Gallery Project – Re:Formation Toledo

Gallery Project drops a politically-loaded art-bomb for their fourth annual exhibition

Gallery Project, one of the most ambitious annual art exhibitions in the region, returned with a roar this month, opening its fourth installment on Monday, August 1st with Re:Formation – which will remain on display in the former department store at 600 Jefferson Ave in downtown Toledo, Oh through Wednesday, August 31, before moving to its second location at the Ann Arbor Art Center (117 W. Liberty) on Friday, September 9, and remain on display there through Sunday, October 16. As in previous years, the exhibition draws some 50+ local, regional, and national artists together around a theme, however, the tone of this year’s theme – Re:Formation – strikes a markedly different note than last year’s theme, Wish List. Co-curators Rocco DePietro and Gloria Pritschet were compelled to pursue a more pointedly political theme this year, and the resulting submissions demonstrate the success of that aim.

GP1 Organizers

Gallery Project organizers and co-curators Rocco DePietro and Gloria Pritschet All Images Courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp

“Last time there was a focus on hope,” said Pritschet, in an interview with Detroit Art Review, “but something shifted, right around November of last year, where people who had never spoken out began standing up, and we knew we needed to re-form around that concept.”

DePietro can pinpoint the moment more exactly: “Everyone had a different tipping point,” he said. “For me it was the shooting of Tamir Rice.” The ever-mounting documentation of increasingly visible human rights abuses has left both DePietro and Pritschet moved to consider what power art has to affect human issues, and sought to create this year’s Gallery Project as an effort to “express the new form that’s taking shape within art.”

GP4 Desiree Duell install

Desiree Duell, Bodies of Water (2016), collaborative installation

The output varies – as one might imagine, given the vast cross-section of artists included in the show – but a few thematic elements emerged strongly. The Flint water crisis was central to the show, both literally and figuratively. One of the front window displays recreates a collaborative installation originally done in Flint by Desiree Duell (Flint, MI). The piece, which jumps the bank of the window bay and spills out onto the main gallery floor, is comprised of dozens of disposable plastic water bottles – the woefully insufficient temporary measure provided en masse to Flint residents in lieu of a potable water system – outlining the form of a fallen child. The bottles on the floor inside, activated by LED lights, spell out “THIRST.” A series of photographs by Darryl Baird (Flint, MI) capture elements of the Flint water system: Eroded Manhole, Underground Sewer Line, Runoff Control Sewer, and others, each vignetted with a dreamy circular-crop more usually applied to glamor photos.

GP2 Mark B installation

Mark Bleshenski, Plumbum (2016), installation view

The largest piece in the show is a sprawling installation by Mark Bleshenski (Bay City, MI), Plumbum, located in the middle of the showroom floor. The installation, which draws its name from the Latin word for lead (because lead was used in plumbing in ancient times), collects 100 water samples from Flint faucets into various receptacles, and arranges them into clusters atop two groups of meticulously crafted wooden stools of various heights. The craftsmanship and object repetition is aesthetically engaging – it is a carefully assembled collection, with many forms and colors present – and even playful, as some of the vessels are warped into unexpected shapes and some of the liquids contained within are bright Kool-Aid colors. It is only as one draws near enough to see the data tracked on each vessel that the scene shifts from madcap collection to mad science.

GP5 Julianne Lindsey

Julianne Lindsey and Elton Monroy Duran, DELRAY Project, multi-media installation/archive

Indeed, data visualization is a recurring theme throughout the show, and increasingly a mainstay of activist art. It seems that artists posses a unique power to process information that might otherwise remain comfortably abstract into aesthetic terms that hit closer to home. Some use a kind of visual synecdoche, as did Pritschet (Ann Arbor, MI) with her In Memorium installation, that neatly layers tiers of children’s shoes, painted black, into a morbid little mound strewn with bullet casings. Others take a documental approach, as did Julianne Lindsey (Detroit, MI) and Elton Monroy Duran (Detroit, MI), whose front-window installation, DELRAY Project, represents an ongoing effort to collect materials, photographs, and audio recordings from the Delray neighborhood, which is slated to be the future site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge in Southwest Detroit.

GP6 Andrew Thompson

Andrew Thompson, Representing Congress: Detroit’s Belle Isle 1893-2013 (2016), masking tape, book

Artists may also be dealing with literal data, as did Andrew Thompson (Detroit, MI) with Representing Congress: Detroit’s Belle Isle 1893-2013, which overlays each successive congressional redistricting of Belle Isle over 120 years in a different color of masking tape. This deceptively simple piece not only underscores the mutability of ostensibly fixed systems upon which our society is built, but additionally nods to the ages-old practice of gerrymandering, which seeks to rearrange or otherwise manipulate a given electoral constituency, so as to favor one party or class.

The current political climate may be a reasonable corollary to this shift in tone for Gallery Project. Last year’s show came in the midst of the Obama presidency, a time of triumph and great hope for progress. With this year’s presidential election shaping up around fear politics on both sides of aisle, it seems fitting – if somewhat demoralizing – that we’ve gone from a mindset of making a wish to speaking out in protest. But, as Prtischet says, “These are the reactions. People can’t be quiet anymore.”

