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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

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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

Please have a look at our site, artifizz.org, and check out our other reviews.

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February 28, 2014

UNBOUND: WSU MFA 2 Thesis Exhibition–Wayne State University–Detroit

by Jim Welke

UNBOUND: WSU MFA 2 Thesis Exhibition–Wayne State University–Detroit thru 7-Mar with work by: Laurie D’Alessandro, Kyle Dill, Ani Garabedian, and Hiroko Lancour

“Unbound” forms the theme for this master’s thesis show. Despite that thread running through, the personality and outlook of each artist indisputably surfaces — bound as it were to their masterful work. As you might expect from students about to receive a master of fine arts degree, they delivered with meticulous attention to detail. In the gallery, you can almost sense how taught such a high stake show must stretch out the nerves of the artist — the intensity therein warms you on entering.

Laurie D’Alessandro offers works with a distilled, ethereal, denatured quality. She teases the essential elements from everyday things, leaving behind a vaporous residue of the original object almost like holographic projections of their souls.

Laurie D’Alessandro

Brother’s Shirt / tarlatan, cotton thread, buttons / 2013 / Laurie D’Alessandro

Laurie D’Alessandro

Brother’s Shirt / tarlatan, cotton thread, buttons / 2013 / Laurie D’Alessandro

Laurie D’Alessandro

White Shirt Deconstructed / 2013 / tarlatan, cotton thread / Laurie D’Alessandro

Brother’s Shirt and White Shirt Deconstructed demonstrate this effect with startling clarity. The originals are there, but not there and you find yourself wondering what “there” really means.

Laurie D’Alessandro

Pine on Mulberry #2 (triptych) / graphite frottage on Mulberry paper / 2014 / Laurie D’Alessandro

Laurie D’Alessandro

Pine on Mulberry #2 (detail) / graphite frottage on Mulberry paper / 2014 / Laurie D’Alessandro

With a frottage triptych, Pine on Mulberry #2, Ms. D’Alessandro once again dissolves the source object to reveal its textural essence, its interface to our vision. The tree evaporates, but the impression of it persists.

Laurie D’Alessandro

Polar Ice Cap / fiber, scoring out on silk / 2012 / Laurie D’Alessandro

Laurie D’Alessandro

Polar Ice Cap / fiber, scoring out on silk / 2012 / Laurie D’Alessandro

In Polar Ice Cap, Ms. D’Alessandro plays with time as well as content. Using diaphanous silk, she represents phases of Arctic ice cap melting (either seasonally, or through years of irreversible global warming, the likelier explanation). This work departs from her previous pieces by visualizing for us something usually out of reach and out of mind (but not inconsequential). By abstracting the ice to ghostly overlays, she brings our focus to altered dimensions of the ice as time progresses through layered cloth. With inconceivably precise execution and eloquent selection of subject matter, Ms. D’Alessandro brings her viewer in touch with her unique vision of things we know of, but through familiarity (or possibly willful omission in the case of the ice) we no longer really see. She puts us back in the head of a child, seeing a world with layer upon layer of complexity revealed incrementally.

Kyle Dill also repositions everyday flotsam and jetsam to emphasize the elemental form that comprises it. Most of the works he presents refer to the ubiquitous packaging (specifically, cardboard boxes) we encounter like cocoons enveloping our consumer purchases. This packaging isolates and presents an obstacle to the thing we desire within — like gulls fishing for crabs we snatch up the package and burrow through the carapace for the meat inside, heedless of the exterior. But, Mr. Dill tosses out the precious insides, and hands us back the shell, re-worked and re-formulated so that we encounter it as a substantial creation in its own right. That’s not a trivial accomplishment considering our saturation in this stuff that represents nothing but friction in our existence. We want so much to ignore it, to dispatch it, to be done with it once and for all. But there it is, Mr. Dill seems to say. Look at it. Appreciate it. Even admire it.

Kyle Dill

Waffle Box / copper, wood, paint / 2014 / Kyle Dill

Kyle Dill

Easy Vender (Fridge Mate) / copper / 2013 / Kyle Dill

Kyle Dill

Lift to Open / drywall paint / 2014 / Kyle Dill

Kyle Dill

Lift to Open / drywall paint / 2014 / Kyle Dill

Starting with Waffle Box, Mr. Dill takes us through a progression from the effectively two-dimensional source material, flat and unfolded, to the nearly realized but still nascent Easy Vender, to the monumental and complete Lift to Open where he converts an entire wall into concealing refuse. With these works, and numerous others throughout the show, Mr. Dill brings both skill and vision to bear, and takes us on a journey inside the box… so to speak.

Hiroko Lancour

Tsunami 3-11-2011 / silkscreen on hand-dyed linen / 2012 / Hiroko Lancour

Hiroko Lancour

Tsunami 3-11-2011 (detail) / silkscreen on hand-dyed linen / 2012 / Hiroko Lancour

Tsunami, by Hiroko Lancour, signals what seems to be a persistent theme in her work — perception, or possibly misperception. She seems to toy with visual as well as emotional cues to force us to re-see the subjects of her work. Tsunami gives us an elegant linen print enlivened with delicate geometric patterns. But at the center of each swirl we find a date printed: 3.11.2011 — the day the tsunami hit northeastern Japan with devastating effects. Enjoy the pretty, but memorialize this day. Nothing comes without a price she seems to say.

