October 11, 2015

Metabolism: Cristin Richard, Detroit Design Festival, 25-Sep-2015

by Jim Welke

Metabolism / Cristin Richard photo: Bruno Vanzieleghem

Metabolism / Cristin Richard
photo: Bruno Vanzieleghem

Invited to participate in Detroit Design Festival 2015 (September 22-26, 2015), Detroit artist Cristin Richard presented her one night installation, Metabolism, in the c.1927 Detroit Savings Bank building at 5001 Grand River (near Warren; formerly occupied by Kunsthalle). In addition, she collaborated with Simone Else to create delicate bondage implements overlaid with intestines shown in the bank vault. (More about that follows.)

Metabolism comprised the main attraction for this ambitious, moody, soulful, one-night show. The installation consisted of a video projected large–twelve feet or so high–on the rear wall of the bank building main floor. As you entered the darkened room, illuminated only by the projected imagery of the video, you found yourself confronted by a languid, nubile siren (Emilee Burnadette Austin) tearing diaphanous bits of yellow, green, and ochre colored pig intestine from her otherwise nude body. In accompaniment you heard an eerie, raspy soundtrack by Detroit musician/composer Nate Czarling (info on him here & here) that emits scratched phonograph record sounds mixed with a repeating strings riff, alongside a Morse-code-like percussion on a cowbell-ish device.

Metabolism (intro) by TT Moross
The repetition, phonograph-record-skip-like, over and over, hypnotizes the listener, draws them into a receptive, passive, yet enervated state while the girl on the screen peels off the detritus of civilization–her clothing–clothing shattered, extraneous and superfluous. Ms. Richard constructed that clothing, as translucent and feathery as bits of sloughed sunburned skin, from the flotsam of mass-slaughter in our invisible industrial abattoirs. But you might not know this yet–that the enigmatic being on the screen peels off bits of animal offal–as you observe, transfixed, submerged in the cabin pressure of Mr. Czarling’s audio ecosystem. You watch: peel-peel-peel. You hear: skip-skip-skip. And then your eyes adjust to your tenebrous surroundings, someone else occupies the room: a girl, youthful, and naked but for wisps of that translucent intestinal fabric settled on the landscape of her lithe body, dead and laid out in a coffin. At least, she’s dead to you. You feel disoriented, in another country, a strange land with strange customs.

Metabolism / Cristin Richard photo: Bruno Vanzieleghem

Metabolism / Cristin Richard photo: Bruno Vanzieleghem

Richard, on her website, describes her work this way:

…It transforms and regenerates in poetic and unpredictable ways.  In the majority of her work, she reconstructs animal intestines into tangible objects. Playing on the ambiguity, created by the presence of this material, she develops metaphors loaded with complexities.

…With the idea of fashion as sculpture, Cristin Richard blurs the line between fine art and fashion.  She believes that fashion allows one to create a second skin.  It provides an escape that is rooted in the truth to one’s own identity.

Yoko Ono expressed thoughts on feminism, fashion, and subjugation of women when she created her performance “Cut Piece” in 1964 (excerpt here). While distinctly different in form and intent–Ono performed the piece, with audience participation–Richard’s work does follow from it in the sense that it puts the female form on a stage, not for entertainment as we have done at the expense of women for centuries, but more so as trial evidence. And then Richard brings in the added dilemma of our obsession in Western Civilization with mass-marketed, mechanistic consumerism, in this case our often callous consumption of animals bred, raised, and killed solely for us to devour in a frenzy of overfed fast-food surfeit. Cristin Richard, in “Metabolism” seems to ask that we run the film of our existence in reverse; in fact, that we imagine a reversion to a more primal past when clothing served more for protection against cold and predators. The animals we pursued then sometimes pursued us. And consumed us. Animals provoked us to respect them as physical and intellectual forces. Most pre-historic and modern aboriginal cultures harbor reverence for animals they hunt. They recognize in them spirits to honor. And they squander very little of the animals they fell. They never take them for granted, and they never hunt beyond the needs of subsistence. To do so would imperil the existence of both them and their prey.

