery, and ends with the man, shot face on, riding a bike through downtown Detroit at night. With both of these films, one gets the sense of watching a stranger kicked to the curb by a capricious labor market in a post-industrial town where a man without formal education credentials, or adequate drive to re-create himself, ends up disenchanted, deluded, and desperate for a leg up from a society that mostly doesn’t give a damn about him and wishes he would disappear. But he won’t — Mr. Samuels proves that.

Loosie, opens with a woman walking on the sidewalk in a rundown neighborhood. Soon she arrives at a dingy home. She rattles off numerous banal hardships in her life with a cigarette scratched voice, until she finally describes her home as a jail where no one visits. There are lots of close in shots, and her suffering infects the viewer with a desperate sense of malaise. The film ends with Loosie walking down the same sidewalk towards an unknown destination. Things may turn out all right, but one senses that for an impoverished and disenfranchised woman, life is nasty, brutish, and (mercilessly) short.

Towards the end of the evening as scheduled for the opening, Paul Bancell, Megan Major and Sam Horning performed a dance piece that both complemented and extended Mr. Samuels’ transformation of the gallery. They all moved with grace and emanated emotion that suddenly made the small space allotted to their performance seem large. Their use of the “found” stage — not a formal stage with formal lighting and formal wings — mirrored Mr. Samuels’ adaptation of the gallery space. The movement flowed effortlessly and gorgeously from the dancers, and this old meatpacking plant became somewhere else; took on a new set of dimensions.

Mr. Samuels’ show takes the typical polished, tightly curated gallery show and smacks it in the head. This is not the sort of show where “the women come and go / talking of Michelangelo.” You should feel out of your element here, whomever you are. The artwork of Mr. Samuels breaks standard assumptions about the presentation and constitution of art and erases standard descriptive vocabulary for such events. The art here might be described as dadaist (anti-art, embraces chaos, opposes conventional standards); postminimalist (uses existing objects, esthetic depends on form); fluxus (mixes media: sculptural objects, prints, painting, mural, film, music, dance, the gallery space, the audience, the happening, all of it!).

Or maybe its none of that, and just happens to be what Christopher Samuels gives us. No matter how you describe it, Mr. Samuels took a risk conceiving and presenting this show. It’s an all or nothing, what have you done for me lately world for artists, and one misstep can send their career off the rails. So I do define what the artist did here as real risk, requiring real premeditation, and that, aside from subjective artistic merit, is what separates this from what any six year old can do (to refute a remark in a review by a British newspaper of a Henry Moore show). We all need to be smacked in the head once in a while. The show runs through 29-June.

Here’s a poem to ponder:

Apology

Why do I write today?

The beauty of
the terrible faces
of our nonentities
stirs me to it:

colored women
day workers—
old and experienced—
returning home at dusk
in cast off clothing
faces like
old Florentine oak.

Also

the set pieces
of your faces stir me—
leading citizens—
but not
in the same way.

William Carlos Williams

 

June 10, 2013

SAY YES! :: David Edward Parker

Opening, "Say Yes!" at Hatch in Hamtramck 8-June-2013

Opening, “Say Yes!” at Hatch in Hamtramck 8-June-2013

by Jim Welke

“Say Yes!” — an exhibition of works by David Edward Parker opened Saturday, June 8 2013, at Hatch in Hamtramck. A crowd turned out — to get through the door of the gallery one needed to share several pardon me’s, excuse me’s, step aside pal’s to find their way into the exhibition space of what was once the police station for Hamtramck. The intrepid members of the Hatch artist collective purchased the building for a dollar and then invested countless units of blood, sweat, and tears to convert a former bureaucratic nerve center for agents of public order into a nerve center for agents of sometimes cerebral disorder: the wide-open expression of artistic observation and thought.

The two, of course, do not exist in diametric conflict. Art flourishes in nurturing communities, absent the ravages of crime, and right across the street, within the walls of City Hall, the new police station resides. The City of Hamtramck, however, recently fell under the rule of an Emergency Financial Manager, appointed by Governor Snyder as a result (the Governor asserts) of the grave financial situation burdening the city.

Yet, the arts flourish, and in turn nurture their community despite looming economic perils. One hopes the leaders of the city and the governor notice. A good turnout at Mr. Parker’s show means a good turn out for Hamtramck — positive press and all.