Hiroko Lancour

Curved but Straight: Seeing With Detached Retinas 1 / acrylic on canvas / 2013 / Hiroko Lancour

With Curved but Straight: Seeing With Detached Retinas 1, Ms. Lancour gives us a view of uniform, equidistant squares that should form a graph-paper grid of geometric perfection — but don’t. The contrasting colors and outlines put the grid in topsy-turvy motion to induce an unnerving vertigo in the viewer. This picture, like all good op art, takes control of your optical sensory hardware — eyes and brain — and dissolves what you thought were immutable, Euclidean constants.

Hiroko Lancour

Chance Operations: Enso / Japanese Hosho paper, sumi ink, vermillion ink, vellum paper, pencil / 2014 / Hiroko Lancour

Hiroko Lancour

Chance Operations: Enso / Japanese Hosho paper, sumi ink, vermillion ink, vellum paper, pencil / 2014 / Hiroko Lancour

Chance Operations: Enso, according to an explanatory video that accompanies the work, takes its inspiration from John Cage and his use of chance (via the I Ching) to formulate music. Here, Ms. Lancour used dice to fix the color and orientation of her symbols. This work feels a bit less visceral and immediate than Ms. Lancour’s other work in the show. The adjacent charts and tables detach the viewer further from the visual impressions inherent in the prints. Still, this work offers a useful window into the sometimes arbitrary process of art making and for that, if no other reason, it is worth a close look. But there is another reason to look: the images offer Ellsworth Kelly-like simplicity of form and color, and possess esthetic quality that stands firm with no prior knowledge of the process. So take them both ways: process and picture; intellectual and emotional. (Gerhard Richter made interesting use of chance too, in his color chart paintings — the element of chance in art recurs.)

Ani Garabedian

Stripes / oil on canvas / 2013 / Ani Garabedian

Ani Garabedian

Stripes (detail) / oil on canvas / 2013 / Ani Garabedian

Ani Garabedian works with paint, or in her mixed-media work: colored pencil, oil pastel, graphite and charcoal. All of her work shows a kinetic quality, mindful of time flickering by; of light perpetually evolving and transforming the scene at hand. In her painting, usually figurative, her markings come soft and quick, with not a lot of thick layers to force a sense of depth. For depth she relies on light and shade, in seeming motion as you gaze into her work. Stripes feels like a good example of where she captures the intensity and fragility of the moment like a snapshot. Here and there thinned paint runs down the canvas, compelled by gravity to do its own thing — in the moment — unbound as the show theme suggests.

Ani Garabedian

The Beginning of a New Beginning (Hubbard Lake) / oil on canvas / 2014 / Ani Garabedian

The Beginning of a New Beginning (Hubbard Lake) evidences this seemingly rapid, documentary style further. In this work, fragmentary outlines hover adjacent to the subjects and imagery intersects; figures blur into the background. Light seems to move and shift. All this suggests haste in execution, but these works do not convey impatience so much as a meditation on the evanescent nature of our existence.

Ani Garabedian

Catamaran / mixed-media on paper / 2013 / Ani Garabedian

Ani Garabedian

Feed / mixed-media on paper / 2013 / Ani Garabedian

In Catamaran and Feed and other mixed-media works where paint and pencil merge, Ms. Garabedian further accentuates kineticism over realism and spatial accuracy. The figures in both these works focus on the business at hand. They do not pose for the artist. In fact, they seem indifferent to the artist; indifferent to portraiture vanity. These pictures exude liveliness, an unmoored vibrancy that leads the viewer to believe these scenes do change from one moment to the next. Blink your eye and you see the next frame on an endless reel. That reflects a masterful winnowing of detail and application of marks only where essential. One wonders with anticipation where Ms. Garabedian will take this already acutely evolved style.

In fact, one wonders where every artist in this show will take their crisply defined style. They went all out and embraced risk as a friend. The risk-taking paid off, it seems. Cheers and congratulations to the artists in both the MFA1 & MFA2 shows. Cheers too, for the instructors who find the right mix of support and objective criticism to keep their students on track, yet fearless. Right on!

 

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January 24, 2014

Wayne State University MFA 1 Thesis Exhibition

by Jim Welke

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Raise your hand if you visited a student art exhibition in the last year. Well? Well, this writer might have kept his hands in his pockets, but for the MFA graduate show in the Wayne State Community Arts Art Department Gallery (Wayne State University MFA 1 Thesis Exhibition: part 1 of 2, part 2 opens 14-Feb).

The gallery extends long and narrow with a north-facing wall of glass that offers a first-class view of the McGregor Reflecting Pool (which appears as a scene from Dr. Zhivago this time of year). Most of the light in the gallery comes from that cool northern glow reflected off snow and flatters the work therein.

Clara W. DeGalan

Free Storm Hush in the Neighborhood II / Clara W. DeGalan

Clara W. DeGalan, a Detroit native, finesses large charcoal drawings with skill that astonishes. Charcoal can be messy, and to create large, detailed works that consist of more than a few broad sweeps must be a daunting task. But she does it over and over. Free Storm Hush in the Neighborhood II offers that sense of natural harmony and balance you might find in a pastoral landscape, but instead it shows a collection of buildings intersected by a chain link fence and overhead wires — it feels urban, but the buildings appear non-descript enough that they could be outbuildings on a farm. Snow covers the scene and no humans complicate the view with their tendency to obstruct serenity.

