REVIEW: Space Between Languages: Thoughts on “Space Fiction and the Archives” at Momenta Art and “Same Same” at Jackie Klempay Gallery

Written by Conor O’Brien

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At the center of Jacqueline Hoang Nguyen’s show “Space Fiction and the Archives” at Momenta Art is a UFO Landing Pad constructed in St. Paul, Alberta, in 1967, Canada’s centenary. Nguyen, a research based artist whose work investigates the “unnoticed political relevance of seemingly trivial historical anecdotes,” reconstructs this event within the gallery space using archival artifacts: newspaper articles, commemorative memorabilia, photography, and a film montage.

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The presence of the Landing Pad itself feels subdued, while the political and cultural climate that prompted its installment is foregrounded. Less about the Landing Pad than its implications: the intersection where the hokey good will of the project and political reality cross, blend into each other, reveal their discrepancy. During the video montage entitled “1967: A People Kind of Place,” there is a moment, taken supposedly from a television promotion of the Landing Pad, where an actor playing an immigration official talks to a figure, unseen beyond the camera frame, and explains that the quotas for people of different races do not include “green men.” What is meant as a light, self-deprecating jab about the inadequacy of immigration services in dealing with actual “aliens” holds a political reality about how these services control the inflow of people based on race.

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The artist seems interested in such cases where an awareness of social problems are discovered where they are not expected or intended, a fruitful task amidst the contrived idealism and patriotism of a country’s centennial anniversary. The Landing Pad waits passively, like an altar, the reception of otherworldly forms, while on another wall of the gallery are copies of Canada’s immigration regulations, the guidelines by which it is determined who may enter the country based, among other things, on occupation, age, usefulness.

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The Landing Pad can be understood as a symbol of openness, multiculturalism, universality, etc; or it can be seen as simply exaggerating the border between our world and an unfamiliar one, just as the immigration process defines more acutely feelings of foreignness in those who cross from one bordered space into another. More accurately, it represents not either but both of these things: it is the overlap of the ideal goal, understood as being unreachable, i.e. attracting visitors from other planets, and the immediate economic goal, i.e. attracting tourists from other places on earth. Both goals, lofty and material, are evoked here.

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Text flashes on the screen: “Science Fiction is Descriptive Not Predictive.” The value of sci-fi as a genre is not an imagining of possible realities but a reimagining of the existing reality. Extraterrestrials are almost always depicted as supreme beings, and supreme beings are almost always conceived as a means of observing ourselves from a higher perspective, and within a wider context. A parallactic reality: the angle where two perspectives either meet or split off: how we see ourselves and how we are seen (how we imagine we are seen): a resounding dissonance, constant, unheard.

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Sarah Sieradzki’s show Same Same at Jackie Klempay Gallery is based upon the linguistic concept “code switching,” the practice of switching between languages within a conversation. Those who enter another community must soon adopt a new way of communicating, a new way of navigating the structure. In some cases, two parties not fluent in each others’ language develop a neutral mixed language in order to communicate. Code-switching assumes both parties are fluent in all languages used in conversation; each language is kept separate and distinct, the speaker’s consciousness evenly divided between these different valves of expression.

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In our native languages, we build a world of familiarity: create patterns, narratives, causes, effects, orders, borders. From this space we reach outside and bring external events into our orbit: a geocentric existence. When we cross from this space into an unfamiliar one, where there are other patterns, other orbits, other gravitational centers, the effect seems at first to be distortive: going from a place of seeing, an active position, to a place of being seen, a passive position.

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Sieradzki’s work simulates this split-perspective: she photographs the simple, geometric familiarity of tablecloths and using mirrors she produces wavelike distortions in the patterns. Her works are products of combining two mediums: the camera which sees and captures the outside world, and the mirror which receives and reflects it. Confronted with the mirror, where one is both seer and seen, the once sure lines falter; borders fade and bend, reveal their fragile malleability; patterns taper into a blank sea. Sieradzki’s work captures the oscillations of a mind divided between an inner and outer perspective: the former confident and personal, ordered and comprehensible; the latter unfamiliar and impersonal, where pattern no longer contextualizes and conceals negative space, but in its arbitrariness accentuates the indefinite depths.

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Language is a medium, like a camera or a mirror, for processing external phenomena. To familiarize oneself with only one language, or medium, also means to be confined within the parameters of that language, and paradoxically, to not actually be familiar with that language at all, because one lacks a sense of its limits. In acquiring a new language (referring not only to written/oral language, but to any code, behavior, shibboleth) one gains a certain vantage point above one’s native language and the acquired one: developing an awareness of the contours of each language, the range of experience they are able to map; as well as the negative spaces between each language, where is glimpsed the limitless inadequacy of these or any language to encompass entirely one’s experience, the area where all divisions, including language, between spaces and people are arbitrary.