Gallery Project is speaking loudly, and the message is clear – problems abound, direct action is required, and art can no longer satisfy itself with raising awareness. Reformation is coming.

 

Sandwich Project @ Art Gallery of Windsor

Installation Image, Sandwich Project, image courtesy Cynthia Greig 2017

“The Sandwich Project” at the Art Gallery of Windsor centers around famed American artist Martha Rosler’s 1974 video, “Semiotics of the Kitchen,” a visionary send-up of the entrapment of women in the machinery of the kitchen. It features a very young Rosler parodying more famed cooking show host Julia Childs.

After more than forty years, and our global digital brain transplant, the six-minute B&W video remains mesmerizing both intellectually and as a performance. With deadpan facial and bodily gestures, Rosler punctuates an alphabet of the accouterments of cooking — Apron, Bowl, Chopper, Dish, Egg Beater — objects that traditionally have signified women’s domestic identity, but become as sinister as the crippling machinery of the factory.

As Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp had been pushed over-the-edge by the machine of the factory in his 1936 film Modern Times, thus defining the generation of pre-union, factory workers, Rosler’s Julia Childs dramatizes the enslavement of women in the signifying machinery of the kitchen.

Rosler’s video, however, is only a set-up for the rest of the engaging Sandwich Project, which was the brainchild of Windsor’s renowned Iain Baxter&, an early conceptual artist, painter and photographer, and was curated by Art Gallery of Windsor’s Jaclyn Meloche, also an artist, performance artist and writer. Baxter& conceived the Sandwich project as a play on “all things Sandwich,” to quote Katherine Mastin, AGW’s Director,

Sandwich, one of the earliest neighborhoods in Windsor, namesake of England’s once important port, was the origin of the name for the portable lunch, which (after the Fourth Earl of Sandwich) like this exhibition, composes layers of ingredients (often between two slices of bread). The word dredges up all kinds of history both in England and in Windsor, in the underbelly of which lies the War of 1812, a conflict that to some locals seems as though it was between Detroit and Windsor. In fact, Sandwich, Ontario was the site of important 1812 battles.

Iain Baxter&, “Iain Baxter as an open-faced sandwich” 1978

Iain Baxter&, born in England, his own art fraught with visual hi-jinks, was obviously quite cognizant of this back story in conceiving the project, which is ripe with delicious visual puns and ironies.

Likewise it’s the relationship of food to social and political history, popular culture and feminism, that Meloche ran with to create six independent exhibitions, each of which is self-contained, with moments of delightful humor and brilliant art, while at the same time executing an engaging critical perspective on food and culture. A video entitled “Food as Metaphor,” moderated by Meloche, which includes statements and discussion by the artists, punctuates the exhibitions.

Baxter&’s own contribution, entitled “Baxter&Food,” is a collection of more or less still-life photos of nourishment.  “Iain Baxter as an open face sandwich,” c.1978, is typical of his dadaistic play with art history in which he humorously features himself as both the maker and material of art. Equally the dada irony looms huge in “Still Life with Winter Vista,” 1996, which features a glass patio table laden with a cornucopia of tropical fruit and vegetables, with a classic Lake St. Clair winter landscape in the background. Baxter&’s energetic art prompts thinking about big issues like ecology, food and identity, rather than simply art stuff, yet at the same time his work has a subtle aesthetic valence that is hard to categorize. His “The Primaries,” composed of bottles of ketchup, mustard and blue Gatorade that he classifies as “found objects,” is not only a great commentary on our food culture and its ironic spectacality, but a rather wonderful conceptual sculpture.

Iain Baxter&, “The Primaries,” Found Objects, 2017

Of the six exhibits in The Sandwich Project, the one most provocative to the central issue of our food culture is “Food, Feminism and Kitchen Culture.” Introduced by Rosler’s video, the exhibition sets up a discourse on the landscape of the kitchen as an imprisoning construction of which women are the principle inhabitants.

Cynthia Greig, “Representation no. 29 (toaster), chromogenic print, 20 x 24”

If Rosler’s video sees the objects of the kitchen as an almost violent lexicon of possibilities for the construction of women’s identity —Apron/Women, Bowl/Women, Chopper/Women, Dish/Women — Cynthia Greig’s (Detroit’s best kept secret) manipulated photographs become escapes from the reality of the haptic world into a realm of diagrammatic ghosts, from realism to shadows of the real. In reducing photographs of common objects of the kitchen — toaster, milk cartons, coffee cups, French fry carton — to elemental outlines, they become ideas that hold us captive. These graceful, elegant shapes become enigmatic containers that define and thus limit ­— limitations to being, to exuberance, and diagrams that ultimately beckon language to elucidate and emancipate them.

Each of Greig’s diagrammatic images includes a referent to reality. A diagrammed toaster has images of freshly “toasted” bread popping out of it. The outlined milk carton has “spilled milk” next to it. A French fry carton has French “fried potatoes” sticking out of it. Each photograph posits the philosophical dilemma of what contains and what is contained. Pushed to their logical end, these images become a sort of dictatorial grammar of the kitchen.

