Love Songs: Sam Friedman @ Library Street Collective

 

Sam Friedman, Installation image, All images courtesy of Library Street Collective

Sam Friedman’s artist statement for Love Songs, a solo exhibition of paintings and works on paper that opened at Library Street Collective on February 11, mentions the Japanese aesthetic philosophy of Wabi Sabi as an influence in his work. This world view exults the “transience of imperfection; a beauty that is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.” It’s hard to discern much imperfection or incompletion in Friedman’s imposing acrylic paintings, with their crisp, technically rigorous paint handling. Every mark bears an identical edge that somehow holds its own amid countless other razor sharp edges. Despite this uniformity, areas of Friedman’s paintings break down into surprising illusions of space, dazzlingly beautiful gradations, and vibrating forms that actually seem to move before the eye, and stay burned upon it. You see Friedman’s snaking forms gestures across white walls for several moments after you’ve turned your gaze away from the work.

Sam Friedman, Untitled, 2016 (48 x 48 inches; Acrylic on canvas, white floater frame)

Friedman wrings a surprising range of surface effects from a severe economy of techniques. Every one of his identically edged marks is, apparently, applied the same way- in one single, virtuosic stroke that embodies hand skill and discipline. While each painting contains a huge number of nearly identical marks, no mark is valued over any other. This doesn’t flatten the composition, or render it uninteresting. Friedman’s democratic approach to mark-making lets your eye take in both the whole of the work, and miraculous openings into smaller, more intimate moments. It’s an unusual painter who creates such an impression of deep space, foreground and background, with such a uniform, crystallographic approach to the picture plane.

Sam Friedment, Untitled, 2016 (30 x 90 inches; Acrylic on canvas, white floater frame)

Passing from the gauntlet shaped front space of Library Street Collective, where Friedman’s large paintings are displayed, into the more spacious back room of the gallery which houses a collection of smaller works on paper feels like leaving a dazzling, noisy city for a vast, light filled meadow. These works feel both more personal and riskier. This might be due to Friedman’s use of a larger range of media (acrylic, spray paint, silkscreen ink). His subject is a factor, as well- the sun setting over a body of water, revisited again and again, the horizon line splitting each piece into perfect halves that meet precisely at eye level. These works present an eternal template on which Friedman proceeds to meditate on the spatial layers he applied with such closed-loop certainty in his large acrylic paintings. The more organic forms- tall grass, flower petals, atmospheric effects- combined with the unavoidably vernacular icon of sunset over water presented on poster-scaled formats, while not mind-blowing in quite the same way as the paintings, feel vastly more personal. Friedman’s mastery of abstraction comes full circle in these works. The same blunt formal power and ease with materials shows up in them, with an added dose of freedom. The smaller formats and organic, representational subject matter seem to allow Friedman to play a bit more with imagery and surface effects- there’s a feeling that the stakes are lower here, or the imagery more deeply felt.

Sam Friedman, Untitled, Untitled, 2016, 54.5 x 37.75 inches; Acrylic and vinyl paints, silkscreen ink, and acrylic spray paint on primed Stonehenge paper

One wonderful thing Friedman’s paintings and works on paper have in common is the above-mentioned whiff of the vernacular. The large, abstract paintings have the dizzy free-fall atmospherics and sophisticated, ambiguous movements of album covers and Trapper-Keeper designs from the Seventies and Eighties, revisited with the same depth and grandeur one felt, mesmerized by them, as a young kid. Friedman’s works make it as if these foundational images grew up with us. The works on paper similarly shadow mass-produced movie or art posters. They communicate in the same language, with the same saturated, iconic forms that, in Friedman’s hands, take on a breath-taking, mature refinement.

Sam Friedman: Love Songs is on view at Library Street Collective  through April 8, 2017.