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REVIEW: A Response to “Peristalsis” at Air Circulation

Written by Conor O’Brien, thelivinggallery.blog[at]gmail[dot]com

"Indeleble," video by Ronald Reyes

“Indeleble,” video by Ronald Reyes

Air Circulation is a recently opened space at 160 Randolph St, which according to the gallery’s website is “a zone of artistic research and play…interested in content, narrative, and experience.” Marcin Ramocki, one of the gallery’s co-owners, explains that the gallery plans to dedicate itself to one specific, yet broadly interpretable, theme each year. Their premiere show, “Peristalsis,” initiates the first of the gallery’s annual themes, which is concerned with “food, nutrition, human digestive biology, and global food politics.”

"Untitled," drawing by Lucia Love

“Untitled,” drawing by Lucia Love

Leftover aioli from Sean Joseph's performance "Experimental Aioli"

Leftover aioli from Sean Joseph’s performance “Experimental Aioli”

Including performances and public participatory events such as a “Conceptual Cake Party,” one of the ways the gallery has dedicated itself to this theme is the construction of a functional kitchen within the space. Ramocki explains the kitchen will have a variety of uses throughout their year long gastronomic exploration, including potentially acting as a stage for food-related performance. The act of placing a kitchen within an art space in itself highlights the performative and ritualistic aspects already inherent in cooking and food preparation. “Peristalsis,” named after the motions of the muscles that propels food down the throat, features work by Mimi Kim, Mia Brownell, Oasa DuVerney, Jude Tallichet, Saeri Kiritani, Sean Joseph, Wojtek Doroszuk, Matt Freedman, Kenneth Tin Kin Hung, Lucia Love, and Ronald Reyes.

"Muffin Corner," sculpture by Jude Tallichet

“Muffin Corner,” sculpture by Jude Tallichet

Eating, like all basic biological functions that reminds of animal nature, has been transformed universally in human culture into ritual and performance, distorted by various convolutions into something separate from the cycles of the earth: growth, harvest, and fertilization. In our society primarily, the act of eating has reached an apex of sterilization where at no point, from consumption to defecation, is it necessary for the average person to slaughter, to reap, to fertilize, or generally to come into direct contact with anything resembling a natural cycle.

"Wedding Cake," sculpture by Matt Freedman

“Wedding Cake,” sculpture by Matt Freedman

It is this state of disconnect that forms notions of material hierarchy: the food product which is immediately useful to us for nutrition and energy is considered higher than the product of the digestive process, which in this state of disconnect has lost its purpose, is thought of as waste and is hidden and flushed away in a ceremony that resembles, not coincidentally, the burial of a corpse. Both “waste” disposals ceremonies symbolize an aversion to the natural cycle, signified by death, which is an affront on and a negation of our conceptions of human identity. It is not surprising, then, that such notions of hierarchy extend into our social structures.

"100 Pounds of Rice," photo Saeri Kiritani

“100 Pounds of Rice,” photo Saeri Kiritani

"100 Pounds of Rice," sculpture by Saeri Kiritani

“100 Pounds of Rice,” sculpture by Saeri Kiritani

Of course these hierarchies are illusions, but they do illustrate how our attitudes towards eating or other biological processes conditions our understanding of social order. The “Peristalsis” exhibit asks the viewer to draw this connection between the biological and the socio-economic, how our attitudes toward our biology, which at times expresses itself as shame or disgust yet not without a childlike interest and curiosity, shapes our identity as a species and is recreated in our social structures.

"When life gives you lemons, burn them," drawing by Oasa DuVerney

“When life gives you lemons, burn them,” drawing by Oasa DuVerney

It is clear that such biological functions are fundamental in shaping society, and are of the utmost concern for those who hold power in it. It has long been understood that in order for a government or power structure to retain control over the general public, it must keep that public fed. This method is much more effective than forceful oppression. A public that is well taken care of, which has all of its basic needs met by a system of power, is not likely to try to revolt against that system on any fundamental level. A well-fed public may wish to change a few superficial aspects of the system that provides for them, but to overturn this system completely would also mean abandoning the sense of security and stability that it provides. Economically, this general public is referred to by the biologically potent term “consumers.” A consumer is ultimately a threat to those who wish to maintain power, because by definition a consumer is someone who perpetually consumes, and is never satiated. This is due to the fact that even if a particular need has been completely satisfied, it opens the door to new desires. An effective system not only feeds its populace in the literal sense, but also provides for the needs and desires that arise once a person has been well-fed, intellectual, political, spiritual, social, and is flexible enough to keep providing for new desires as they impose themselves. The most flexible systems even allows for the transgression of their own laws, in ways that satiate a public’s need to revolt without actually threatening the system. American democracy is an example: the public’s desire for political upheaval is sedated by a steady biannual change in leadership, even though this change leaves the system, at its core, intact. But even the most flexible system cannot continue to account for new desires indefinitely, at some point these perpetually voracious consumers will find their ever-evolving needs are not being satisfied at the same rate they are increasing, leading to revolution.