Anna Frlan, “Kitchen as Factory [Mixing machine, blending machine,toasting machine]”, Steel, 2017

Complementing Greig’s skeletal works are Anna Frlan’s welded steel replicas of kitchen appliances. Actually, as if taking a hint from Greig’s diagrammatic images, Frlan’s are even more cage-like machines — a toaster oven, a blender, a mixer, a stove, a dishwasher. These drawings made of steel, at the same time as they resemble medieval torture devices, might suggest Piranesi’s images of Roman prisons. They are stunning, sinister signifiers of the role of kitchens in defining identity.

Each of the artists in this section of The Sandwich Project makes a stunning contribution to the discourse on Food, Feminism and Kitchen Culture. Marilyn Minter’s painting from her “Food Porn” series and Carly Erber’s crocheted “Salisbury Steak” make wonderfully opposite statements about women and representation of food. Christiane Pflug’s painting “Kitchen Door with Ursula,” 1966, and Annie Pootoogook’s “Tea Drinkers,” 2001, both reflect subtle personal takes on the complex psychology of kitchen life.

Sandy Skoglund, “Body Limits,” 1992

A related, borrowed exhibition, originating at the Akron Art Museum and curated by Theresa Bembnister, “Snack” is a tour de force of a generous selection of diverse representations of food, featuring Pop artists Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist, Claes Oldenburg and other contemporary artists’ takes on the western recreational activity of food and eating. Sandy Skoglund’s “Body Limits” documents a surreal tableau she created parodying a fashion shoot of two figures dressed in bacon.  French photographer Robert Doisneau’s “L’Innocent,” 1949, captures a typical Parisian gentleman’s existential encounter with his dinner in the window of a restaurant.

Robert Doisneau, “L’Innocent,” B& W Photograph, 1949

The Sandwich Project is no less than a blockbuster of an exhibition, a realization that surpasses expectation.  The fourth part, “Lunch,” collects a wonderful assortment of artifacts and images of the great pastime of noonday culture, including a wall full of school kids’ lunch boxes that in themselves are a history of midcentury pop culture, and a selection of early twentieth-century images from The Henry Ford Museum archives of Detroit cafeterias, diners, and hot dog stands.

Frederick Arthur Verner, “Untitled (River Scene, Sunset”), 1891, watercolour over graphite on paper

Two other exhibitions that bookend The Sandwich Project are AGW’s collection of nineteenth-century watercolors of the Sandwich area by artist Frederick Arthur Verner, and “Food and Film,” which features four short films on the production and distribution of food as a go-between in signifying Canadian identity. One of Verner’s watercolors features the Detroit River-front with typically English village-like architecture of early Windsor (Sandwich) in the foreground, replete with fishing boats, and a nascent Detroit industrial landscape on the far shore. During the nineteenth century, the Detroit River was famous for its astonishing fishing, supplying First Nation people and eventually Windsorites and Detroiters with bounteous whitefish and walleye. Verner’s watercolor thus becomes an ironic commentary on the devolution of food production in the area.

The Sandwich Project is a perfect summertime day trip or even two-day trip, and yields an abundance of food-for-thought about the business, culture, and representation of our relationship with food.  For lunch, Sir Cedric’s Fish and Chips is right around the corner from the Art Gallery of Windsor, reminding us of the Canadian predilection for things British. If, however your tastes are more inclined to American fare, there’s Lafayette Coney Island just across the border.

The Sandwich Project Continues through October 1, 2017

 Art Gallery of Windsor,  401 Riverside Drive West, Windsor, Ontario N9A7J1     519-977-0013

Jim Shrosbree @ Paul Kotula Projects

The title of this new exhibition of work by artist Jim Shrosbree, “thinking/still,” is evocative of Irish playwright, poet and novelist Samuel Beckett who in his novel Molloy (1951), wrote “To restore silence is the role of objects.” Indeed, the objects of Jim Shrosbree are imbued with the capacity to distill and render the space they occupy with a thoughtful silence. “thinking/still” also suggests two different states of being, one seemingly active and one inactive, that are both the same. The oblique slanting punctuation mark separating the italicized action of “thinking” and the upright “still,” serves to both divide and join these two states. To be thinking is to be still. Stillness and thought are complimentary to one another, allowing for a new space to emerge.

The twenty six works in the exhibition, consisting of the sculptural, the drawn and the painted, form a thoughtful installation attentively harmonized to the intimate space of Paul Kotula Projects. The scale of Shrosbree’s objects recall the work of Swiss artist Paul Klee (1879-1940) in their seemingly modest presence—in a time when unabashed, leaden spectacle is the go to in art, Shrosbree accomplishes so much more by downshifting the scale of our immediate experience and necessitating a deeper dive into the details for a prolonged experience. The cumulative effect on the gallery environment is that of quieting down the space for subtle equations to unfold, establishing the necessary stillness to patiently enter into the smaller spaces contained within each object. It is an environment that reverberates with possibility where one is gently guided from one situation to another and then back, from slow to quiet to a state of revelation.