George Rahme @ Simone DeSousa Gallery

“A Soldier of Stars”  George Rahme at Simone DeSousa Gallery

George Rahme, Installation image, 2016

Lately I’ve been experiencing something of a crisis in my art writing. In light of the extremely dire roll-out of Donald Trump’s presidency, and the immediate and terrible effects of his first wave of legislation, writing about exhibitions at galleries feels, at best, a little disconnected, and, at worst, completely pointless. I can, however, work to draw connections between works of visual art and larger issues, political and personal, in the society that nurtures their creation. It seems important, at this moment, to focus on the dialogues art is quietly raising and pushing forward, beneath a climate of increasing fear, chaos and darkness. I’m lucky I have “A Soldier of Stars,” an exhibition of new works by Hamtramck-based artist George Rahme at Simone DeSousa Gallery, to write about.

George Rahme, Installation image, Simone DeSousa Gallery

The centerpiece of “A Soldier of Stars” is the show’s array of dignified, gracefully assembled collages, comprised of painstaking cutouts of photographic stills laminated onto weighty bolts of fabric. From a distance, the images might be embroidered with gold thread, or depict flower forms and undersea creatures. Up close, however, one instantly recognizes the lightening-speed shower of sparks emitted by the joining of metal part to metal part, through the medium of intense heat, at an assembly plant.

George Rahme, Clash Between Minds, 55 x 37″, Cut Photo on denim / canvas, 2014

Rahme’s work creates a new icon of industry, one that revels in the alchemical magic of fabrication while capturing, in formats that read somewhat like flags (proud, kinetic sculptures that proclaim identity and affiliation) and somewhat like reliquaries (the long swath of translucent fabric draped over one of the only small pieces, At Half Past Three in the Afternoon.

George Rahme, At Half Past Three in the Afternoon, Cut Paper on yardstick and fabric, 2017

These works feel especially relevant given the current discourse about America’s industrial decline, a dense, snarled narrative that is being spun by President Trump’s administration into the stuff of Shakespearian tragedy. Apparently, few figures have been more sorely betrayed, disregarded and ground under than the blue-collar American worker- the hands that once produced the sparks which Rahme preserves in his collages like butterflies in amber. The absence of visual context around these collages speaks to a dual reality- the true greatness of industry and the societies it once gathered around it (case in point, Detroit) and the fact of its diminishment, both from American shores (a process marbled with greed, racism, and shady exchanges of power that was well underway by the 1950’s) and from the hands of humans, as more and more industrial fabrication becomes automated. The pledge to return industry, and the jobs that once came with it, to economically depleted American cities is an impossible one- many of those jobs no longer exist.

The skill, craft and attention to detail that those jobs required are paid tribute in Rahme’s beautiful works. Ironically, at first glance it’s almost impossible to believe these collages were made by hand- the hundreds of tiny cuts and thread-thin lines required to collage such ephemeral, dynamic bursts of light boggle one’s mind with the thought of all that manual labor. Not so long ago, such labor wouldn’t have seemed so inconceivable.

George Rahme, Stay Gold, Cut Photo on fabric, 2015

Hand-skill, even in assembling huge machines, has a grace to it. It harkens back to some idea of a time of greater innocence. “A Soldier of Stars” includes a small stereo in a corner of the gallery, rigged up with headphones, on which one can listen to a vinyl recording of the famous text “The Little Prince,” richly intoned by Richard Burton. This story of a lost soul who encounters his own long-gone innocence in the form of a magical child from another planet amplifies a theme of loss, and beauty and optimism in the face of loss, that runs through “A Soldier of Stars.” In one part of the story, the Little Prince is looking after a rare, beautiful flower that makes increasingly sinister demands of him. She is absurdly proud of her thorns, declaring to the Prince, “Let the tigers come with their claws.” When the Little Prince realizes that thorns don’t really do much to protect the flowers that bear them, he experiences a spasm of despair that has more to do with the flower’s naiveté than the reality of its precarious state. Despite the flower’s egomania, obnoxiousness and ultimate unsustainability, he cannot bear to let so beautiful a thing die, because it represents the death of himself at one intense point of development. Rahme’s collages expand into a similar narrative- our belief in industry, and in the dream of prosperity it is so naively and intrinsically roped to, has a beauty worth preserving, even if the industry itself can never come back.

George Rahme, Flowers and Feathers, 8 x 8′, Cut Paper on fabric / canvas, 2014

“A Soldier of Stars” is on display at Simone DeSousa Gallery from January 14 through February 26, 2017.