"The Fast Supper," video by Kenneth Tin Kin Hung

“The Fast Supper,” video by Kenneth Tin Kin Hung

“Peristalsis” explores consumption on all of these levels: how eating/digestion shapes our identity as a species and fosters a sense of community, how learned food habits are perceived as indicators of class or culture, the food industry’s relationship to power structures, and the ceremonial aspects of eating. Sean Joseph’s performance “Experimental Aioli” during which he presents an array of flavored aioli derived from celebrities and public figures including Tina Fey, Bill de Blasio, Biggie Smalls, and others, is a comment on how our consumption of celebrity culture satiates a hunger for entertainment, and the ways celebrities are packaged and marketed to appeal to all facets of the populace. Kenneth Tin Kin Hung’s video “The Fast Supper,” which features the Christ of da Vinci’s painting gorging himself on fast food, is a humorous take on how eating is featured heavily in religious ceremony, and the use of institutional religion in satisfying a broad spiritual hunger.

"Le Saucisson," painting by Mimi Kim

“Le Saucisson,” painting by Mimi Kim

Saeri Kiritani’s sculpture “100 Pounds of Rice” of a begging women constructed from rice, and Ronald Reyes’ 30 sec video loop “Indeleble,” featuring a dancing man dressed as the Chiquita Banana mascot, are both comments on the exploitative practices of the food industry, and a kind of exploitative “digestion” of other cultures. Mia Brownell’s surreal painting “Still Life with Flu” and Wojtek Doroszuk’s video “Festin,” which features a feast table overrun with pests, comment on the phantasmagoric and nightmarish effects of feasting and food excess. Mimi Kim’s painting “La Saucisson,” which depicts a woman wrapped in the same manner as a sausage in a butcher shop display, comments on the relationship between fetish and food culture, as well as the marketing of the female body as consumable object.

"Festin," video by Wojtek Doroszuk

“Festin,” video by Wojtek Doroszuk

The rhythm of the throat mimics the rhythm of the river. Even this far inland, one can sense, as if by magnetism, the thunderous muscles clench around cement and steel, a knocking at the gates, answered with our own silent muscular rhythm. The city inflates like a whale bladder, riverwater pumped into the veins of streets and buildings, released through a hundred thousand gurgling faucets; only to be flushed, this same element that digests continents, into some untrodden mental murk. The sacrifice must always follow, though we stave it off as long as we can. The sacrifice is the rotted god ingested and fed back into the soil: the flowering of new gods. The sacrifice is the blissful horror that succeeds a protracted era of rigid harvest. When it turns its head, its eyes are reflective as seashells, and silent except for a trapped, ancient echo growling like an empty stomach.

"Still Life with Flu," painting by Mia Brownell

“Still Life with Flu,” painting by Mia Brownell

Location:

160 Randolph St.

Hours:

Sundays and by appointment

Contact:

info[at]aircirculation[dot]com

REVIEW: The Peripheral World: Lost and Wandering Thoughts Inspired by “Rubberneck” at Lorimoto Gallery

Written by Conor O’Brien, Living Gallery

Images are taken from the “Rubberneck” exhibition at Lorimoto Gallery, featuring works by Caroline Larsen, David Livingston, and Kenjiro Kitade, on display until March 23rd. Larsen creates paintings of burning vehicles in a distinctive, pixelated style. Kitade makes ceramic sculptures of nightmarish, vaguely humanoid beings. Video documents Livingston’s performance series “Big Dick,” in which the artist wears cartoonishly engorged, fabric genitalia in various public settings.

Caroline Larsen

Caroline Larsen

How much our experience is clamped into some form; how much we are directed down certain streets, in certain directions, toward certain destinations; how much even where we look, where we turn our gaze, toward what we focus our attention has been predetermined. Can we even fathom the extent of it? Great pains have been taken to ensure wandering is limited. Wandering in every sense: physical wandering and mental wandering are intimately connected. True wandering cannot and does not exist. At all times a person must be made to feel they are going somewhere, even (especially) if they have nowhere to go. For this reason, the brush is cleared, the wilderness is mowed down, the stars are read and from them new borders are woven westward, streets are painted with lines and arrows, stop signs, traffic lights, one way, do not cross, a blinking geometric mechanism that spins you in circles and makes certain you and your thoughts never stray far from its gravitational hold.