Jim Shrosbree, “CAD Y (fluer)”, 2016, ceramic, suede flocking, acrylic, graphite, 8 x 10 x 4 inches

CAD Y (fluer) (2016) is a work hiding in plain sight like some sulfur covered arthropod that has scuttled into position between two windows  just below the ceiling of the gallery. It is anchored into a geometric zone of yellow enameled onto the wall within drawn graphite edges. It is as if the form shed itself onto the wall to reinforce the necessity of its being there.

Many of the objects can be viewed as situational chamber pieces with a set of circumstances that chart a series of relationships. They are small, formal narratives or event mechanisms in which Shrosbree unfolds a circuit of experiences to set off a string of associations. At the root of his practice is the act of drawing as thinking, and this translates into the intuitive path making found in the objects.

Jim Shrosbree,  “My Ship (paradise)”, 2019, acrylic, wood, string, collage, 41 x 38.5 inches

In My Ship (paradise) (2019), a painting is augmented with a string containing a little knot, held in place by a bit of tape and attached to a wooden stick. Things have been happening here as if an industrious child dreamer has constructed a rig with a secret intent. A string dangles humorously and the whole affair appears to be tentatively keeping itself together. Alternately absurd and poetic, the piece invites wonder with a minimum of means.

There is a hint of the absurd throughout Shrosbree’s work, with forms that are simultaneously graceful/clumsy, present/not present, full/empty. Akin to twittering organs rather than machines, the tentative nature of the forms and the situations they occupy, lend them a sense of ridiculousness and incongruity, and yet they also seem to transcend their nature the longer one spends with them. His titles indicate a humorous reconsideration of language through abbreviation, fragmentation, and an emphasis on spoken sounds. There is a play with words that echoes the formal play in the objects, as the texts are succinct yet also vague. With his use of color, Shrosbree tends to keep things simple on the surface of it all: yellow, red, blue, white, black, with forays into an orange or a green, however this serves as a means to softly beckon us into a deeper, more complex set of formal considerations.

Jim shrosbree, “RO (coco)”, 2019, ceramic, nylon, enamel, wire, graphite, 7.25 x 19 x 5.75 inches

With  RO (coco)  (2019), Shrosbree breathes complex life into what at first read is a misshapen pouch or bag in an unlikely union with the wall behind it. A large expanse of white space surrounds the piece, beckoning the viewer to move in closer for a proper examination. The irony of the title lay in its reference to the elaborately ornamental, which in this case is comprised of the smallest shifts and gestures that guide our investigation of its construction. The piece appears beneath a yellow shell which in fact is not a shell. It’s skin appears soft, pliable, stretched, yet passages are hardened with enamel. A limp nylon tail trails beneath with a small wire emerging from it. Follow the wire and it disappears with an absurdist flourish into a tiny hole bored into the wall. Beneath this hole, another hole. Perhaps a first attempt at wire insertion. From this second hole, a graphite line is drawn horizontally to a vertical line that eventually forms a frame around the piece with a ground of yellow enamel applied within it to merge the form to the wall. Figure/ground as one. On even closer inspection, at the forensic level, little bits of pink eraser droppings dust the baseboard beneath the piece—evidence of Shrosbree’s process of working the graphite lines further.

Jim Shrosbree, “UB (leng)”, 2017, ceramic, nylon, hair, wool, cloth, paint, ink, wood shelf, 6.5 x 23 x 7 inches (with shelf)

Likewise, a detailed examination of UB (leng) (2017), reveals a small mess of dog hairs gathered on a wool “muzzle” capping one end of a blue ceramic truncheon, resting on a rag stained with blue ink and lashed to a hunk of lumber. Unlike the work of artist Richard Tuttle, who employs a play between wall and form, drawing and the minimal manipulation of modest materials, Shrosbree’s work does not exist in a state of fragility. Despite its tentative nature, there is a kind of guileless presence that nevertheless insists on being there.

Jim Shrosbree “UB (VLoon)”, 2019, ceramic, fabric, string, cloth, tack, enamel, ink, acrylic, 14 x 16.5 x 3.5 inches

Jim Shrosbree, “Uno yuno”, 2019, ceramic, steel, paint, 49 x 15 x 16.5 inches

 

UB (VLoon) (2019) further elucidates Shrosbree’s interest in dichotomies: emptiness and fullness, the animate and the inanimate, the interior and the exterior. The flaccid and drooping painted nylon sack of the piece appears spent, yet it is attached to a form that appears ripe and full. Uno yuno (2019) is elegantly displayed on a steel plinth supported by a slender rod. Such refined stability is offset by the primary form: a seed-like entity suggesting an organic pouch plump with activity as sluggish tendrils emerge from either end. However on closer inspection, there is only the illusion of fullness within the cavity of the body. Its inflation has been implied.

Jim Shrosbree, “SAN (bdroop)”, 2019, ceramic, cloth, ink, acrylic, 15 x 12 x 4.25 inches

This embrace of illusion, of what is implied rather than shown, is central to the experience of Shrosbree’s work. In SAN (bdroop)(2019), a suspended ceramic cloth recalls the time-honored stage magic act of horizontally levitating a body beneath a sheet that conceals a platform or hidden wires. New Way (home) (2012) is a small painted relief with a wood flap seemingly supported by string, concealing the origin of a single humorous drip that emerges from under it.