But we, in our mechanized, me-first civilization stray from our ancestral roots. We treat animals as lifeless commodities and rather than public reverence we hide away from view the animals we kill in “meat processing plants.” We deny these living, breathing beings the honor they deserve while we dump their flesh wrapped in plastic in supermarket refrigerator bins or Styrofoam take-away packages.

Richard seems to want to slap us upside the head for our arrogance and hubris; to remind us that we share much in common with the animals we consume, that we consume too much, and that we need to peel away, layer by layer, the excesses of our culture. One solution is to regress like Ms. Austin in the video toward innocent disavowal of unneeded attire, toward a less self-absorbed, self-conscious perspective. But between the observer and the projected video, that enigmatic corpse lies in state. Is the video projected here like those melancholy videos created by suicide bombers prior to self-destruction?

Is the girl in the casket the girl in the video? Did she shed her corporeal connection to civilization at the expense of her life? Is Richard telling us that our modern, cultivated entanglements–our overly elaborate food, clothing, shelter, and transportation–imperil us even if we back away from them? Have our material entanglements embedded themselves in our psyches so deeply that to eschew them is the equivalent of suicide? Is it really impossible to get back to the Garden and a place of simplicity and authenticity?

That, at least, is what this writer saw projected on the screen and lying in the casket in that old bank building. Once you removed yourself from the enveloping video with funeral casket and soundscape that Richard and Czarling parachute you into, you moved into a room that housed the Detroit Savings Bank vault. This room presented a soundtrack different from the track in the lobby: Metabolism II. (VAULT) by TT Moross

photo: Jim Welke

Metabolism / Cristin Richard & Simone Else
photo: Jim Welke

Arrayed on two tables in this unventilated crypt-like room Richard and fellow artist Simone Else present their collaborative effort: a collection of everyday, and not so everyday objects, that when observed collectively suggest sexual bondage, or at least sex with a spicy flavor. But these objects take on a more complex meaning, here in this savings bank vault. (Savings bank vault, epicenter of white bread American delusions of permanent security!) What might otherwise offhandedly be construed as sex toys, here appear wrapped ever so delicately, precisely, and carefully in a patina of that same animal intestine that decorates the dead and living women in the grand but decrepit bank lobby. Again, you may not know at first that what decorates, surrounds, and subsumes these objects is in fact that same pellucid membrane adorning those women in the funereal lobby. But you read the text that accompanies the show, and you learn and consider this.

Metabolism / Cristin Richard & Simone Else photo: Jim Welke

Metabolism / Cristin Richard & Simone Else
photo: Jim Welke

Else and Richard might suggest with their work here that those things we consume, those beings that we presume to dominate, in fact dominate us. That we become embedded in our excesses, and by allowing that to happen, we allow ourselves to be altered, controlled by our appetites that ultimately circle back and consume us, like the self-consuming snake, or ouroboros, of which Carl Jung suggests:

This ‘feed-back’ process is at the same time a symbol of immortality, since it is said of the Ouroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself and gives birth to himself. He symbolizes the One, who proceeds from the clash of opposites, and he therefore constitutes the secret of the prima materia which [...] unquestionably stems from man’s unconscious.

The self-consuming snake implies renewal, or a nagging desire for it; but a renewal preceded by self-destruction. So following this paradigm, we have a future: a future that does not include us.

Overall, the narrative of Richard’s “Metabolism”–lobby and vault–might be a cautionary tale, a looking outward by this artist who seems to see peril on the horizon of our human political and cultural landscape. Like most hegemonic civilizations, our global, interconnected, technology-empowered, overfed society, with so many pushed to the margins by relentless poverty, will likely founder as our Sumerian, Egyptian, Mayan, Aztec, Chinese, Greek and Roman predecessors did.

At a more basic level, as most top of the food chain mammals go, one million years seems to be about the limit before extinction unceremoniously knocks them from the tree of life. We humans, at least as a genus, are these days at about 2.5 million years–a bit past our prime. Then again, humans anatomically and behaviorally identical to us have been around for only about 200,000 years. So statistically, we may have a while to go. Still, there’s nothing to say we moderns don’t break out of the rut of tradition and statistics and extinct ourselves much sooner than our mammalian brethren.