Passed This Way Before / Clara W. DeGalan

Passed This Way Before / Clara W. DeGalan

But there’s something else hovering in another dimension of Ms. DeGalan’s work. All her works here, at first glance, feel serene and the figurative pictures bring the warmth — or heat — you get from human close-ups. And then you sense an Edgar Allen Poe-esque, Gothic-novel, sinister presence. Her painting, Passed This Way Before, which appears to show a mirror standing in an sun-dappled alley way or street, surrounded by a lush growth of bushes and trees with a tall building in the distant background, and another building reflected in the mirror. The picture, executed in gentle, blurry brushstrokes and diluted colors, feels comforting. Yet, like a well-placed metaphor in a short story, that inexplicable reflection and the sharp angular washes of light and shadow somehow suggest either foreboding or a dark memory.

June 1982 (The Kiss) / Clara W. DeGalan

June 1982 (The Kiss) / Clara W. DeGalan

June 1982 (The Kiss) creates a similar baleful sense of mystery. Who kisses the girl in the pool? Why does the woman kissing the girl wear all white? What does she hold in her other hand, the one obscured by her uniform-like dress? Why does the girl have the pool all to herself? Aside from the girl and the woman, the scene fills with contrasting angles; a restrictive crosshatched wall behind them. The picture feels documentary, like a snapshot, a fleeting moment in time that leaves the viewer wondering about the prologue and epilogue. Or so this writer sees it. Maybe the dark is not there at all, but when you get up close to these works you sense complexity. That much is sure.

 

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Beard Triptych 2 / Alex Drummer

Beard Triptych 2 / Alex Drummer

Alex Drummer earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Metalworking. For his master’s thesis show, he presents a series of knitted beard triptychs that surely set a mind to wondering. The knit work appears well made, and one needs to be impressed that a man who pursued metalworking with such assiduous application might as easily take up knitting. So there’s that.

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Beard Triptych 4 / Alex Drummer

But why knitted beards? Well we all wear costumes and disguises to get through our difficult lives, and we change those costumes and disguises as circumstance requires. Flanking each of the five knitted beards mounted on boards, Mr. Drummer presents photographs of men and women wearing the beards, hence triptychs. The unnaturally colored beards, almost like witty commentary on the fashion of such beards in some circles, conceal the faces of the wearers to the point of obscuring their identifying features, even their sex — women wearing beards? Perhaps Mr. Drummer suggests more than mere social disguises here, but something of general utility to hide us from the Orwellian eyes of our burgeoning surveillance state? Perhaps a comment on controlling religious codes that require beards for men, or head coverings for women? As a playful nod to the inevitable question: What would I look like in one of those? Mr. Drummer offers Portrait Beard 2, which allow the visitor to prop themselves before a suspended knit beard and view themselves in a mirror. These are fun works, but not so lightly dismissed if you ponder the underlying motivation for their making.

 

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Portrait Beard 2 / Alex Drummer

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Emilee Arter offers big, sculptural works formed of various natural and synthetic fabrics along with tape and other fasteners. These pieces will likely mystify the viewer on first approach — the drapes and folds confront the viewer with seemingly chaotic turmoil. Yet as one gazes into them, you sense harmony, a balance created by non-random forces, a stasis that which naturally occurs in ecological niches with their hard won, long-evolved symbiotic relationships. And then there are the titles, which for certain were labored over for precise tonal affect like spare lines in a poem.

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His Prediction was a Question, Not a Statement / Emilee Arter

His Prediction was a Question, Not a Statement is a title the visitor can sink their teeth into. And the work offers the least cohesive assembly of the collection from Ms. Arter, as though the work were something else once, and now represents the aftermath of the prediction misinterpreted, an explosion with woeful consequences of lost opportunity.

I’ll Never Forget Last September / Emilee Arter

I’ll Never Forget Last September / Emilee Arter

I’ll Never Forget Last September inevitably forces the visitor to contemplate their own Septembers. This writer immediately remembered a camping trip on the shore of Lake Superior and a night deluged by rain that left belongings floating in the old tent. One can see this work as that tent, dashed asunder. Or not. The plastics and dark, almost internal organ-like colors will elicit a multitude of reactions. But the September that it will most universally summons is that infamous September day, the eleventh of 2001.

Conquest / Emilee Arter

Conquest / Emilee Arter

Conquest, oddly, given its title, feels like the gentlest work presented by Ms. Arter. Burlap sacks with various printed source and content declarations fold and drape to reach an off-center pinnacle with a banner-like strand extending outward like those colorful banners atop medieval circus tents. Shredded and tumultuous toward the interior, the burlap at the boundaries forms flowing arcs that feel almost musical, thus perhaps that sensation of a caress rather than a slap. This works also seems to offer commentary on global consumerist trade and the piles of detritus it creates, detritus that often ends up floating on the surface of oceans, swirled and nudged into forms echoing those here. Find your own path into this work, but give it time. Abstraction provokes unique associations in every viewer. That’s the fun — and challenge — of it. Treat yourself. Go see these and the other works in the show.

Wayne State University MFA 1 Thesis Exhibition runs through 7 February. The second half opens 14-February.