In what is arguably one of the more consistently unique rooms in Paul Kotula Projects, a small chamber at the left of the hallway one enters from, there is, nestled in a corner, a piece titled Tandroop (2019). It consists of three stacked ceramic forms, each resembling sausages or baguettes or extrusions—take your pick, but it may be best to simply ignore the impulse to impose such obvious comparisons—atop a rectangular patch of folded cloth, all of which is held aloft on a painted red plinth and support shaft. The top form has been stuffed into a nylon stocking, it’s open end drooping down like some distended, tired mouth. And then there is the absurd grace note: a length of black string resembling a shoelace, perhaps four inches long, has been carefully laid atop the nylon encased form. To examine all of this closely, the viewer must crowd closer into the corner of the small room, perhaps even positioning oneself atop the low platform beside it. The very act of adjusting one’s body in proximity to this piece, lends the work a vaguely carnal presence. It is passive and yet unavoidable all the same. Humorous and yet sad. A lonely figure in a small room conjuring a whisper to come closer.

Jim “Tandroop”, 2019, ceramic, nylon, cloth, gesso, enamel, steel, 46 x 15 x 7 inches

Within the tiny universe Shrosbree has constructed in the gallery, he allows us to gaze into little models of the shifting, liminal nature of consciousness. The French philosopher Georges Bataille (1897-1962) in positing his notion of form/formless, wrote in his essay “L’inform” (“Formless”, 1929): “A dictionary begins when it no longer gives the meaning of words, but their tasks. Thus formless is not only an adjective having a given meaning, but a term that serves to bring things down in the world, generally requiring that each thing have its form. What it designates has no rights in any sense and gets itself squashed everywhere, like a spider or an earthworm. In fact, for academic men to be happy, the universe would have to take shape. All of philosophy has no other goal: it is a matter of giving a frock coat to what is. A mathematical frock coat. On the other hand, affirming that the universe resembles nothing and is only formless amounts to saying that the universe is something like a spider or spit.”

Shrosbree allows for the formless to unfold as it will. Utilizing intuition as process, guided by a sharpened awareness, he places the viewer into a state of learning in which the formlessness of universal consciousness has within it connections, pathways, threads, associations. He constructs open, circumstantial spaces that provide meditative attunement; microcosmic narratives that gently unfold in multiple iterations depending upon how we, as investigators, follow the evidence and gather our experience together in pursuit of clarity. That he achieves this without a hint of overplaying his hand and allowing us the freedom to discover our own truths, is no small feat.

thinking/still is on view at Paul Kotula Projects through October 19, 2019

Stacey Steers “Night Hunter” @ K.OSS Contemporary Art Gallery

The actress Lillian Gish (1893-1993) was called the “First Lady of American Cinema,” as the earliest prominent female film star from 1912 to the 1920s. In screen performances that defined the role of women in silent cinema, Gish was the image of the archetypal suffering heroine that gained strength through trauma. It was the stuff of pure melodrama.

“Night Hunter”, Installation view at K.OSS Contemporary Art Gallery, All images: K.OSS Contemporary Art Gallery

Artist and filmmaker Stacey Steers resurrects Gish in the animated short film Night Hunter (2011), which was created from 4,000 collages on paper and shot on 35mm film. It can currently be viewed as the centerpiece of the exhibition “Night Hunter” at the K.OSS Contemporary Art Gallery, alongside a selection of the collages used in its making and a reconfiguration of excerpted scenes within two sculptural installations. Steers work in “Night Hunter” evokes the literature of dark fairy tales, gothic horror and doomed Victorian romance as shot through with the intuitive approach to narrative construction found in Surrealist art and cinema. Rich in seemingly-incongruous symbolism, the film and its component parts untether and collect the raw material of the subconscious within a psychologically complex space that turns the psyche inside out. Although Steers evokes the imagery of the past, she also works to actively deconstruct and subvert the meaning of that imagery.

Stacey Steers: Single Collage, 22 x 18 x 1 inches, 2011

The exhibition “Night Hunter” calls forth many slivers of the ornately imagined past, beginning with The Night of the Hunter (1955), directed by Charles Laughton from a screenplay by James Agee. Set in West Virginia in the 1930s, that film stars Robert Mitchum as the misogynistic serial killer and self-appointed preacher Reverend Harry Powell, who attempts to hunt and kill a boy and a girl escaping his clutches along the Ohio River. He is a snake who enters the garden. There are numerous elements in the “Night Hunter” exhibition that converse with Laughton’s film, which is a highly stylized, expressionistic work photographed with the distortions and excessive play of shadows that haunt the dreams of children. The sets of the film appear as dimly lit dollhouses in the void, swallowed up by an ever present gloaming. Its action unfolds in an unreality— a studio lot rendition of night teeming with reminders of the natural, bestial world on the verge of devouring innocence. Lillian Gish even appears in The Night of the Hunter, as an older, wiser, gun-toting woman who keeps the Reverend at bay.