Kenjiro Kitade

Kenjiro Kitade

A person must always be made to feel they are accomplishing something; in every task there must be the element of progress. From the moment we exit the dreamstate, all of our energy is expended in the expectation of some goal. To feel a release of energy, however slight, that is not leashed to purpose, which floats off directionless and dissolves into a void, is to feel lost. And feeling lost is forbidden, not just by some external force: it is forbidden to ourselves by ourselves. We cannot imagine a feeling more deeply horrible than that; it produces our most troubling nightmares. This feeling is poignant, of course, because we sense it at the core of every task we undertake: that everything we do is just a distraction, obscuring something horrifying yet purifying that we simultaneously avoid direct contact with and try to access by indirect means.

David Livingston

David Livingston

We can accept anything as long as it has some explanation, but we will not allow senselessness, pointlessness, or uselessness, at least not for too long. There is a grace period where the senseless thing captures our fascination (in this case, the usual response is laughter), but beyond that it is excruciating, and then there must be an attempt to return it to the horizon of our understanding, to obscure it with explanation. Everything that we can see, we are allowed to see. If there was anything we weren’t allowed to see or weren’t allowed to discover, then we wouldn’t see it and we wouldn’t discover it. Or there would at least be extensive damage control after it was discovered (though perhaps even this is merely theatrics). A new discovery is always brought back into an existing framework of thought; it is always explained in a way that reaffirms (again and again and again) an existing belief system. Again, this is not necessarily done by some oppressive outside being: once we internalize a belief, value, or moral system to the extent that it determines the purpose towards which we expend energy, we will be quick to explain to ourselves how everything exists within the context of these systems to never have the feeling of wasted energy/ being lost.

Caroline Larson

Caroline Larsen

What does the scene of a car crash reveal to us? What is the meaning of the phenomenon of “rubbernecking,” so universal and seemingly necessary? When we approach the dissonance of a car wreck, we can not help ourselves: we have to look. As children we face the scene directly and with unashamed curiosity. As adults, it is usually indirect: in the peripheries of our vision where all manner of spectacle is secretly indulged. The car crash is an absolute absurdity to us: a violent waste of energy, an attack on the apparatus of sense to which we are harnessed. All the more so because it is “accidental,” because there is no ideology attached to the violence. Why are we permitted to see something so dangerously contradictory? In some countries, there are efforts to hide car accidents from onlookers, yet this cannot be done all the time and most likely wouldn’t be even if it were possible. It is necessary at times, for those who are concerned with such things, to let people witness the whole system in action. Immediately after the car crash, the system’s invisible dimensions announce themselves and descend upon the contradictory, senseless thing in order to contextualize it, in other words restore order to the situation. Such states of emergency or transgression are necessary in order for these invisible dimensions to make themselves known, to flex themselves, and we are allowed to view the initial scene of senseless violence because we are then able to witness the system at work, the restoration of peace and safety. The car accident, which in itself has no purpose or ideology, is then implicitly recontextualized as a warning, a warning to anyone who would transgress the system. It is made to serve as a reminder of how much we depend on this system for our safety and comfort; a reminder that what lies beyond the system is chaos and violence, and woe to those who wish to wander (physically or mentally) outside it.

Kenjiro Kitade

Kenjiro Kitade

Kenjiro Kitade

Kenjiro Kitade

The bottom falls out and we feel lucidly that we are falling, in the suffocating grip of vertigo. We feel, more acutely than ever, the contraction of the muscles, the harmony of the organs, the rush of blood to the heart and brain, the electrical flare of the neurons and nerve-endings that produce thought, that create the world, the full orgasmic release of energy: but to what end? where does it go? The whole exhausted edifice has shrivelled up, flaccid, detumescent. We have sunk below the surface. We have wandered too far. Even the solid reliability of our own bodies has suddenly dissolved somewhere. But where? We are for the moment conscious of the costumes, the sets, the whole noisy, colorful theater that obscures our blindness. The unacknowledged world we quarantined to our peripheral vision has descended upon us without warning. Our cataracts have disappeared and we are now facing the Peripheral World fully for the first time since our birth. Pause for a moment and glimpse the horrifying boundlessness of experience. For once let us look the situation square in the face, before the lucidity abates and we are deposited back into the solid world. Now we have a chance to build up from scratch new forms, new societies, new systems. Newer and better. Not that they are “better” in any objective sense, but they are better simply because they are new, because they are different, because they necessitated the destruction of the old forms, old societies, old systems, because this whole process keeps the world in a state of perpetual momentum and upheaval and revolt.