 

Experiment of the Modern Gaze @ Popp’s Packing

Untitled Experiment of the Modern Gaze – Oren Goldenberg and Biba Bell at Popp’s Packing

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All Images courtesy of Oren Goldenberg and Scott Tallenger

At the outset of Untitled Experiment of the Modern Gaze, a film collaboration by Oren Goldenberg and Biba Bell, a camera-in-the-round, moving across several large screens mounted in a ring, surveys a patch of woodsy, Rococo landscape (brought just barely into contemporary times by glimpses of electric wires and smokestacks on the horizon- otherwise, the golden twilight and delicate, sparsely leafed trees could have been painted by Watteau.)

Whoso List to Hunt

-Sir James Wyatt

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind.

The roving eye of the viewer (I can’t help but signify the viewer as “he”) moves first at a leisurely pace, taking in the magically lit landscape. A dark void follows his gaze around, blotting out, for us, what the viewer is not looking at. A figure materializes from the trees- the powerful form of acclaimed dancer and choreographer Biba Bell.

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But as for me, helas, I may no more.

The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,

I am of them that farthest cometh behind.

She moves in this strange, wild clearing with natural grace, as if she belongs there. She approaches the viewer like a wary fawn. The viewer’s gaze swings toward, then away from her in a rhythm that visualizes the meter of a sonnet, with its round, half-stepping rhymes.

But may I by no means my wearied mind

Draw from the deer, but as she fleeith afore

Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,

Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.

Untitled Experiment of the Modern Gaze can read, at first, as fairly unexperimental, aside from its installation, coiling around the gallery on screens installed in a huge ring. The scene it captures could be presenting the figure, a woman, as an allegory of nature, as a delicate, wild creature, not quite autonomous, a Pre Raphaelite sylph. The gaze, at first viewing, feels male in its invisibility and its meandering power, turning first toward, then away from, the woman as she floats upon, and interacts with, the landscape. What disrupts this is the woman approaching the camera and returning its gaze in an act that suddenly establishes her as autonomous from her surroundings. The camera, seemingly put off by this direct appraisal, begins to turn more quickly, it’s black void following it, engulfing more and more of the scene. The sonnet winds in toward its break.

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Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,

As well as I may spend his time in vain.

And graven with diamonds in letters plain

There is written, her fair neck roundabout:

Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am,

And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

The allegories of nature and the hunt are inverted as the woman begins to pursue the camera’s gaze, chasing it as it turns faster and faster in apparent confusion. She halts it (the final couplet) and, applying physical strength to the dark voids that surround the gazer’s view, pushes them out of sight, unfurling the full majesty of the landscape, now seen in full circle. In a modern update of Wyatt’s poem, the woman is, indeed, wild for to hold, but she belongs to no one but herself. Once she has halted the camera, she turns and saunters back into the woods.

Untitled Experiment of the Modern Gaze is on view at Popp’s Packing until December 17. An artist talk with Oren Goldenberg and Biba Bell will be held at the gallery Wednesday, December 14, at 7 pm.

 

Brittany Nelson & Susan Campbell @ David Klein Gallery

Alternative Process, work by Brittany Nelson, and Chasing Venus, work by Susan Goethel Campbell and window installation by Ellen Rutt.

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Brittany Nelson, Installation image, All images courtesy of the David Klein Gallery

The newest pairing of artists on view at David Klein Gallery’s Detroit space, photographers Brittany Nelson and Susan Goethel Campbell, engage history, science, and formal beauty in ways that reveal what ancient knowledge and antiquated technology can tell us about the visual stake we hold- and the tissue-thin mastery we take for granted- over the natural world.

Brittany Nelson’s collages of “science graphics” and 3D Photoshop forms onto tintype prints (one of the earliest photographic mediums) follow a simple, clever formula of overlaying heavy, historic substrates (thickly mounted tintype photographic plates that warp out of foursquare precision and are often hung at a slight angle to the wall, visually reinforcing their whiff of memento mori and the slow melt of age) with graceful, feather-light graphics culled from contemporary modes of visual shorthand- graphics, grids, algorithms, flowcharts.