Stacey Steers: Single Collage, 22 x 18 x 1 inches, 2011

Steers’ film Night Hunter has as its setting, a house in the dark woods, where a youthful Lillian Gish, reanimated in footage excised from silent dramas such as Broken Blossoms (1919), True Heart Susie (1919) and Way Down East (1920), all directed by D.W. Griffith, and The Wind (1928) directed by Victor Sjösström. In this last film, the final silent performance of Gish, she plays a heroine who suffers at the hands of male brutality until she commits murder. Steer’s narrative thoroughly resonates with the history of Gish’s screen characters. In her Surrealist fairy tale, we are presented with the trappings of a haunted house rife with phantasmal stirrings. At the start, Gish, alone in the house, is sewing and cooking. Lace curtains part to reveal the starry night outside. Pots boil over. Death‘s-head hawkmoths are flitting about. The moodily detailed score by composer Larry Polansky establishes a space that is at once airy and yet also oppressive, with a mixture of sounds that conjure restless spirits within walls on the verge of talking. This is a scene of the domestic mundane laced with gothic horror. There is a raven clutching a writhing green earthworm within its beak. Oversized eggs bleed, the weeds penetrate up through the floorboards, a storm of moths flutter from the open drawer of a desk. Our heroine is writing a letter: “Strange things happening, mother.”

Stacey Steers: Single Collage, 22 x 18 x 1 inches, 2011

And soon, there is a snake: the intrusion of the phallic in the form of a venomous Copperhead. It is here that Steers relies upon the silent film archetype of the heroine in peril, as the snake threatens and the environment grows increasingly stifled. But there is a reversal, as one form of nature vies for dominance over another. In an echo of Camille Paglia’s feminist reading of Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds (1963), the force of feminine nature emerges as an act of reclamation in the face of the domestic as Lillian Gish flees the house to seek refuge within the dark of the surrounding forest. Night Hunter ends on a note of release.

The film harkens back to Surrealist works in its construction. The resuscitation of silent film footage incorporated into a new narrative recalls the film work of assemblage artist Joseph Cornell (1903-1972), whose experimental “found film” Rose Hobart (1936) was constructed from shuffled and reworked scenes from the 1931 “B” movie East of Borneo. Cornell would fixate upon repeated gestures and expressions of the actress Rose Hobart throughout the film in a manner that traps the actress under the male gaze. Alternately, Steers liberates the image of Gish as an active participant in her narrative.

Stacey Steers: Single Collage, 22 x 18 x 1 inches, 2011

Steer’s Night Hunteralso gestures toward Max Ernst’s 1934 collage novel/comic book Une Semaine de Bonté  (A Week of Kindness), in which the Surrealist artist set about cutting up and reorganizing a plethora of print images culled from Victorian novels, encyclopedias and natural science journals. For Ernst and many other Surrealists, this intuitive act of arriving at new meanings through the intuitive suturing of inert images rescued from the cultural dustbin was an act of liberating that which had been previously repressed in source material. Steer’s work is similarly concerned with the use of collage and montage as an act of deconstruction and reconstitution. The exhibition itself is conceived to reflect this process as the viewing of the complete 16-minute film of Night Hunter is supplemented by twenty of the collages used in its production. But rather than ossifying the experience of the film, the collages enlarge upon the space of the narrative. The film itself is manufactured from material that is fragmented and then reassembled. To then take the film and break it down into moments framed  and placed behind glass, sometimes in shadow boxes with mixed media adornments, is to create auxiliary incidents that reshuffle the memory of what has just been seen.

When viewing these individual, static collage works, plucked from the moving continuum, one can appreciate the skill with which Steers approaches the visual texture of her film. When the celluloid images advance, there is that poetic, jostling motion of handmade animation, the meaningful delays and lapses that reinforce the simultaneous decay and reanimation of time. In a frozen state, each image yields the detail of their source material: the engraved, etched, and half-toned language of print alongside the grain of silent film stock with hand-colored additions.

Stacey Steers: Shadow Box, mixed media, 11 x 13 x 3 inches, 2011

The very notion of reshuffling time, abandoning the linearity of the narrative, allows for a different sort of immersion in the world Steers has created. Here too, one can glance back at a Surrealist predecessor: Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s silent film experiment in non-linear cinematic narration Un Chien Andalou(An Andalousian Dog(1927) with its shocking eyeball sliced open by a straight razor serving as a powerful symbol for the Surrealist intent in slicing open the image. But whereas Buñuel and Dalí leaned heavily on Freudian theory and the repeated victimization of their heroine in the film, Steers empowers her heroine. And that she does so after swallowing the same death’s-head hawkmoth glimpsed in Un Chien Andalou, should not be overlooked.