So, if you cast your interpretive net wide, as this writer does, you see that the work shown in the old Detroit Savings Bank by Ms. Richard and her able collaborators, Else, Czarling, and Austin, takes on, if not kicks out, the very underpinnings of modern consumerist society. For that, the artist deserves an extra accolade: she looks inward first, but then outward at the cultural milieu that created her. Rather than being self-absorbed, she presents socially aware work. She offers an indictment of us all for blithely perpetuating the self-destructive world we live in. A slick attorney could submit numerous defenses to this indictment–it’s not a conviction after all–but Ms. Richard demands reflection followed by answers from all of us. And that takes courage on both a personal and professional level.

We might slip through on the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, but unless greater society pays more attention to the evidence that such insightful artists and scientists present, and then change our self-destructive ways, the art and science may survive, locked away in vaults, but we humans will not.

Metabolism / Cristin Richard & Simone Else photo: Bruno Vanzieleghem

Metabolism / Cristin Richard & Simone Else
photo: Bruno Vanzieleghem


Metabolism / Cristin Richard & Simone Else photo: Bruno Vanzieleghem

Metabolism / Cristin Richard & Simone Else
photo: Bruno Vanzieleghem

Metabolism: Cristin Richard, Detroit Design Festival, 25-Sep-2015


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March 4, 2014

‘Do The Yale Thing’ at N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art Detroit

by Jim Welke


Do The Yale Thing: An Exhibition of Exceptional Artwork by Recent Yale MFA Graduates, Curated by Dexter Wimberly, at N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, Detroit

Do The Yale Thing shows the work of eighteen artists with one thing in common: they did “the Yale thing.” That is, they managed — with no shortage of blood, sweat, and tears — to be accepted and ultimately graduated from the famed Master of Fine Arts program at Yale in New Haven Connecticut.

Dexter Wimberly curated the group show to offer an engaging mix of art where the whole exceeds the sum of the parts — no small feat when you consider the deep pool of artists and work he drew from. Narrowing the selection to these eighteen artists with about forty works in the show surely did not come without a struggle. The art he chose rambles through an eclectic range of topics and styles that manage to find among themselves something to talk about, a reflection of disparate life experience, but glued together by, if not common, then parallel perceptions of the world. These artists, it seems, felt the same forces emanating from the zeitgeist, yet produced widely divergent commentary on it through their artwork. Through this divergence and the bright contrasts of individuality it engenders you appreciate more what each artist achieves as they bend to common external forces yet snap back with a unique expression of those forces. You leave the room feeling the effects of a singular, cohesive experience like it were a voyage through a strange land that turns out in the end to be your own land seen through new eyes.

Caroline Wells Chandler

Bear Culture (top), Power Lines (bottom) / hand-crocheted assorted wool, polyfil / 2012-2013 / Caroline Wells Chandler

Bear Culture  and Power Lines might be the first works you encounter. Crocheted sculptures from Caroline Wells Chandler, they recline on the floor and against the wall in two clusters. A stack long of tubes with dendritic fingers at one end comprises Power Lines. Beyond, a group of crocheted bears recline against the wall. You notice some of the bears have “tubes with dendritic fingers” for legs, If we associate the works, do we witness a stylized act of violence? The crocheted bears embody sweetness and light: they smile and clutch one another. Yet those same bears might have assembled this heap of limbs nearby; the aftermath of a savage massacre. Bear culture, perhaps, shares aspects of our own. Or, not. You need to contemplate this scenario for yourself–therein lies the fun.

Lucia Hierro

YOLO: In Memoriam / digital on jacquard tricot fabric, felt, industrial felt / Lucia Hierro

YOLO: In Memoriam, by Lucia Hierro, offers a quirky but arresting assemblage of objects, imagery, and text that evidently pay homage to the expression “you only live once” — the meaning of the acronym in the title. The centerpiece, a page from a New Yorker short story with selected words highlighted, presents in first person a description of the exploration of another woman’s apartment while the narrator suffers existential angst and regret for her “unlived” life. A cartoon captioned with the eponymous acronym “YOLO” presents the grim reaper knocking at an old man’s door. The artist pinned this page to a felt backing decorated on top with felt flowers, and on the bottom by a felt mockup of a Yankees cap — like a memorial to the dead. Despite the narrative elements, the work remains cryptic and unresolved, pressing us to embrace mystery and get on with life. YOLO.