Once in, first thing to catch your eye will be three large works, untitled, constructed of wood frames, foam board, and hockey tape. Black hockey tape, crossing over itself in random directions like a maze of two dimensional tree branches. The tape (used to wrap the business end of hockey sticks) covers the entire surface. The artist formed the frames into irregular polygons; polygons that represent recurring shapes residing in the artist’s subconscious and resurfacing from time to time, as Mr. Parker related it. The odd shaped planes echo the random rectilinear patterns of the tape and together they form a cohesive slice of captured chaos, if that makes sense. The unrelenting blackness draws your eyes ever closer, as you unconsciously search for recurring patterns that do not exist. These works seem to toy with our fear of the empty void, the nothingness but not truly nothingness from which everything seems to spring, and to which ultimately everything returns.

Untitled (detail) / hockey tape on foam / 2013 / David Edward Parker

Untitled (detail) / hockey tape on foam / 2013 / David Edward Parker

Adjacent to the large black expanses are four smaller works, entitled “Nervous Geometry,” ingeniously made of graphite on folded paper where the graphite adheres most densely on the previously folded now pressed flat paper. The folds form intersecting straight lines, similar in pattern to those on the hockey tape pieces, but much narrower and much sparser on the sheet. Beside the large black polygons they seem to represent an evolution, passage of time, an expansion of space where the lines become farther apart as their universe expands… and worlds form. Or so this observer sees it.

Nervous Geometry / 2013 / David Edward Parker

Nervous Geometry / 2013 / David Edward Parker

Untitled / 2013 & "Nervous Geometry" / 2013 / David Edward Parker

Untitled / 2013 & Nervous Geometry (1 of 4) / 2013 / David Edward Parker

Another work, Y.E.$ – NFS (graphite on paper, 2011), a triptych consisting of sheets devoted to the characters “Y,” “E,” and “$.” With the pictures aligned side-by-side (and rounding a corner at the far end of the gallery) one immediately reads the word “YES.” But as you approach them, the characters resolve into individual lotto cards dropped like overlapping leaves, as one so often encounters these cards outside the ubiquitous “LIQUOR, LOTTO, CHECKS-CASHED” shops that seem to be the sole source of sustenance in Detroit neighborhoods. The discarded losing tickets on wet pavement stick to the soles of your shoes and insistently remind you of the eternal hopefulness, or in some cases desperation, of the purchasers of these long odd opportunities of chance. Comprised of hundreds of these tickets drawn with incomprehensible precision by Mr. Parker, this triptych seems to mock that syrupy mantra of lotto vendors and users, “You gotta be in it to win it.” The cheerful “YES” feels betrayed by its formation from hundreds of discarded losing tickets that represent many hundreds of precious dollars expended by hopeful or desperate purchasers, dollars that might be more profitably spent on food, clothing, transportation, or rent. The dollar sign at the end enforces this notion of state-sanctioned monitizing of hope.

"Y.E.$" / 2011 / David Edward Parker

“Y.E.$” / 2011 / David Edward Parker

"Y.E.$" (detail) / 2011 / David Edward Parker

“Y.E.$” (detail) / 2011 / David Edward Parker

Surrounding the uniform detritus of Y.E.$, you will see numerous images of crushed pop cans (All The Coolest Kids At 7-11[Coke], [Red Bull], [Four Loco] — colored pencil on paper, 2013) and cigarette packs (Flavor Country, colored pencil on paper, 2013). Like a post-post-modern take on Andy Warhol’s pristine soup cans and soap boxes, Mr. Parker shows these objects as we most often see them: crumpled litter soiling the sidewalks and gutters of our streets. In fact, we see them so often we almost do not perceive them, except convulsively when we cry out, “Shit! Who’s dropping all this crap?” and then comfort ourselves with righteous indignation and resume ignoring them. Here, Mr. Parker carefully renders the crap in both color and form, lifted from the gutter and dropped on a pure snowy white surface. Look at them! Perceive them, Mr. Parker seems to say, they are us, the perpetual output of our civilization, output that seems to have supplanted our prouder output of the past: solid, lasting, manufactured widgets that added convenience, productivity, and prosperity to our lives instead of dangerous crap.