Caroline Larson

Caroline Larsen

All photos on this post are © Conor O’Brien 2014

Gallery Location: 1623 Hancock St.
Hours: Sat & Sun 1-6pm
Contact: info[at]lorimoto[dot]com

REVIEW: The Gastro-Fantasy: Thoughts Surrounding “Workin’ in Ah Hole Mine” at 247365 Gallery

Written by Conor O’Brien, Living Gallery

Photos were taken at “Workin’ In Ah Hole Mine,” an exhibition at 247365 Gallery featuring artwork by Michael Mahalchick and Jacques Louis Vidal. 247365 is one of three galleries part of the Donut District located in Red Hook.

"Jerk Off Material" -Michael Mahalchick

“Jerk Off Material” -Michael Mahalchick

The bed is a stand-in for the stomach, a stage for gastro-intenstinal performance. Warmth is conducive to sleep in the same way heat is conducive to digestion. Thus, the desire for warmth stems from the desire to be digested.

Left: "Frame," Michael Mahalchick. Center: "A Hole Mine," Jacques Louis Vidal. Right: "Crutches," Michael Mahalchick

Left: “Frame,” Michael Mahalchick. Center: “A Hole Mine,” Jacques Louis Vidal. Right: “Crutches,” Michael Mahalchick

Each night we enter these artificial stomachs and, pulling over our bodies sheets reminiscent of fur, flesh, blood, intestinal walls, enact the gastro-fantasy: to sink into this salty, enzymatic foam; to be broken down and sent through drainpipes into sewage treatment plants and then dumped like pollutants into rivers; to have our genetic material fed back into the oceanic laboratory that engineers new species; to then be spewed back out, by regurgitation or excretion, and return.

"A Hole Mine," Tile detail -Jacques Louis Vidal

“A Hole Mine,” Tile detail -Jacques Louis Vidal

Excretion is an act of destruction which, because it fails to obliterate, ends parodically in creation, or an anti-creation whose necessary impulse is destruction. The in-between state: a destruction that can never fully destroy, a creation that can never fully be.

"Crutches" -Michael Mahalchick

“Crutches” -Michael Mahalchick

The stomach and the womb are often metonymic: digestion parodies birth. In this the digestive drive and the artistic act are aligned. White walls recall the toilet bowl, the blank page, an infantile reaction to that silent white, the need to soil/ disrupt, then flush/ reset; two actions that, through Pavlovian repetition, induce a deep satisfaction, the illusion of two extreme states: appearance and disappearance, positive and negative.

"Magnets" -Michael Mahalchick

“Magnets” -Michael Mahalchick

The in-between state fails to respond to the Pavlovian tick, which then echoes without answer, half-digested, a vague, lingering discomfort. Here nothing appears and nothing disappears. Nothing even changes form, everything is always transitioning between: endlessly vibrating with organic dissonance. A manic cycle between a mechanical, static positive and absolute zero, never settling on one, never fully achieving either. This friction produces an electric pulse.

"Savarin" -Michael Mahalchick

“Savarin” -Michael Mahalchick

Objects and materials have a potentiality that can be preserved in the creation of art pieces if the materials are used in ways that are unconventional, free-associative, etc. Forms that defy definition or identification retain a certain formlessness, or at least contain both form and formlessness.

"Unknown Pleasures (Corner)" -Jacques Louis Vidal

“Unknown Pleasures (Corner)” -Jacques Louis Vidal

A form is in part its physical qualities/ limits and in part the associative limits imposed on it (preconceived notions of functionality, classification, genre, etc). When the latter set of limits are blurred or transgressed the object regresses back to a state of energetic potentiality, until another term is invented or a preexisting term is expanded to encompass this form.

"Unknown Pleasures (Wall)"  -Jacques Louis Vidal

“Unknown Pleasures (Wall)” -Jacques Louis Vidal

In art, terms are created, values assigned, expectations fostered all for the purpose of subversion, just as certain religions encourage (by implication) the ritualistic transgression of their own taboos.
In the middle of this tug of war between classification and deconstruction is experience, the object presented naked before you without any interpretive shield.

"Frame" -Michael Mahalchick

“Frame” -Michael Mahalchick

Art can approach this whirling, kinetic experience. Not simply recreate or represent it, but can itself be the volatile, pulsating link connecting the creative-destructive. The in-between state: an amphibious mutation gasping on shore, half-developed lungs full for the first time with alien atmosphere.