Stacey Steers: Night Hunter House, wood, Nixplay screens and mixed media, 60 x 36 x 36 inches, 2011

Included in the exhibition are two sculptures, Night Hunter House and Cottage that go further to represent the central film project in an alternative light. The house is a Victorian model measuring 60 x 36 x 36 inches, painted entirely in matte black, with windows that reward the viewer access to the interiors of ten rooms, each with a small video screen playing loops of selected scenes from the film, each with furnishings that echo the animated narrative. The dim lighting of the rooms and the scale of each video loop, fortifies the intimate domestic space viewed on the larger screen. It also reshuffles the narrative once again, as the observer glances from window to window catching a fragment here and there, the gaze drifting to the miniature objects found within. We make ourselves small and burrow back into this house, whose very architecture is the symbol for so many stories relating to the ghostly, the horrific and the romantic.

Stacey Steers: Cottage, wood, Nixplay screens and mixed media, 19 x 13 x 11 inches, 2011

With Cottage, a 19 x 13 x 11 inch construction similarly painted matte black and presenting a single screen video loop within, and with “House,” Steers revels in the relationship between narrative and architecture. In these miniature, darkened spaces, she has fashioned pitch black galleries within the larger white cube. They are temporal dream spaces for us to project ourselves into, collecting her flickering images to take back into the light of day as fragmented memories that will later rejoin into an altogether different narrative upon reflection.

The exhibition “Night Hunter” by Stacey Steers is on view at K.OSS Contemporary Art from May 24th through July 13th, 2019.

 

Scott Hocking, Maritza Caneca, Jack Henry @ Wasserman Projects

Scott Hocking, Seventeen Shitty Mountains Installation image, 2019, Image Courtesy of DAR

Addressing the urban environment, Wasserman Projects has mounted three solo exhibitions that speak to the state of affairs where man-made structures exist in various forms of decay. Works by Detroit-based Artist Scott Hocking, Brazilian artist Maritza Caneca, and Brooklyn-based artist Jack Henry opened on April 26, 2019, with different mediums that find their subject matter in abandonment, ingenuity and rebirth. The exhibition required artist residencies weeks before the show opened where the work was collected and in some cases custom built into the generous expanse of the gallery space.

“To immerse oneself and fully own the beauty and power of seemingly ordinary objects and environments takes a certain kind of audacity. That is in part what has drawn me to each of our spring featured artists,” said Alison Wong, Director of Wasserman Projects. “Their ability to transform day-to-day experiences into narratives that address both personally and universally resonant subjects is so compelling. And as you engage in their work more deeply, you see at play the dichotomies of the natural and man-made, the contemporary and ancient, the funny and the grave—when those pieces come together in their hands, they produce something fresh, exciting, and real.”

Seventeen Shitty Mountains (No. 13), Concrete, steel, fluorescent pigment paint 46″ x 42″ x 37″ 2019 Image Courtesy of DAR

Scott Hocking, the Detroit-based artist, has been creating site-specific installations, using the city of Detroit as his laboratory to create works of art dating back to 2000. I first became aware of his work with the Detroit Institute of Arts exhibition Relics. The scope of his exhibitions inside abandoned buildings or outdoors in the elements, such as the Rustic SputnikTire Pyramid, or the Celestial Ship of the North, all demonstrate a wide range of locations and materials that speak to his expansive and inquisitive imagination.  Hocking delivers a formalist arrangement of three-dimensional artwork, primarily vacant interiors, to leverage an open stage as he creates collections of objects that propose deeper meanings reflective in a space that was part of a past. Hocking is documenting change, rebirth and transformation, causing the viewer to be held in awe, and as the artist transforms his found materials, reconstituted into a new form.  All the work is carefully photographed for exhibition and documentation of an image in the event the exterior space changes where new development clears the building or land.

This Wasserman installation features discarded concrete sewer pipes that Hocking collected from a now-defunct Detroit Water & Sewage Department building in Eastern Market transforming the cast concrete into colorful megaliths, some weighing as much as 15 tons.  Hocking, who has leveraged abandoned spaces in places like Port Austin, Michigan, New South Wales, Australia, and Lille, France, speaks to an artist who seeks new spaces for inspiration. A variety of motifs that reappear in his use of form are the pyramid, the oval and the circle: psychologically universal in their iconic existence for thousands of years, reminding this writer of the role the collective unconscious plays in creative expression.

Scott Hocking, Seventeen Shitty Mountains Installation, 2019, Courtesy of DAR

For the lack of a formal artist statement, and perhaps in a Hocking-ish way, he says in his bio, “Like my childhood experiences, I found myself hiking up to the railroad grade via desire paths, climbing through fence holes and busted open doorways, and into these once-bustling buildings of industry, now quiet and still. Cavernous is an accurate term to describe them, not just because of their interior size and space, but also because of their transformations into man-made caves: stalactites and stalagmites formed throughout these often cast concrete structures, as years of water permeated the roofs and floors. I found solace in the quietude and natural reclamation in these spaces. I craved it in my life and sought it out where I could find it. In these historic Detroit factories, built along the railroad over 100 years ago, and left for dead by the 1980s, I found my church-like experience. My freedom. My escape.”

Seventeen Shitty Mountains at Wasserman Projects is produced in collaboration with David Klein Gallery, which represents Scott Hocking, and Eastern Market Corporation. Hocking earned his BFA from the College for Creative Studies in 2000.