 

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October 4, 2013

Stretch the Strangle Hold — Artists Against War

by Jim Welke

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Stretch the Strangle Hold - Artists Against War, on thru 5-October 2013 at 4731 Gallery (4731 Grand River) in Detroit begins with the following message of intent:

Inspired by my painting, Stretch the Strangle Hold, I sought out help to achieve the goal of bringing like-minded artists of all disciplines together to speak out against the lie of war. This group exhibit features many artists from around greater Detroit. Our goal for this show is to raise awareness at the local and national level to send a message that war is not the most effective solution.
- Joe Lovett, curator

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Stretch the Strangle Hold / Joe Lovett

The show includes works in various media by Catherine Peet, Madeline Barkey, Victor Pytko, Eric Mesko, David Mikesell, Sergio De Giusti, Lynn Galbreath, Marilyn Zimmerwoman, Jon Parlangeli, David Fischer, Jeanne Bieri, Donald Mendelson, Linda Allen, and Joe Lovett.

When you enter the room, this show immediately feels big like a cathedral. You slip into an awestruck contemplative mood, with a constant edge of pissed off. At least this writer did. If you despise war and the people who conspire to incite it you will likely feel the same. Yet, none of the imagery or sculpture in this show are gut wrenchingly graphic. That fact explains the power this show harnesses. You feel pissed off because so much of the form and imagery looms there with astonishing familiarity. Seeing it here, in an art gallery, stops you dead in your tracks. You wonder why the hell we put up with it. Why do we allow such grotesque brutality? One answer might lie in a quote pasted up beside David Mikesell’s Living In Trenches:

“I have not washed for a week, or had my boots off for a fortnight. …It just serves my …barbaric disposition and I have never enjoyed anything so much.” — Captain Julian Grenfell, letter to parents, 1914. He died of wounds in 1915, age 27.

Blinded by Gas Attack (top) / Living in Trenches (bottom) / David Mikesell

Blinded by Gas Attack (top) / Living in Trenches (bottom) / David Mikesell

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Walking Wounded / David Mikesell

There are those who greet war eagerly, who commit barbarity blithely, who relish the adrenalin buzz of combat. If you doubt, read some first hand accounts of war. Many more quotes like the one above linger like the smell of dog shit in our collective consciousness. And then there are those ostensible leaders who send others — reluctant participants — to war with the anticipation of glory and riches. To the instigators go glory and riches. Warriors get scant recompense. Most reluctant warriors bear scars from wounds they rarely mention. And their reticence to speak of nightmarish experiences impoverishes civilians. We should hear more from former warriors; they constitute the majority, and with sobering consistency advise avoidance of war.

Flower Gun Power / Linda Allen

Flower Gun Power / Linda Allen

But if we heard from them, would we heed them? The argument to urge us into war always comes down to “us against them” — hollow patriotism rallied by profiteering demagogues. You’re either with us, or you’re against us. You’re either one of us, or you’re one of them. You either defend our sacred national honor and fragile borders, or you tear both down and let the pagan hordes descend on our women and children, rape and enslave our tender innocents. Yet in the end, after the smoke clears — the infamous fog of war that obscures the barbarity — we discover it was about somebody else’s money and power; somebody other than the warriors compelled to fight; somebody other than the families compelled to consign their flesh and blood to horrible, needless death; somebody other than the citizens compelled to commit their treasure.

Same Story Same Game / Catherine Peet

Same Story Same Game / Catherine Peet

Story Teller / Catherine Peet

Story Teller / Catherine Peet

Here’s the original quote by Edmund Burke, the one apparently so often misquoted:

No man, who is not inflamed by vain-glory into enthusiasm, can flatter himself that his single, unsupported, desultory, unsystematic endeavours are of power to defeat the subtle designs and united Cabals of ambitious citizens. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.

 

The Dove of Peace / Eric Mesko

The Dove of Peace / Eric Mesko

The Dove of Peace / Eric Mesko (detail)

The Dove of Peace / Eric Mesko (detail)

You’ll find at 4731 a phalanx of artwork combined against warwork: paintings, sculpture, photographs, mixed-media. Several pieces incorporate squadrons of those little plastic “army men” and other “toys” we drop into the hands of our children as prelude to merciless shredding of their innocence. Some works show scenes from our infamous past, matter-of-factly presented with that aforementioned unsettling sense of familiarity: Mr. Mikesell’s meticulously rendered World War One scenes, not frenetic battles but the walking wounded, men blinded by gas, in a line gripping the shoulder of the man in front as guide; or the inside of trenches where soldiers slept — all presented in soft hues and precise brushstrokes that remind one of Norman Rockwell’s gentle scenes of American domestic tranquility, except these show us horrors we never should have witnessed; and Jeanne Bieri, with a series of black and white photos, bleached from age. In one, a child wears a gas mask as a taller sister, outfitted with similar military fixtures stands aside, cut off at the shoulders as though ascending from the scene, leaving the child to suffocate alone in well-intentioned but likely ill-fitted, ineffective protective armor.