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All photos on this post are © Conor O’Brien 2014

Gallery Location: 131 Huntington St.
Hours: Weekends Noon-6pm
Contact: communications@
twentyfourseventhree
sixtyfive.biz

REVIEW: Candy Colored Clown: Response to “Economy Candy” at Harbor Gallery

Candy Colored Clown: Response to “Economy Candy” at Harbor Gallery
written by Conor O’Brien, The Living Gallery

Ross Moreno is clown apparel

Ross Moreno is clown apparel

Justin Cooper, dressed in park ranger garb, introduces himself as yet another park ranger who has moved to Brooklyn. He explains that like most park rangers, he needs a side job to support himself: so he does performance art. This joke works mostly on the level of its simplicity, specifically the awareness of its own simplicity. Most of the performance operates on this hyper-aware level wherein the jokes, magic tricks, and stunts adopt an aesthetic of simplicity and childish absurdity as the joke is often the joke itself: its awkward and/or childishly sincere delivery, basic structure, and anti-climatic punchline. Cooper and his partner Ross Moreno so often comment on the performance (usually self-deprecating) within the performance that it can become unclear at which point a seeming mistake is genuine or just part of the performance, part of its self-referentiality.

Another park ranger moving to Brooklyn

Another park ranger moving to Brooklyn

In the first part of the two-parted performance, Cooper makes a joke about his partner’s birth saying “He was born with a full head of hair, and a cigar in his hand that he used to cauterize his own fallopian tube.” Realizing his mistake, Cooper fumbles for the correct term, needing to ask the audience before he remembers what he meant to say is “umbilical cord.” By the time he returns to the punchline (“But I don’t believe it. Cause I don’t think he ever had hair”) the audience has already forgotten or lost interest in the joke’s set up, and the punchline loses all steam. But those who went to both performances would realize that what seemed as a genuine mistake was actually intentional, as Cooper repeats the same joke with the same mistake in the second show. The duo often undermine themselves in this way, and to some extent they do it to play with the audience: a Kaufman-esque effort to baffle, antagonize, or otherwise playfully prank the viewer. The performance feeds on audience reaction, its confusion or discomfort in particular, often going as far as implicating the audience in the performance, during moments where character/fourth wall is broken or the audience is invited (or more likely forced) to participate.

April Childers “Santa for all Seasons (Cheeseburger Santa)”

April Childers “Santa for all Seasons (Cheeseburger Santa)”

April Childers “Pocket”

April Childers “Pocket”

The two performances are part of Harbor Gallery’s “Economy Candy” exhibition. The name is taken from a Lower East Side candy shop that opened during the Great Depression. A candy shop which sells discount candy, whose existence is necessitated by a harsh economic reality, acts both as a distractive relief from those realities as well as a reminder of them, this reminder just thinly and almost mockingly veiled by the shop’s colorful, candied walls. This juxtaposition, the dual role of distraction and reminder, which can be applied to comedy and art as well as to candy shops, seems to be the main concept dealt with by the artists exhibited in the show. These artists, playfully and with a sense of humor, explore the ways that art can distract/ soothe/ even numb and the ways it can make reality felt more immediately. These two effects of art are not mutually exclusive, as all art contains some ratio of both, and each effect can be used to produce the other: reality, struggle, pain can be sublimated into entertainment while alternatively, as seems to be the case with some pieces in this exhibit, a more kitschy/ readily accessible aesthetic can be adopted exactly for the moment when it is broken, the veil lifted, and rather than being distracted, people are made more  keenly aware of their discomfort for the element of surprise.

Jeff De Golier “Spirit Lake”

Jeff De Golier “Spirit Lake”

Jeff De Golier “Motor Boat”

Jeff De Golier “Motor Boat”

Two pieces by April Childers use familiar symbols of American culture to make large, absurdist sculptures. “Pocket” is an oversized, denim pocket filled with a half-deflated beach ball so that it balloons out from the wall. With “A Santa for all Seasons (Cheeseburger Santa)” a cartoonish depiction of Santa Claus resembles an anthropomorphic cheeseburger. The combination of these otherwise harmless and familiar images creates a sculpture that is as unsettling as it is humorous. Jeff DeGolier creates sculptural collages using a variety of objects and materials: coffee cups, champagne glass, sawdust, glitter, mirrors, yarn. His piece “Motor Boat” is constructed from a car stereo and two large speakers which are draped in doilies and yarn, a collage of the loud and the delicate. Maria Britton makes abstract paintings using acrylic paint on bedsheets, which are wrinkled so that the canvas, rather than being simply a backdrop on which the piece is painted, asserts itself as being part of the piece. Alicia Gibson uses acrylic, oil, and spray paint to make colorful, loud, disorienting paintings which seem to reflect a chaotic experience of urban life.