Jack Henry Untitled (Stacks), Concrete, found material, steel168″ x 4.75″ x 4.75″ ea. 2019 All images to follow courtesy of Wasserman Projects.

A combination of “core sample” sculptures and windows of detritus, Brooklyn-based artist Jack Henry uses resin and cement to bond various remains of discarded civilization and contextualized as new work, contrast with delicacy to the megaliths of Scott Hocking. The urban debris often on the interior cement perimeter to the rectangle is often thematic, be it branches, leaves, wiring or glass. These commonplace, post-industrial abstractions form the tension between the natural and industrial elements. The vertical stanchions constructed in plywood and plastic, then cast in cement result in colorful, chaotic and intricately-textured, supports, resembling geographic core samples from an urban landfill. These were created on-site to conform to the floor to ceiling height of the gallery.

Jack Henry, Utitled, (Wilderness), Gypsum cement, found material, steel, cast resin 32” x 24” 3” 2019

The contrast in found material and gypsum cement in Wilderness creates an abstraction that pays attention to composition as well as the juxtaposition of textures. Varying in size, Henry gathers commonplace materials and transforms them into multi-media works he calls “monuments” to post-industrial America.

Jack Henry Untitled (Fairview), 2019 Gypsum cement, found material, steel, cast resin 108″ x 72″ x 3″

In the publication, Beautiful / Decay, Ryan De La Hoz interviews Henry who says, “I appropriate discarded objects seen by the roadside to create monuments to post-industrial America. The selection process is focused on man-made objects and structures such as dilapidated houses, roadside memorials, tattered billboards, and other discarded materials. Each object is reinterpreted and presented as an artifact or a natural history museum model of something pulled from the contemporary landscape. The purpose is to evoke a sense of wonder from the banal byproducts of our failed but once successful modern society. Instead of merely pushing these man-made items into the peripheral of our everyday routine, I recreate the curiosities that happen when they depart from contact with people to move, decay, and harbor with other items to create monuments to cultural disaffection.”  The artist earned his BFA in sculpture from Florida Atlantic University and his MFA from the University of Maryland.

Maritza Caneca, VAZIO, Cusco, Peru, Pigment print on Hahnemuhle paper 31.5″ x 47.25″ 2017

 

Maritza Caneca, NIGHT POOL, Jerusalem, Israel, Pigment print on Hahnemuhle paper 40″ x 60″ 2016

The Brazilian artist Maritza Caneca began her career in still photography in the 1980s working alongside cinematographers, capturing fragments of film for a larger narrative and launched her attraction to abandoned swimming pools in 2012, beginning with a visit to her childhood ranch in Brazil to discover that after 35 years, the pool she loved as a child was in complete decline. What followed was her work in Cuba in 2014 where she was researching the abandonment of swimming pools in Cuba by order of Fidel Castro because of how they represented wealth and power. These events, coupled with her recent work in Budapest (known as the city of waters) to document their thermal baths – created a sensibility: An attraction to water pools, vacant of people, with light, form, color and the subtleties of the pattern. The empty pools are perhaps personally nostalgic, while the full pools become a vehicle for the illumination of an abstract composition.

Maritza Caneca, HEMINGWAY, Havana, Cuba, Pigment print on Hahnemuhle paper 40″ x 60″ 2014

When one surveys the body of photography, it is not uncommon to find a thread, be it particular objects, architecture, acts in nature, people of a rare type or periods in time, that dominate their attraction. For this exhibition at Wasserman Projects, Caneca’s work is found, whether driven by intuition or circumstance, working in the spaces around the man-made environments of water.

She says in her statement, “I have become obsessed with the nature of pools and the “ghosts” that once filled the spaces. I have gladly made the various shades of blue, the malleability of the water, and the artistry of the pool tiles my artistic tools. Conveying the nostalgic sensations that pools evoke became my motivation. I work from the perspective of an outsider attempting to gain, or regain, access to the coveted freedom pools offer; attempting to access the immersive sensations of weightlessness and calm so unique to a pool’s environment.”

Maritza Caneca, IMERSAO, HD Video, 58 min. 2016

These video screens take the camera immersed as part of moving underwater to a new dimension and reinforce her attraction to the waterscape of a full water pool. That is the conception of the video titled Imersao, which was shot in slow-motion to capture the feeling of a plenitude of submerging, like someone who drops their anchor in the world. Caneca’s pictures not only invite the memories but also the invitation to submerge in the silence of an immersion. Maritiz Caneca earned her Bachelor of Arts and Social Communication at the Faculdade da Cidade in 1982, and spent two years studying at Parque Lage Visual School of Arts.

While this exhibition presents three individual solo works of art, there is an obvious connection to urban decay and reinvention. Each artist in their own way approaches and encapsulates the nostalgia of material reused, reinvented, and celebrated.  It’s more than a discovery, rather a metaphor for our continuing engagement with art as an expression of urban environments from the past and present.

Scott Hocking, Maritza Caneca, Jack Henry at Wasserman Projects runs through June 29, 2019