Hawaiian Child in a Gas Mask / Jeanne Bieri

Hawaiian Child in a Gas Mask / Jeanne Bieri

After Trayvon / Marilyn Zimmerwoman

After Trayvon / Marilyn Zimmerwoman

Other artists offer war imagery transposed as surreal pageantry; the familiar rendered strange, like David Fischer’s After the Bomb, an eerie glass bomb shell with grass growing inside. Marilyn Zimmerwoman offers “Time” magazine covers with Trayvon Martin’s empty hoodie superimposed over cryptic, mirrored text (“We spend a lot of time / On a few great things. / Until every idea we touch / Enhances each life it touches.”); or China’s imperial ascendance — “THE WORLD ACCORDING TO CHINA”; and a luxe wristwatch and reclining leopard; ghostly figures holding reversed signs that read, “Aids is going to lose,” all rendered translucent and exposed to lucid scrutiny like x-ray films. Perhaps a bit off topic, but then again given the pressure of commerce, geopolitics, and the warped apartheid culture Americans inhabit, perhaps these scenes represent inevitable precursors to war, the signs and symbols that provoke it.

Girls / Madeleine Barkey

Girls / Madeleine Barkey

Madeleine Barkey gives us Girls and Boy: nude schematics of children with target circles on their heads and torsos. Eric Mesko’s Dove of Peace, a collage of war clippings, including a New York Times roster of dead soldiers fronted by a diaphanous skull on a colonial pillar wearing a helmet wrapped in barbed wire, topped by a duck that grips an olive branch in its beak (a send up of that American eagle vainly clutching the ubiquitous olive branch). Catherine Peet brings ghostly dioramas embellished with mysterious icons alongside the Statue of Liberty; or a skeletal, lute-playing jester encircled by those tiny, ubiquitous army men painted in garish colors; or the exotic bird, Horned Plundious with blood seeming to issue from its beak. Linda Allen shows a 19th or early 20th century battle scene painting where lush faux flowers and hearts spontaneously pop from the barrels of guns and between the lurching soldiers’ feet. Sergio De Giusti’s sculpture Hanging Body Bags of Babylon (altarpiece) shows hanging, shrouded corpses and men lugging more to the scene in a creepy, almost biblical bas-relief. Donald Mendelson’s Dogs at Work depicts a desert battle scene, pyramid in the background, with gas-mask clad soldiers led by a colossal dog and followed by can-can dancers. Jon Parlangeli’s The Draft shows a negative image of men marched off at gunpoint as colored shards of confetti descend around them.

Mad Men / Victor Pytko

Mad Men / Victor Pytko

Mad Men / Victor Pytko (detail)

Mad Men / Victor Pytko (detail)

And Victor Pytko’s Mad Men, an installation placed in the center of the main gallery forms the shape of a bomb — conventional ordinance perhaps, or maybe an incendiary device designed to engulf in flames beings and buildings alike, or it could represent the ultimate destructive invention, an atomic bomb. There it sits in the middle of the room, plastered over with diminutive, surging, leaping army men, toy guns and grenades, and doll heads, all painted over in flat black spray. On the flattened, square tail end, Mr. Pytko added a diaphanous painting of a man convulsed in terror or pain (face reminiscent of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing a Viet Cong Prisoner — that gruesome street execution in Saigon).

After the Bomb / David Fischer

After the Bomb / David Fischer

The Draft / Jon Parlangeli

The Draft / Jon Parlangeli

Soldier with Cat / Donald Mendelson

War With Peace / Jon Parlangeli

In abstract work by Donald Mendelson, Lynn Galbreath, Jon Parlangeli, and Joe Lovett toxic, gassy nebulae, and fracture figures in abrasive color or clinical grays ascend from canvases, sculpture, and mixed-media to assault our sleepy complacency. Joe Lovett’s eponymous Stretch the Strangle Hold suggests Picasso’s Guernica with nearly similar dimensions, gray tones, and tumbling images, but updated with modern war machinery and a shred of American flag painted in color. Overall, the scene feels less imbued with pure fury, but more of a diffuse, implacable sorrow. Yellow Brick Road, by Mr. Parlangeli, also suggests Guernica with cubist polygons, exaggerated features, and of course those bull horns, but Mr. Parlangeli used color to enforce the dramatic impact of the horrible human chaos he depicts with no shortage of pointless fury. Lynn Galbreath’s Hello Tokyo uses Godzilla, ensnared by a serpent, astride an all-terrain vehicle, and overrun by hordes of human attackers, painted in pallid green tones, and overlaid with block letters spelling out “FALSEHOODS, LIES, CONTRADICTIONS.” Indeed. It seems she presents an amalgam of propagandistic icons under assault here… or to another viewer something else, but clearly an indictment of human folly that ends with war.

The Hanging Body Bags of Babylon (altarpiece) / Sergio De Giusti

The Hanging Body Bags of Babylon (altarpiece) / Sergio De Giusti

Stretch the Strangle Hold - Artists Against War is timely and important, and populated with quality work well worth a look. Cheers to 4731 Gallery, the curator Joe Lovett, and the artists who used their prodigious talent to comment on a topic worthy of scathing commentary.