All The Coolest Kids At 7-11[Coke], [Red Bull], [Four Loco] / colored pencil on paper / 2013 / David Edward Parker

All The Coolest Kids At 7-11[Coke], [Red Bull], [Four Loco] / colored pencil on paper / 2013 / David Edward Parker

 

Flavor Country / colored pencil on paper / 2013 / David Edward Parker

Flavor Country / colored pencil on paper / 2013 / David Edward Parker

Flavor Country / colored pencil on paper / 2013 / David Edward Parker

Flavor Country / colored pencil on paper / 2013 / David Edward Parker

Flavor Country / colored pencil on paper / 2013 / David Edward Parker

Flavor Country / colored pencil on paper / 2013 / David Edward Parker

Other work exhibited includes, Quite Revealing, a pink neon sign glowing low on the wall as though a strange interloper commenting on the show… or the visitors. A video, Pleasure Seekers, that captures a relentless stream of strollers at an auto show (Detroit?) gazing happily, wistfully, covetously at the landscape of the latest automobile models, but mostly it seems, just streaming dutifully through the show like pilgrims in Mecca. An untitled (though subtitled “pink sewing”, 2007) oil paint on canvas work hangs by itself in one corner, built from an accretion of nine smaller canvases sewn together, all painted in salmon-colored transitions from darker to light. To this viewer, the work suggested internal organs, squared off like a weird mystery meat patty, but with an eerie, austere elegance. But that might be the unique filter of this viewer’s eyes.

Untitled (Pink Sewing) / oil on canvas / 2007 / David Edward Parker

Untitled (Pink Sewing) / oil on canvas / 2007 / David Edward Parker

Go see the show for yourself. The works of David Edward Parker’s “SAY YES!” remain in the lockup at the Hatch precinct through 6-July. The show will startle and captivate you. Quite revealing, indeed.

June 9, 2013

(in)Habitation :: MOCAD

by Jim Welke

(in)Habitation opened 7-June-2013, at the Museum for Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD).

I’ll House You (2013), by Osman Khan, is the first work one encounters, after passing by the documentary elements of Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead, which runs concurrent with (in)Habitation (both conclude on 28-July). Concurrence invites comparison of these exhibitions, and when you round the corner from the room where Mike Kelley, in an Art21 produced documentary, emphasizes the importance of the “negative esthetic” in art, you depart Mr. Kelley’s fictionalized home space and enter Mr. Khan’s ethereal, schematic representation of an archetypal American residence, but distorted into a leering phantom of that archetype.

Constructed of florescent tubes that sketch out a simplified three-dimensional outline of a pitched roof box like the one we all sketch as children, I’ll House You, goes no further than that with the conceit that this glowing stick box symbolizes the American dream of domestic bliss. The florescent tubes flicker, their harsh glare in an otherwise dark gallery crashes into your retinas with aperiodic dissonance (in fact, a sign outside the door warns that the strobing lights may induce epileptic seizure in those who suffer such seizures). Look around the room. Blueprints, propped against one wall with a two-by-four turn out to be those of the home(stead) where Osama Bin Laden lived and met his demise. A photo taped haphazardly on another wall shows a room in Pakistan, the floor mostly, flood lit by a single bulb with the same blue-ish glare as that which immerses you in this gallery room. The bulb projects from an outlet strip dropped on the floor, forming a nexus for narrow, fragile wires that criss-cross in the air above it. Look down at the floor of the stick figure house that occupies the gallery. As you observe that the floor is constructed of ceiling tiles and the requisite metal framework, your brain, so accustomed to these ubiquitous low-budget building materials appearing overhead tries to convince you an inversion occurred. But the home hovers there, right side up, glowing like the interior of Stanley Kubrick’s spacecraft in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Then you notice that a pre-flatscreen, cathode ray tube monitor stands beside a displaced ceiling tile, wires pouring out of the ceiling fissure like those in the nearby photo. On the screen of the tube, a garish green housefly, tethered to a biologist’s t-pin by a thread, struggles to escape. A glittery, mirrored disco-ball rests nearby, once suspended from this ceiling? Read the title card, the flickering florescent tubes flash out the message, in Morse code, “I’m not capitulating.” Those are the last words of Ionesco’s play, Rhinoceros, the title card will inform you.

Clearly, Mr. Khan intends to shatter, at least for a moment, the overstuffed American notion of cozy domesticity enshrined in our homes, big and small. The very thing that constitutes the main portion of our collective dream, it seems, might be an illusion, like the illusion of righteous conformity that Ionesco’s characters succumbed too. We instinctively feel sympathy for that tethered, doomed fly. But don’t we mercilessly swat flies dead? Nothing remains fixed here, not the ceiling, not home and hearth, not our regard for flies. We move in herds, like the rhinos in the play, and reality becomes subject to negotiation.