Micah Ganske

Bethlehem Steel: The Yard / acrylic on muslin / Micah Ganske

Micah Ganske offers three paintings with outsized shadows looming across each. Somehow these shadows — of airplanes in one, the others less clearly defined — produce an ominous effect on these otherwise benign pictures of landscapes seen from above. One, a steel mill (Bethlehem Steel: The Yard), almost seems to celebrate its huffing monstrous achievement, except for that shadow that weighs on the celebration.

Mario Moore

Herstory / oil on copper / 2013 / Mario Moore

Three portraits by Mario Moore project moody introspection. Herstory he painted on copper, and used the metallic sheen to form a glowing frame for his subject, integrated into the room painted behind her. You might think that effect would feel forced, but somehow the artist lets the copper melt into the scene as though a perfectly natural component of a room. Another portrait comes set behind a translucent screen with clear text like bars, “I REALLY DO LIKE COPS I THINK THEY DO A GREAT JOB TEACHING ME HOW TO POLICE MYSELF” — a riff on the police state we find ourselves in, and the especially profound implications a police state has for black men.

Amy Rinaldi

Untitled #3 / rubber, wood, concrete, enamel, acrylic, plastic on panel / 2013 / Amy Rinaldi

Amy Rinaldi’s four wall sculptures with their raw, glossy, rumpled surfaces dare you to react with distaste, but before you know it you move closer and dig in to their varied forms and textures. You find yourself charmed by these warped and stretched rubbery sheets that suggest something precious within.

Thomas Gardiner

Untitled #1 / photo print on paper / Thomas Gardiner

Thomas Gardiner shows three large prints of photographs, each a portrait of decisively different circumstances, but each leaves you wondering how much he staged, and how much he chanced upon. Untitled #1 shows a young black man in a rundown neighborhood poised either to flee or dance. His neutral expression reveals little of his intention, but through sharp focus of the subject, magical lighting, and limited depth of field, the man seems to project from the surface of the image as though animated by the tension contained therein.

Nicole Maloof

The Woods / oil on canvas / 2013 / Nicole Maloof

Nicole Maloof’s three paintings make good use of lighting and feathery brush strokes to produce snapshot like imagery of unforeseen moments. One of her portraits, The Woods, seems at first lighthearted, but the radiant glow of sunlight behind the nude figure, and the figure’s slightly averted face, imbues the picture with a reverent, contemplative aura that grips you unexpectedly.

Gabriela Collins-Fernandez

YOU BOO / oil and glitter on crushed velvet and plastic / Gabriela Collins-Fernandez

Gabriela Collins-Fernandez shows two abstract paintings, each overlaid with assertive text, the third a mixed-media work titled YOU BOO — the letters of which peer out through a gap in some noisy orange crushed velvet. The effect feels playful, but also like an un-deciphered artifact.

Sol Sax

Masqueraders Are The Ancestors of Protestors, The Exclamation Print: From the Dog On Protestor series / digital print / 2013 / Sol Sax

Sol Sax shows a tall, composite photograph, Masqueraders Are The Ancestors of Protestors, The Exclamation Print: From the Dog On Protestor series. The image shows a cop setting a dog on a masquerader in a parade — this suggests the establishment attacking and oppressing “the other” as we so famously have and do in the United States to woeful effect.

Mark Thomas Gibson

Gluttony / acrylic, glitter, ink on paper / Mark Thomas Gibson

Mark Thomas Gibson’s Gluttony presents a mad collage assemblage of toothy maws dripping with purplish slop and spattered with bluish detritus. A funhouse feeling pervades this work, yet the message in the mayhem condemns with unsettling certainty our tendency toward boundless excess.

Rushern Baker IV

Indented Figure / mixed-media on canvas / 2013 / Rushern Baker IV

Rushern Baker IV offers three abstract works, one of which, Indented Figure implies a man merging with his background, sublimated into a hollow schematic of the original being. Seeing this, you can not help thinking of those ghostly profiles left on walls in Hiroshima.