Drunk Tank Pink / Lynn Galbreath

Drunk Tank Pink / Lynn Galbreath

Just Ducky / Lynn Galbreath

Just Ducky / Lynn Galbreath

Hello Tokyo // Lynn Galbreath

Hello Tokyo / Lynn Galbreath

Dogs At Work / Donald Mendelson

Dogs At Work / Donald Mendelson

Dogs At Work / Donald Mendelson

Dogs At Work / Donald Mendelson (detail)

Yellow Brick Road / Jon Parlangeli

Yellow Brick Road / Jon Parlangeli

Jeanne Bieri

Jeanne Bieri

Boy / Madeleine Barkey

Boy / Madeleine Barkey

Stretch the Strangle Hold / Joe Lovett (detail)

Stretch the Strangle Hold / Joe Lovett (detail)

Stretch the Strangle Hold / Joe Lovett (detail)

Stretch the Strangle Hold / Joe Lovett (detail)

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July 24, 2013

Robert Platt: Insubstantial Pageants of The Mind’s Eye

By Jim Welke

Enkephalon, 2013 64 x 72” / oil and pigment on linen

Enkephalon, 2013
64 x 72” / oil and pigment on linen

Robert Platt: Insubstantial Pageants of The Mind’s Eye
June 20, 2013 – July 27, 2013

Robert Platt’s solo show at the Butcher’s Daughter Gallery in Detroit consists of a series of big rectangular canvases; several round pictures; a round, onyx-like, semi-reflective mirror; a sprayed in-situ graffiti work; and a big, faux fur tepee in the center of the room.

Ridolon, 2013 13ft x 8ft / mixed-media

Ridolon, 2013
13ft x 8ft / mixed-media

The pictures share a color range suggestive of fall foliage: orangey-red-brown, golden-yellow earthy tones. In some, nebulous halos and clouds of brighter shades appear like the fluorescing remnant gases of deep space supernovae. In others, pixel-like rectangles appear as though a digital image exploded, sending virtual-reality data fragments shearing off into virtual space (a testament to the mutability of vision). All eleven pictures seem abstract, given the non-representational forms that inhabit them. Yet, most if not all contain figures of men, animals, and plants. Perhaps blurred, fragmented, representational imagery better defines them.

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Rather than set a semantic trap, to better understand where Mr. Platt is coming from you should read several gallery descriptions and artist statements.

From the Butcher’s Daughter exhibition description:

This large-scale painting exhibition features nearly a dozen works by Robert Platt that explore concepts of mediated and domestic nature and the liminal spaces of contemporary life. Platt investigates how human interaction is effected by imported cultural constructs and, further, how these ideas and thoughts affect the world we live in, our shared social experiences, and the impact and resonance within the individual.

Platt, born in 1974 London, England, states:

“As in Plato’s cave allegory we content ourselves with illusions of reality. As our lives become more intertwined with technology, our constructions of multiple realities increase. While we distance ourselves from nature, we glorify the appeal of the wild and the image of solitude and simplicity.”

This simultaneous simulation and detachment will be manifest in the exhibition through a spatial intervention containing multi-channel camera obscurae.

Platt explains:

“The ideas behind the subject matter attempts to communicate a critique of the increasing loss of social and interpersonal relations today, but at the same time it creates a social event, which invites people to share ideas and consider the role of our personal detachment to nature, the impermanence of structures, and ways to rethink our relation to nature and our social interaction within it.” Exhibition description, Butcher’s Daughter Gallery, Detroit Michigan

From Mr. Platt’s artist statement posted at the Chelsea River Gallery website:

The Post Modern era is a confusing time. We are no longer living in a simple age where definitions and categories are easily assigned. As a contemporary artist my research attempts to reveal the complex contradictions between nature and technology and between aesthetic conventions in our social relations to the natural world. Rather than being ‘about nature’ my work can be better characterized as being focused on ideas about nature. …As a way of working, I collate a bricolage of source material and images which are manipulated through various technological processes then re-inscribed through painting in an attempt to uncover traces of the more fugitive aspects of seeing and recognition. Robert Platt, Chelsea River Gallery, Chelsea Michigan

Note the artist’s reference to Plato’s Cave allegory; it serves well to illuminate the essence of Insubstantial Pageants of The Mind’s Eye — this title itself a reference to that pageant in the cave. In that dialectic from The Republic, Plato describes a group of prisoners held captive in a cave from birth. Forced to peer at a single wall in the cave, they see a series of shadows cast by actors in a pit backlit by a fire. The actors carry on their heads figures of men and animals. The shadows of these figures are all the prisoners see. For them, these figures comprise reality. Nothing else exists. Released from captivity, a prisoner who ventures out of the cave could no longer trust his sense of the real, and could never again see the world of shadows in the same way. These shadows might now constitute for him a version of reality, but not the only reality. If this former prisoner returned to the cave and described what he learned of the larger world beyond the cave, he might be distrusted and feared, even killed by the other prisoners he attempts to free, Plato tells us. They prefer the reality they know to any alien landscape beyond their immediate perception.

In Mr. Platt’s work, he offers an altered reality of shadow and light. Hence, the struggle defining these pictures as either abstract or representational. At first glance, at least to this writer, the figures inhabiting these pictures were not all immediately apparent. But with a sustained gaze, the figures emerge. The pictures transition from abstract to representational. They distort our concept of reality; abstract it, but present familiar signs. Remember what Mr. Platt stated above: his paintings are an “attempt to uncover traces of the more fugitive aspects of seeing and recognition.” He creates them from a bricolage of collected imagery. He projects that imagery and paints it. And out of this process he transforms the ostensibly objective into the subjective. And so we see familiar things in an unfamiliar way and one hopes, learn something about our perception of reality — or the reality we perceive in images.