"I’ll House You" (2013) Osman Khan

“I’ll House You” (2013) Osman Khan

"I’ll House You" (2013) Osman Khan

“I’ll House You” (2013) Osman Khan

"I’ll House You" (2013) Osman Khan

“I’ll House You” (2013) Osman Khan

"I’ll House You" (2013) Osman Khan

“I’ll House You” (2013) Osman Khan

In a room adjacent to Mr. Khan’s work, Spore 2.0 (2013), by Matt Kenyon, holds court. Framed by the single narrow doorway, you encounter Spore incrementally as you enter the gallery. First you will likely spot the plant, a rubber tree, protruding from the top of a clear acrylic cube. Then you notice a collection of electronic widgets arrayed around the cube, with a mobile phone apparently forming the nerve center. About three inches of water lies in the bottom of the cube. Displayed on the mobile phone, and projected on a wall, we see various images, all related to two things: plant growth, and Home Depot’s share price. Animations of cell growth fill part of the screen, then footage of Bernie Marcus (co-founder of Home Depot) giving a speech, then stock charts, then a digital ticker, then time lapse images of plants sprouting. The title card for this work tells us that when the share price of Home Depot drops (as monitored by the mobile phone) “Spore” receives no water. Alternatively, a bull market for Depot shares brings sustaining water to “Spore.” If the rubber tree dehydrates and dies, the title card points out, Home Depot will replace it a no charge for up to one year after purchase.

This work appears cleverly devised to illustrate through distillation the web of interconnections, both technological and biological, that bind all of us. But the logic here seems flawed: the plant and the share price data received via the electronics ostensibly form an ecosystem (the title card tells us so). But ecosystems require feedback loops. In this case, the transfer goes one way: share price regulates water flow to the plant. No transfer from the plant back to the electronic nervous system occurs. The free replacement of the plant upon its death feels like an amusing canard. The ecosystem, as it is defined here, expires with the plant. If deus ex machina-like you replace the plant, then you create a new ecosystem, which seems like an artificial intervention that resets the experiment but does not sustain it or invoke closed loop feedback as an ecosystem does. Or, does this analysis go to far on the sober/serious spectrum. Maybe Mr. Kenyon shares some wit here, and the piece should not be intellectually overworked. Either way, the work provokes thought, and one does wonder about all the interconnectedness going on around us.

"Spore" (2013) Matt Kenyon

“Spore” (2013) Matt Kenyon

"Spore" (2013) Matt Kenyon

“Spore” (2013) Matt Kenyon

The next two rooms contain works by Jason J. Ferguson, Dining Room and Home Sweet Home, both are elements of his Domestic Carnival Series (2013). Following the path, visitors encounter Dining Room first, a trailer-mounted, carousel-like carnival ride that consists of a multi-colored light-splattered dining room table in the center surrounded by four chairs mounted on articulated arms that allow the chairs to rise and fall as the table spins. That is, if it were set in motion. The ride remains stationary here, but the countless embedded lights flash, and haunting carousel music emanates from somewhere within the ride, or within the room, or within the heads of visitors. That music penetrates the mind somehow, like the often creepy sound of a music box, and confined in this dining room, wallpapered in a homey motif with a plaque on the wall that reads: “Live — Laugh — Love” the room feels quaint, in a warped, David Lynch, nightmare sort of way. And that seems to be the idea. Most of us remember moments around a table with family that felt as though everything had spun out of control — well, this work memorializes that sensation, and brings it back with an odd sense of ominous déjà vu.