Series by Maria Britton

Series by Maria Britton

Alicia Gibson “Notes of a Dirty old Woman”

Alicia Gibson “Notes of a Dirty old Woman”

Much of the humor in Justin Cooper and Ross Moreno’s performances come from playing with these two juxtaposed forces in art and comedy. At one point Moreno, dressed as a clown, performs a magic trick only to start berating the audience for not “understanding” it. Distraction and diversion are the fundamental techniques of a magician; it is important for the magician to divert the audience’s attention or mislead their expectations so that trick takes them by surprise. In the case of Moreno’s bit, it is the magic trick itself that is the diversion, they expect some sort of surprising conclusion to the trick but they do not expect the performer, dressed as he is in a clown costume, to suddenly turn on them. At one point Cooper plays a lounge singer who in between songs confesses to his lingering, debilitating depression. Similarly, the show’s “encore” features Cooper playing an overenthusiastic pitchman who at one point begins bleeding from his mouth and reveals a wound on his torso before collapsing to the ground. Their humor comes from diverting the audience in some way, with some silly/ childlike aesthetic, soothing lounge music, or excess of enthusiasm, only to allow the things broiling below the surface performance, some antagonism between performer and audience, depression, etc., to reveal itself.

The “Finale:” Justin Cooper attempts to break a cinderblock over Ross Moreno

The “Finale:” Justin Cooper attempts to break a cinderblock over Ross Moreno

All photos on this post are © Conor O’Brien 2014.

Gallery Location: 17-17 Troutman #258, Queens, NY 11385
Hours: Saturday/Sunday from 1pm to 6pm and By Appointment
Exhibition Dates: January 11th through February 16th, 2014!
Gallery Contact: info@harbor1717.com

REVIEW: The Artist Relieving Herself: Response to Katherine Bauer’s “Teenage Dream Sequence: Seduction of the Eye” at Microscope Gallery

The Artist Relieving Herself: Response to Katherine Bauer’s
“Teenage Dream Sequence: Seduction of the Eye” at Microscope Gallery
written by Conor O’Brien, The Living Gallery

“At the bottom of their hearts, they are quite aware that this is urine.”

“At the bottom of their hearts, they are quite aware that this is urine.” (Photo: Conor O’Brien)

Story of the Eye begins with an awakening. The unnamed narrator of Georges Bataille’s little 1928 novel confides in the first line that he grew up “alone” and that he was “frightened of anything sexual.” [1] He soon meets a girl named Simone, whose sexual proclivities are described in this way: “She so bluntly craved any upheaval that the faintest call from the senses gave her a look directly suggestive of all things linked to sexuality, such as blood, suffocation, sudden terror, crime; things indefinitely destroying human bliss and honesty.” [2] It would be a mistake to think that the narrator’s fear of sex is opposed to Simone’s desire for upheaval; the fear is the whole point. The narrator does not awaken out of the fear associated with sex; his awakening is a coming to consciousness of this fear, and constant desire to meet it. Fear is at the heart of upheaval, is what distinguishes it. Fear is the sense used to identify the point where upheaval is possible. And fear is felt most keenly at the moment before a coming out of unconsciousness, before fear is brought to an awareness of itself, before the transgression of what Bataille calls the “discontinuous existence,” the realm of that private and sacred individuality and self-compartmentalization we are conditioned to desire; the realm of routine, ritual, and all things safe and solid, which, for Simone, becomes necessary only at the moment it is dissolved and profaned.

Katherine Bauer and associates mid-performance (screenshot from Microscope Gallery’s Vimeo)

Katherine Bauer and associates mid-performance (screenshot from Microscope Gallery’s Vimeo)

Katherine Bauer’s performance at the Microscope Gallery is an interpretation of Bataille’s novel. It is the third in a series of works entitled “Teenage Dream Sequence,” which according to Microscope’s press release explores the “coming of age rites of the American female teenager,” in this case “dirty novels.” For those who discovered it at a young age, reading Bataille’s story becomes a performance of transgression, and the effect mirrors the narrator’s awakening with which the novel begins, the sudden and shocking awareness of the unconscious in the process of submitting to Bataille’s extreme fantasy. Bauer’s piece can be seen as representing the performance of reading Story of the Eye, this act of personal and intimate transgression, the reader’s submission to the author’s work transmuted from private to the public, the inner experience becoming a shared experience between performer and viewer, and an enactment Bataille’s philosophy. Bauer’s work can also be thought of as a translation of the novel (and translation is always necessarily an act of interpretation) using film, photography, performance, and those physical materials important to Bataille’s text: eggs, milk, wine, and even urine. A short video excerpt of the performance can be viewed on the Microscope Gallery’s Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/82072713

Remnants of the performance

Remnants of the performance (Photo: Conor O’Brien)