From the exhibition description and artist statements above, what Mr. Platt seems most interested in are the images — or symbols — of the natural world that inhabit our media-saturated lives. Sometimes these images are merely snapshots that provoke nostalgia, sometimes they are part of a crass marketing attempt to associate products with our pre-conceived — but abstracted — positive notions of nature. But they always remain images, not the reality they represent, and as such remain inherently manipulative and untrustworthy like the prisoner returned to the cave. It seems that Mr. Platt, in his work, seeks to play the role of Plato and remind us of this, and possibly provoke us to look deeper into the sea of imagery we drown in, recognize its inadequacy to sustain us physically or psychically, and instead re-emerge in the living breathing world — to find truth.

The obfuscation of figures in these paintings works to great effect to further Mr. Platt’s thesis. For a moment, your mind wanders into the swirls and emerging squares of color, and then snaps back with a flash of recognition of a man, bird, or plant. The figures seem archaic, mythical, primal. Perceptions flicker.

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The paintings demonstrate careful, deliberate execution (even where paint peals away, or was sprayed on the wall with abandon — measured abandon). The paint mostly appears thin and light on the canvas, ink-like. Brushstrokes land precisely, without visible signs of re-work or second thoughts, as though Mr. Platt worked out technical details elsewhere and undertook these pictures with definite ideas of what he meant to get down on the canvas. Perhaps this could be called Mr. Platt’s formal purity: clear, refined intentions planned and executed according to plan. It’s nice to see such masterful application of media, it’s indicative of well-learned craft.

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Looking at these pictures, one recognizes in Mr. Platt an orderly mind, devoted to achieving a rational thought process. Some might even criticize Mr. Platt for excessive single-mindedness in his work, obsessive devotion to his self-assigned mission for this series of paintings. It’s possible that in achieving a cerebral, philosophical objective, Mr. Platt washes traces of emotion out of his work that might otherwise be there. The paintings in this show can feel a bit cold. But maybe that’s not a bad thing. These pictures I think seek to enlighten; they pack a message. And perhaps to convey a message requires the suppression of emotional racket — emotion grips the viewer later with the realization and recognition of a deeper understanding of the world. The effect of this show comes like an ever-accelerating slow burn rather than an instantaneous blast.

Now for the big tepee in the center of the gallery: it contains four camera obscurae that project images of Mr. Platt’s paintings on paperback-sized screens inside. One enters the tepee on hands and knees, stands within, and like Plato’s prisoner returned to the cave allows eyes to adjust to the surrounding darkness. Then you see the camera obscura screens. On the screens you view hazy, dimmed images of the paintings on the gallery walls. The tepee and its screens remove you from the reality of the gallery, and for a moment at least — enveloped in inky blackness — your only true reality resides on those screens. Your world becomes the shadows in Plato’s cave.

One almost wishes you entered the tepee first, before ever seeing the pictures on the walls. And after seeing the dim camera obscura versions, emerged into the surrounding lightness to appreciate Mr. Platt’s work in its true majesty. As it happens, the tepee feels a bit contrived. The intent may not be immediately apparent to casual visitors, and perhaps that’s how it should be — enlightenment comes to those who work for it (and even then not always). Still, I suspect the paintings could stand on their own without the added spectacle of the tepee. Many visitors, especially at a crowded opening, will not experience it, self-consciously disinclined to crawl in. (Visitors also might not read the description and statement that explain the show and tepee within.) This writer went to the well-attended opening, but avoided the tepee until a second visit to the gallery during a slack time when only one other visitor showed up.

But if Mr. Platt overreached a bit with the inclusion of the camera obscurae (and black acrylic mirror that submerges viewers in a simulacra of Mr. Platt’s work), he hit the mark with his paintings, and likely will continue doing so given his measured approach and technical mastery. The Butcher’s Daughter did well to show these works for their inaugural exhibition in these new Detroit digs. Detroit art fans should be gladdened by such galleries showing such work in their midst.

 

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 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.

IMG_1432

IMG_1448

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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.

Visit artifizz.org for art news and events

 

January 28, 2013

Scott Hocking: THE END OF THE WORLD

By Jim Welke

Through the end of January, installations and images by Detroit artist Scott Hocking inhabit the SUSANNE HILBERRY GALLERY in Ferndale. Get down there and see the “THE END OF THE WORLD” — you won’t witness another show like it.

Mr. Hocking’s work brings an eerie aura to the gallery. Most of the photographs that occupy the walls were shot in Detroit at night. Color emerges sparingly, as though you’ve stepped into a dark corridor and your eyes require time to adapt. Give your eyes pause to dilate and you’ll appreciate the astonishing depth in these deftly composed scenes. A sense of peering into a dream through a very clean window grips you.

Ascending and Descending

MC Escher: Ascending and Descending, lithograph, 1960

Turn your head a few degrees, and the objects in the view appear to shift as though constructed in three dimensions. But these are photos, your brain insists. How can these images relentlessly play such tricks? Consider the use of perspective and depth of field. Consider those converging lines that transport you toward the focal point. The effect suggests the work of Escher, but not as overtly and not with the cloying effect of a visual parlor trick. The subtlety of composition unobtrusively engages without testing your patience.