"Dining Room" (2013) Jason J. Ferguson

“Dining Room” (2013) Jason J. Ferguson

"Dining Room" (2013) Jason J. Ferguson

“Dining Room” (2013) Jason J. Ferguson

"Dining Room" (2013) Jason J. Ferguson

“Dining Room” (2013) Jason J. Ferguson

"Dining Room" (2013) Jason J. Ferguson

“Dining Room” (2013) Jason J. Ferguson

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The next work by Mr. Ferguson, Home Sweet Home, follows in the next room, which seems to be due more to the layout of the museum — that room being long and narrow — than to the logical flow of Mr. Ferguson’s Domestic Carnival series, but if the flow is in fact reversed, it’s understandable given the dimensions of Mr. Ferguson’s work. The piece consists of a handmade, 16-gauge steel, block-lettered sign embedded with garish flashing bulbs that reads, “Home Sweet Home.” The work, about sixteen feet long and twenty-four inches tall feels ponderous, and not so much ironic as vaguely threatening. The high wattage flashing from letter to letter, then word to word comes in a staccato fashion that feels sort of dystopian or post-apocalyptic, like this sign fell at our feet from the elevated ledge of a building where it would be properly scaled, and now zombie-like flashes out its displaced message. The notion of “Home,” in Mr. Ferguson’s wry estimation, does not always fit the idealized, “family values” concept our more zealous political and religious leaders eagerly profess. Of course, when self-righteous, self-appointed cultural leaders profess such things, one suspects they intend to lull us into complacency, and that complacency seems to be Mr. Ferguson’s target here.

"Home Sweet Home" (2013) Jason J. Ferguson

“Home Sweet Home” (2013) Jason J. Ferguson

"Home Sweet Home" (2013) Jason J. Ferguson

“Home Sweet Home” (2013) Jason J. Ferguson

"Home Sweet Home" (2013) Jason J. Ferguson

“Home Sweet Home” (2013) Jason J. Ferguson

In the next room, we encounter There Are Times I Lose Faith, another work by Osman Khan. This one features a steel beam painted a cheery sky blue that floats above a tiled hexagon platform about the size of a kitchen table, but situated at seat height. The beam floats above, held there by an electromagnet; but at unexpected moments the beam drops and crashes into the tiled platform. The sound of the crash startles visitors — shocks them really. Jaws drop and eyes widen and dumfounded stares ensue. Some even yelp or scream. The event feels like the wrath of God unleashed, or human failing realized catastrophically. It makes one cognizant that things can change suddenly and irrevocably — the beam goes back up in the sky, hefted there by Pinter-esque stage assistants, but the tiles remain shattered. Somehow, given the Bin Laden hideout blueprints and photo of a Pakistani home in Mr. Khan’s I’ll House You, one can not help but think of the impact of unmanned drone strikes that come unseen from the sky and wreak lasting havoc on lives below.

"There Are Times I Lose Faith" (2013) Osman Khan

“There Are Times I Lose Faith” (2013) Osman Khan

"There Are Times I Lose Faith" (2013) Osman Khan

“There Are Times I Lose Faith” (2013) Osman Khan

"There Are Times I Lose Faith" (2013) Osman Khan

“There Are Times I Lose Faith” (2013) Osman Khan

"There Are Times I Lose Faith" (2013) Osman Khan

“There Are Times I Lose Faith” (2013) Osman Khan

After There Are Times I Lose Faith comes a series of works which all occupy a single room, the first of which is Come Hell or High Water (2013), by Osman Khan. Early in the show, visitors to this work saw everyman’s living room enshrined in an acrylic box, kind of like Damien Hirst might have done with a dead animal, but here we find a still life of domestic bliss minus the people. Imagine an easy chair set on a plush carpet, a soft-pillow on the chair, a reading lamp, a well-stocked bookshelf, a benign abstract painting on a beige wall. Now imagine someone, somewhere hits a switch and the room fills with water at a rate of an inch or so per minute. A crowd gathered to watch the event, and slowly but surely the room lost its composure, disintegrated; domestic bliss washed away and left behind the flotsam and jetsam of a forlorn shipwreck. The home underwater, as it were, as headlines so often proclaim.

"Come Hell Or High Water" (2013) Osman Khan

“Come Hell Or High Water” (2013) Osman Khan

"Come Hell Or High Water" (2013) Osman Khan

“Come Hell Or High Water” (2013) Osman Khan

"Come Hell Or High Water" (2013) Osman Khan

“Come Hell Or High Water” (2013) Osman Khan

"Come Hell Or High Water" (2013) Osman Khan

“Come Hell Or High Water” (2013) Osman Khan

Next came three more works by Mr. Kenyon, Cloud, Puddle, and Supermajor all of which offer broader cultural commentary. Cloud uses helium and soapy surfactant to periodically generate clouds of bubbles, extruded in the shape of a house, that float and coalesce near the ceiling before bleeding off the lifting helium and descending back to ground level. According to Mr. Kenyon, the cloud formation symbolizes inflation of the U.S. housing market into an eventual bubble, and the home ownership aspirations that inflated and deflated with it. A nearby monitor shows a slideshow of perfect suburban homes either inhabited or under construction, which underscores the meaning of these clouds.

