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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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:


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.


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.

September 23, 2009


Category: filmartifizz admin @ 10:37 pm

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