Ansel Adams: The Tetons and the Snake River, 1942

Ansel Adams: The Tetons and the Snake River, 1942

And how does Mr. Hocking achieve such clarity at night? One wonders. In the pursuit of clarity and depth, Ansel Adams used eight-by-ten-inch glass negatives lugged into the wilderness on his back. The high physical and spiritual cost of each shot demanded careful composition and long waits for the perfect moment. Similarly, the clarity of Mr. Hocking’s work represents well-honed craft and timing, no doubt wrought through repetition and ruthless winnowing of sub-standard shots.

But clarity is a tool Mr. Hocking applies willfully, and sometimes he dispenses with it to let sections of a composition drop of out focus through wide apertures. By selectively focusing, the images are imbued with a temporal, fleeting quality like your eye captures in a landscape where objects grab your attention randomly. Blurring seems to envelop a whim, an impression at the instant the shutter opened and closed and froze time. Depth-of-field manipulation is a classic photographic technique that requires precise selection of lenses, lighting, shutter speed and lens opening. Few amateurs with automatic digital cameras trouble themselves with such details anymore. You can tell from his photos that Mr. Hocking understands the power of focus and perspective, and he applies them with grace.

 

Several shots are devoted to “The Egg,” a cairn-like installation Mr. Hocking created in situ in the crumbling Michigan Central train station in Detroit. The work, built from fragments of stone broken free of the building, implies an improbable spontaneous recombination of the products of decay. Quantum mechanics enlists probability to describe the potential for a given condition to occur, and thus a set of probabilities represent every possible condition. While not impossible, the probability of the spontaneous formation of an egg-shaped cairn in a neglected train station is very, very low. But, add the sheer force of human will to the equation and improbable things happen. “The Egg” reminds us that humans possess something raw natural forces do not: free will. We can halt inevitable entropy and reconstruct the world in the blink of an eye if we persistently, relentlessly direct our will.

One amusing print, “Obama 2012,” reinforces the documentary quality of photography. In thirty years this image will be imbued with powerful nostalgia that will either chide us for our failures, or honor our accomplishments. Our choice. But looking at this image, a visual memory burns into your retinas with the vivid colors of a gas station sign emblazoned in the depth of night with the title text — an audacious gift from a gas station operator and Mr. Hocking.

Scott Hocking: The End of the World, 2012

Scott Hocking: The End of the World, 2012

“The End of the World,” the installation from which the show gets its name, stands against a back wall of the gallery where it beckons visitors with a multi-colored pyramidal form. Approach the work and you see that it is comprised of books positioned vertically, face-out, one on top of the other. The titles are uniformly bleak, if not apocalyptic. Remember that thirteen level pyramid on the back of the dollar bill — the one with the all-seeing Eye of Providence on top? Depending how you order the rows, Mr. Hocking’s pyramid also possesses thirteen levels. But the message seems to be imbued with a bit more irony than earnestness, and reflects on the folly of certain realms of human study. What were those authors thinking? What sort of publisher puts such things in print? Ponder it for a while.

 

ScottHocking: Mercury Retrograde, 2012

Scott Hocking: Mercury Retrograde, 2012

Another construction of Mr. Hocking’s occupies one long side of the gallery: various sized glass-fronted wooden boxes stand stacked against the wall. Dead animals preserved by a curiously inspired taxidermist inhabit all of them. Frozen in poses they may or may not have held in life, the stuffed carcasses of birds, mice, squirrels, chipmunks, voles, raccoons, groundhogs (woodchucks), a deer (a two foot tall infant), etcetera stare out of their enclosures with glassy, dead-eyed indifference. These stilled animals were once transported to schools to show children the myriad of life surrounding them, no doubt in a time before the prevalence of video, or sensitivity to the impression a herd of murdered creatures might have on developing minds. Not that the impression would be damaging, but I think kids with their clear eyes would see the weird irony here. And with the animals stacked up in an art gallery, the weird streams out like photons from a star penetrating your entire being. There is no escape.

Across the room a big, fat, corroded Mercury sedan crouches with an equally dead-eyed stare, headlights blown out by rocks or bullets. Bullet holes perforate a door and window of the car. Was the Mercury a backdrop for a cold-hearted execution? Or was it just the target of rambunctious gunplay?

The animals and the car comprise Mr. Hocking’s “Mercury Retrograde.” Mercury retrograde is a term of art from astrology and refers to the apparent reverse motion of planets through the sky due to vagaries of their orbits as viewed from Earth. Retrograde motion of Mercury (according to Wikipedia) “is commonly thought to signify difficulties in communication, such as post or emails going astray, verbal misunderstandings, and travel delays and frustrations.” Clearly gone astray, the car sits in a pile of salt, which does not appear to be an accidental choice of material.

Scott Hocking: Mercury Retrograde, 2012

Scott Hocking: Mercury Retrograde, 2012

Notably, salt underlies Detroit in the form of vast 400 million year old subterranean deposits. Salt spills too from the base of one of the boxed animals, and ties the beasts to the human conceit of permanence imbued in that multi-ton Mercury of the past. The salt was here before us and will be here when we’re gone. Possibly too, in the distant future a few of us will stare dead-eyed from glass-topped boxes — the exhibit is after all entitled “End of the World.” There is irony here, but it lurks in the background of the eerie reality thoughtfully constructed by Mr. Hocking. Nothing lasts forever; think about those long gone oceans that formed the salt below us.

Get out and see this show before it is gone.

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Detroit Salt Co.

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