"Cloud" (2013) Matt Kenyon

“Cloud” (2013) Matt Kenyon

"Cloud" (2013) Matt Kenyon

“Cloud” (2013) Matt Kenyon

"Cloud" (2013) Matt Kenyon

“Cloud” (2013) Matt Kenyon

"Cloud" (2013) Matt Kenyon

“Cloud” (2013) Matt Kenyon

"Cloud" (2013) Matt Kenyon

“Cloud” (2013) Matt Kenyon

"Cloud" (2013) Matt Kenyon

“Cloud” (2013) Matt Kenyon

"Cloud" (2013) Matt Kenyon

“Cloud” (2013) Matt Kenyon

Puddle bravely and rightfully takes a swipe at U.S. dependency on oil. A puddle of viscous, glossy black motor oil embedded flush with MOCAD’s floor lies waiting for passersby to gaze at. As one watches, text that spells out the names of popular gas guzzling sport utility vehicles magically drifts to the surface of the oil highlighted with a glowing red halo, and then sinks back down. This reminds one of the La Brea tar pit, with eons worth of extinct fauna immersed therein and occasionally floating to the surface in moments of revelation. Is that the fate of these vehicles, their owners, all of us if we persist with current practices?

"Puddle" (2013) Matt Kenyon

“Puddle” (2013) Matt Kenyon

"Puddle" (2013) Matt Kenyon

“Puddle” (2013) Matt Kenyon

"Puddle" (2013) Matt Kenyon

“Puddle” (2013) Matt Kenyon

"Puddle" (2013) Matt Kenyon

“Puddle” (2013) Matt Kenyon

Supermajor (2013), another commentary by Mr. Kenyon on oil, presents a neat rack of old-style oil cans like those once found at service stations. Various oil company logos are emblazoned on these cans, and from a puncture hole in one a broken stream of oil spurts provocatively, pisses really, onto the surrounding platform. An LED fixture mounted to the ceiling flickers at such a rate as to freeze the motion of the oil spurts so they appear to hang in midair and form a slow moving, honey-colored chain down into the spill below. The effect of this is weird, and certainly grabbed a lot of attention at the opening. In fact, all of Mr. Kenyon’s works were big crowd pleasers. They are wondrous and mystifying, and children seemed to circle them like enchanted fairies. Many strangers gathered around Mr. Kenyon’s works and cheerfully speculated with one another as to how the hell these things function. The design and execution of Mr. Kenyon’s art stuns the viewer with its apparent perfection.

"Supermajor" (2013) Matt Kenyon

“Supermajor” (2013) Matt Kenyon

"Supermajor" (2013) Matt Kenyon

“Supermajor” (2013) Matt Kenyon

However, the conceit embodied by Mr. Kenyon’s work feels a little less tightly bound than those of Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Khan to the stated theme of the show, which,

…aims to consider (and reconsider) the concept of “domesticity”. Ubiquitous elements of the home — for instance, a table and chairs, a houseplant or a simple beam — are altered or subverted by complex ideas about faith, the current mortgage crisis, globalization and even classic American representations of family fun. The sculptural works featured are both serious and playful. They engage through movement, flashing lights and the spectacular, but ultimately lead us to question our existing biases and assumptions about what the idea of “home” really means.

Yet all of the works in this show demonstrate astonishing technical prowess combined with artistic sensibilities that compel visitors to contemplate their own existential assumptions and the not always well-grounded faith that consumerist society demands of us. Mike Kelley, whose spirit inhabits the other half of the museum, likely would have found this show amusing and thought provoking, and replete with sufficient negative esthetic to shatter whatever shallow complacency visitors might bring with them. One does leave this show awed, and a little bit chastened, as one should after a visit to a well-curated (Gregory Tom) art exhibit.

(in)Habitation runs through 28-July-2013.

 

June 3, 2013

U-Build It! Public Pool Artspace Invites Visitors to Create

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By Jim Welke

Public Pool Artspace held a well-attended opening 1-June for their exhibition U-Build It!, which “…takes the idea that art is pristine and untouchable and flips it on its head, and then gives it a little kick.”

Four Detroit metro artists, Mary Fortuna, Michael McGillis, Andrew Thompson, and Shoshanna Utchenik presented the foundations for artworks, which they invited gallery visitors to complete. At the opening, kids and adults collaborated to embellish the nascent installations, and as the evening progressed, so did the art.