Pao Houa Her

Mom shirtless in bedroom (Desire series) / digital inkjet print / 2012 / Pao Houa Her

Pao Houa Her’s three intimate photographic portraits from her Desire series dispense with flattery. Instead, Lucian Freud like, they invite a cringe; almost urge you to avert your eyes. But from either curiosity or schadenfreude, you stick with these images until you’ve knocked around in their complexity long enough to feel at home in the world therein; a world that offers comfort to the imperfect.

Kenny Rivero

Lady Dancing / oil, acrylic, enamel on canvas / 2012 / Kenny Rivero

The paintings of Kenny Rivero feel reductive, defined as much by what he leaves out as what he includes. But the pictures do not lack for visual interest. While The Water By My House feels vibrant, even (forgive the term) splashy, Lady Dancing induces a sense of stylistic vertigo with a faceless figure as the main subject. Your brain searches to resolve detail that will never appear, but the exercise feels refreshing.

Richard Lewis

Tracy Wearing A Hat / oil on canvas / 2011 / Richard Lewis

Richard Lewis brings two thoughtful portraits. Both present the subject straight on with seemingly objective clarity, but both — like good portraits do — induce an ineffable flash of emotion. Tracy Wearing A Hat, although diminutive, forces its way off the canvas and into your consciousness before you have time to react and get your defenses up.

Doron Langberg

Three Lovers / oil on linen / 2013 / Doron Langberg

Doron Langberg’s work feels ghostly. Figures distort and blend with their background, as though seen through a murky state of consciousness. Three Lovers might be the most extreme example of that deliberate haziness. Glance at the painting and you pick out a figure, but then you see that the shape represents a hole in layered canvas, a void. The effect plays with the contradiction between what you desire to see — three lovers — versus what you do see.

Wayde McIntosh

Hold / oil on canvas / 2012 / Wayde McIntosh

Wayde McIntosh shows three evocative portraits, two of which show a man’s face pressed against glass; violently one assumes. In the third a woman reclines inverted and half off a sofa, her head just touching the floor, feet up on cushions. Wrapped in a red sheet, she appears like an inverted classical Greek statue. In all of these, the state of the subject feels ambiguous: are they alive or dead?

Endia Beal

Ellen / pigment print / 2013 / Endia Beal

Endia Beal’s two photographic portraits feel — in this show — like two forgotten relatives. The pictures each show a precisely dressed and coiffed woman. They wear nearly identical clothes, and their hair follows similar patterns. They look directly at the viewer with mildly amused expressions. They seem like women that inhabit a rigid social structure with conservative restrictions on behavior — sort of what you might imagine for the British aristocracy, but applies equally (or did once) to the upper east side of Manhattan and other east coast bastions of affluence. These women project authority, and you might find yourself standing a bit straighter in front of them despite your will to the contrary.

video installation, Philip Seymour Hoffman clips

Same Voices, Different Rooms / video installation / Tommy Kha

Same Voices, Different Rooms by Tommy Kha occupies one wall (about eight feet wide, the title is a play on a Truman Capote book title). A video projected in a continuous loop shows Philip Seymour Hoffman in various scenes from the movie Capote (possibly other films too?). The scenes feel detached, as though hijacked from the feature film and waiting to go back where they belong. But like video anywhere, you feel yourself pulled toward the lively tension in this one, with Mr. Hoffman intoning in that squeaky, abrasive voice. The effect of the video seems to be to leave the viewer feeling as detached as the scenes, disengaged from the real world. The real world of the gallery, that is. The work picks up added poignancy after Mr. Hoffman’s sudden premature death.

Do The Yale Thing runs through 21-March-2014 — you would do well not to miss it. George N’Namdi brings exhibitions to his gallery with a precise eye toward Detroit sensibilities both past and present. His artists capture the zeitgeist and creative essence of Detroit with rare refinement. Visit N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art often. You won’t be disappointed.

Worth a review in its own right was a show up during this writer’s visit of work by local high school students from a contest sponsored by Detroit-area McDonald’s owners called Black History Moments on Canvas. The show ran through Black History month. You can see the work here: BLACKMOMENTSONCANVAS.COM

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