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Brittany Nelson, Diagram I, 2016, tintype photograph on Poeder coated formed aluminum,10 x 8 x 15″

These two modes of information capture dance uneasily with one another on Nelson’s dark grounds- there’s a dissonance to seeing these fleeting, fast-moving graphics inlayed on such iron-clad media, designed to catch and house a physical shadow of a once real, living, or tactile thing. Nelson’s work resurrects something of the uncanny magic photographic technology once held for people in the Nineteenth Century- its strange promise of immortality, its mind-bending harnessing of modern science.

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Brittany Nelson, Mordancage 4, 2011, C-print,72 x 72, Edition of 3

The dark, atmospheric voids characteristic of tintype photography find a visual dialog with Susan Goethel Campbell’s Chasing Venus. This work documents, in film and photography, a patch of sky over the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, Canada, during the Summer Solstice, when the moon appears to be following Venus across the sky.

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Susan Goethel Campbell, Chasing Venus, 1 of 5, 2016, 3 channel video installation plaster fragment, 1920 x 1080″

Campbell’s work documents, in solemn stills and dizzying, feather-light films, the turning of the planet from day to night, toward and away from an incredible full moon. The faceted surfaces of mountainous landscape, vast sky, and brilliant earth (her installation includes visuals that are nearly impossible to photograph, a video projection of time-lapse sky-scape dancing on a wall mounted with a chunk of granite, a pile of glittering mica poured onto a shallow shelf that casts uncanny tones of light onto every surrounding surface) utilizes straightforward modes of visual documentation to hint at the sublime- crystalizing, in moment-to-moment documentation, both our concept of linear time and the sublime impossibility of conceiving the clock of the universe.

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Susan Goethel Campell, Chasing Venus, Still I, 1 of 5, 2016, Digital print on polyester spray paint, 22 x 28″

The kernel that unites Nelson and Campbell’s work in these dark, visually haunting twin exhibitions might be an “exposure,” manifested in the beauty and opacity of both artists’ combinations of technique and content, of the failure of such analytical, documentary methods to capture eternity. Watching the sky and drawing it into visual rhymes with small, shiny objects, as the ancients did, distilling the visible into frozen shadows, as more recent generations did, or collapsing the world into descriptive algorithms, as we do now, may, or may not, bring us any closer to a true understanding of the reason we are here, or why we’ve been given these abilities. Alternative Process and Chasing Venus do not attempt to answer this question- they cross-pollinate materials to broaden, deepen, and beautify its scope.

Also on view is a colorful, lively installation by Detroit-based, multi-disciplinary artist Ellen Rutt. Rutt’s window installation provides a vibrant counter-balance to the darkly vibrating grounds and documentary atmospheres of Nelson and Goethel-Campbell’s work.

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Ellen Rutt, David Klein, Window Installation, 2016

Alternative Process, work by Brittany Nelson, Chasing Venus, work by Susan Goethel Campbell, and Ellen Rutt’s window installation is on view at David Klein Gallery Detroit through December 17, 2016.

 

 

Caledonia Curry @ Library Street Collective

A Light at the End of the Tunnel- Caledonia Curry (Swoon) at Library Street Collective

“…You can start to create little cracks in the façade of possibility and inevitability that overlays all of our lives.”-Caledonia Curry at her TED Talk, 2010 

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Swoon, Installation Image, All Images Courtesy of Clara DeGalan and Sal Rodriguez

Caledonia Curry (tag name Swoon) seems intimately aware of the ephemeral, fragile nature of both the human body and human endeavor. This sensibility weaves through all of her bodies of work, which make up for the degradability of their materials with iron-clad social consciousness and fierce political engagement. Curry first gained attention on the global art scene for her large scaled, lyrical street art prints, which, like her work at Library St Collective, engage with the figure overlaid with gorgeous lacework of iconic decorative flourishes and symbols. Curry would scout out locations for her prints, then install them, on walls, lamp posts, and other architectural surfaces, using wheat paste. These delicate cut-paper and print collages are not meant to last forever- they fade away, gently and gradually, like distant memories. To Curry, physical immortality of work is beside the point- this seems unusual, given the highly formal, decorative nature of her constructions. What such highly developed technical skill and labor intensive process is meant to foster is less reverence for the made object itself than a holding of space for a new perspective, a chance to recontextualize one’s relationship with place, with symbolism, with one’s own identity.