Ms. Fortuna offered the skeleton of a multi-tiered mobile, and beside it a table full of hand-painted, hand-sewn, and otherwise hand-made pendants. Visitors selected objects from the table and suspended them from the mobile to create a groupthink kinetic sculpture.

by Mary Fortuna

by Mary Fortuna and visitors

by Mary Fortuna

by Mary Fortuna and visitors

Ms. Utchenik, an accomplished puppeteer, offered six miniature, open-sided buildings along with a low table and boxes filled with miscellaneous decorative paraphernalia. Children seemed enchanted by the opportunity to rummage through the assortment of pipe-cleaners, thread-spools, markers and pencils, plastic widgets, and what not and then translate these objects into inhabitants and furnishings for the buildings. For inspiration, Ms. Utchenik provided the following:

MAKE A LOVE MACHINE

HOLD A HOLD A MAKER MAMA

SHAKE A SHAKE A DAD-E-DO

CHICKADEE CHILLIN KICKADOWN TEAM

SET TO WRECK OUT THIS AMERICAN DREAM

REVVED TO JUICE UP THIS LOVE MACHINE

ASHES ASHES SPIT AND STRING

WE GOT EVERYTHING WE NEED

(YOU & ME & YOU & ME)

RULES:

1.     SAY YES (ADD, CHANGE, DON’T TAKE AWAY)

2.     BE KIND

by Shoshanna Utchenik and visitors

by Shoshanna Utchenik and visitors

by Shoshanna Utchenik and visitors

by Shoshanna Utchenik and visitors

 

by Shoshanna Utchenik and visitors

by Shoshanna Utchenik and visitors

Mr. McGillis installed SuperCellularEscent in the windows of the gallery. Comprised of open inter-locking hexagons, he encouraged visitors to pick from an assortment of cut tree branches, corrugated cardboard strips, and strips of foam-board insulation, and miscellaneous other flotsam and jetsam — a “curated surplus” as he refers to it — and add selected items to the cells, creating a “personal cell” and to “experiment with the material’s potential.” Contributors inserted objects and viewed their additions from both sides of the window, which created a steady flow of traffic in and out of the gallery and halted passers by on the street who took a moment to wonder at the work in progress and chat with gallery visitors.

by Michael McGillis and visitors

by Michael McGillis and visitors

by Michael McGillis and visitors

by Michael McGillis and visitors

by Michael McGillis and visitors

by Michael McGillis and visitors

Mr. Thompson appropriated one wall of the gallery for The Longest Line, “a simple game structure that asks for participation and gives a reward by letting the gallery goer sign their name to the gallery wall.” He specifies that the piece will be complete when the show closes, and the lines erased. “Participation is needed from the audience not only for this piece, but over and over again for every art show from this moment forward.” Visitors got busy and transformed the vacant white space, invigorated by the opportunity to do something they might always have felt tempted to do, but restrained by cultural taboo, previously resisted the temptation — until now.

by Andrew Thompson and visitors

by Andrew Thompson and visitors

by Andrew Thompson and visitors

by Andrew Thompson and visitors

George Rahme manned the turntables, providing a back beat for the creation in progress.

George Rahme (left)

George Rahme (left)

U-Build It! brings participatory art (a happening?) to Hamtramck in a fun, dynamic, accessible format that surely will turn a few heads and inspire those who happen upon these works to think about art a little differently, and maybe feel inspired to see what else the numerous galleries scattered around Hamtramck and Detroit offer. For that we should thank the artists who contributed a lot of time, effort, and material to works that will not likely bring them personal acclaim for artistic merit, but should bring them acclaim for a degree of selflessness not often ascribed to artists. This show offers another example of how the entire community benefits from the art: socially, economically, and intellectually (foot traffic, positive press, civic enthusiasm, unconventional education, and neighborly engagement). Right on.

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Also, for sale (but not an element of U-Build It!), were the works of Steve Hughes, who according to the back cover of one edition of his “zine” Stupor, “for the last 16 years… has been listening to people he meets in bars, diners, hardware stores, and job sites talk about their lives.” Steve, who attended the opening, said he commits these stories to memory as they are told to him, and recreates them in his small format books filtered through his recollection, taking creative license as necessary to fill gaps in his recall of the narratives.

U-Build It! runs through 29-June. Public Pool Artspace will be open for further public collaboration on these works every Saturday, 1PM – 6PM.

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