The same curious mixture of preciousness and ephemerality finds its way from Swoon’s street art practice into Curry’s site specific installation at Library St Collective. As lovingly wrought and beautifully realized as Curry’s life-sized figurative prints and elaborate cut paper confections are, they are installed with no greater measure of preciousness or economic value than her wheat pasted public works. Curry’s figurative cut out prints hang suspended from strands of fishing line, freed from the relative safety, and canonical indexing, of traditional wall installation. They move in the breeze- they’re equally visible from front and back. Curry’s incredible paper cut-outs, executed in black and white and resembling every beautiful, lace-like form a viewer can call up, from snowflakes to double helixes to Celtic knot work, drape freely from the gallery’s ceiling and dangle, like the figure cutouts, from strands of fishing line, inviting touch, uncannily mimicking the slight movements of sentient life.

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Swoon cut paper intallation-detail

The heaviness of Curry’s concept for her site specific install at Library St is what grounds these floating works. Taking the narrow, tunnel-like structure of the front part of the gallery as inspiration, Curry is attempting, with The Light After, to recreate for the viewer her own narrative of a phenomenon known as “the empathetic death experience.” Curry encountered this phenomenon in a dream of a space filled with falling snow and “blossoms of light,” during which she felt that her mother had died. Upon awakening, she discovered that her mother had, indeed, passed away.

The snow-blossom motif of Curry’s installation occupies Library St.’s space as a tunnel of atmospheric light similar to those described by people who have had near-death experiences. Dispersed around this bright, ungrounding fairyland are Curry’s life-sized figurative prints which, despite their ephemeral construction, nail the viewer with quietly appraising or imploring gazes, each taking the form of a step on the initiation path toward death. Curry’s figures are iconic- an old, bearded hermit leaning on a walking stick, his lower body morphing into ramshackle architecture which crumbles, at his feet, into a profusion of skulls. A heartbreaking double image of a woman filled with youth and vitality, holding a baby, while her forward-projected shadow looms behind her, emaciated, rigged up with oxygen tubes, her eyes engaging the viewer’s in abject, human terror of proceeding down the very tunnel that surrounds her.

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Swoon, Memento Mori, 2016, block print on hand cut mylar,edition3 of 12, 84-x-67″

Curry takes the viewer through this legendary tunnel, which leads into a stark hallway painted in black and white geometric and organic forms- a nice visual metaphor for the space between the end of the tunnel and what comes after- into the gallery’s larger, airier back room or, as Curry titles it, “The Meadow.” The figurative prints in The Meadow aren’t allegories of death, but of rebirth- the color scheme of The Meadow is warmer, more organic, the 3D elements more tactile and sensual- piles of green velvet take the place of the ethereal cut-paper hangings within the tunnel. Mother-child pairings and figures surrounded by simple, ancient symbols of life and birth- paisleys, triple knots, spirals- gaze invitingly out or, more often, appear turned inward, eyes closed, in a private ecstasy of union with the life-power of the universe.

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Swoon, Milton II, Diogenesis, 2016 block print on hand cut mylar edition, 3 of 6 89×66″

There’s an uncanniness, a formal directness, and a powerful combination of personal and political narrative to Curry’s work that makes it difficult to contextualize in contemporary studio practice. The bald allegory and mirror-image rendering of her figure-prints awakens the viewer to the power of such imagery as expressed in every layer of our society, from religious painting to Chuck E. Cheese animatronics- all of them evoke the same frisson. Curry’s work reveals why this is so. Confronted with our own image reworked into symbolism, we begin to examine the foundations of universal truths- birth, death, spirit, the afterlife, the sentience of so-called inanimate objects- with the understanding that these truths emanate from our own bodies. Our bodies are ephemeral. What we can do with them, change with them, what we can leave to succeeding generations, is eternal. It is this truth that forms the kernel of Curry’s work in every medium and context that she engages.

“Swoon- The Light After” is on display at Library Street Collective through November 26, 2016.