The objects displayed in the Microscope Gallery are the remnants of Baeur’s performance/“translation”: three large, abstract “Eye-O-Grams” made by applying the aforementioned materials on fiber paper, four excerpts from the novel written on fiber paper from which the performers read (the ink now smeared and the text distorted), film reels of the artist’s eyes which were projected during the performance, a sound recording, and a wine glass filled with a mixture of champagne and the artist’s urine. The latter object is one of the more literal translations of the text, inspired by a segment in which a character named Sir Edmund explains Catholic symbolism: “And as for the wine they put in the chalice, the ecclesiastics say it is the blood of Christ, but they are obviously mistaken. If they really thought it was blood, they would use red wine, but since they employ only white wine, they are showing that at the bottom of their hearts, they are quite aware that it is urine.” [3] Bataille mocks the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, but also uses this doctrine to elucidate one of his techniques. The imagery in the Bataille’s work slides between forms: eyes become eggs become breasts become testicles; urine becomes sunlight becomes yolk becomes milk becomes semen becomes tears. The novel dwells in this world of shifting forms, and the elements of the “continuous existence” (which opposes the “discontinuous existence”) revealed by the association and transubstantiation of distinct yet similar forms.

An “Eye-O-Gram”

An “Eye-O-Gram” (Photo: Conor O’Brien)

Bauer’s “Eye-O-Grams” are adaptations of this technique: like Bataille, Bauer forces associations between eggs, milk, wine, and urine within the confined space of the page. The difference is, with Bauer’s work, these objects are translated from the linguistic to the material. A major example of linguistic association in Bataille is his comparison of the French words oeil and oeuf (eye and egg), brought into association with each other because of their similar spelling and sound (it is not coincidental that the objects they refer are also similar in shape and color). The linguistic association (metaphor, pun, etc.) is meant to contain both words equally, without giving either component dominance. With Bauer’s material association, the effect is similar: the substance in the glass is both wine and urine, not one thing or another and not one thing standing in for another thing; the two substances are indistinguishably combined. The result is like the unconscious association surfacing on the level of material reality, transgressing the realm of the psychologically/symbolically resonant to that of the physically blunt: an upheaval akin to Simone’s fantasies.

Four excerpts from the novel read during performance

Four excerpts from the novel read during performance (Photo: Conor O’Brien)

This upheaval, one which renders the symbolic object material, is significant in Bataille’s philosophy as a means for people to tap into the “continuous existence.” The “eye” is the supreme object of Bataille’s philosophy because the eye is a symbol of sight and is the organ associated most directly with illusion, and thus it is also most susceptible to disillusionment. When the eye is removed from its socket, rendered sightless and thus useless as a symbol, the remaining object becomes strange to us, those so accustomed to understanding it through the lense of its symbolic function, ridiculous and egglike in its naked materiality. Such is the reason for the eye/egg metaphor, and the purpose of the novel’s climactic scene wherein Simone removes a priest’s eye and uses it for stimulation.

Film reel projected during performance

Film reel projected during performance (Photo: Conor O’Brien)

Bataille, in his 1943 preface to Story of the Eye, explains the penname under which the novel was originally published: “‘Lord Auch’ refers to the habit of a friend of mine; when vexed, instead of saying ‘aux chiottes!’ [to the shithouse], he would shorten it to ‘aux ch-.’ Lord is English for God: Lord Auch is God relieving himself…Every creature transfigured by such a place: God sinking into it rejuvenates the heavens.” [4] Katherine Bauer enacts this process. It is the process of the symbol profaning itself: a disrobing of all pretense of symbolic self necessary to understanding what Bataille termed the “continuous existence,” the most heightened manifestation of which is death. Bauer’s act of immersing her art and herself in “base” materials has behind it these ideas: the artist relieving herself, self-debasement as self-sacrifice, and self-sacrifice as a means to rejuvenation. Bataille was obsessed with the idea of sacrifice, and sex (being linked with death) was for him a form of sacrificial roleplay. Because it requires a relinquishing of self and a submission to foreign fantasies, the act of reading is also related to the sexual/sacrificial ritual. One encounters the novel the same way the narrator encounters Simone, a purely subversive figure who is at once exciting and frightening to him. Bauer performs this “coming age rite,” during which the reading of dirty or subversive novels becomes an act of transgression.

“The faintest call from the senses gave her a look directly suggestive of all things linked to sexuality”

“The faintest call from the senses gave her a look directly suggestive of all things linked to sexuality” (Photo: Conor O’Brien)

[1] Bataille, Georges. Story of the Eye (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1987.) p. 3
[2] Ibid., p. 6
[3] Ibid., p. 76
[4] Ibid., p. 98

REVIEW: Stoned Apes and Good Vibrations: The Work of Josef Bull

Stoned Apes and Good Vibrations: The Work of Josef Bull
by Aviram Yap, Guest Contributor (aviram.yap@gmail.com)

VIDEO: Josef Bull – Full Body Didgeridoo from Josef Bull on Vimeo.

Josef Bull’s latest exhibition is psychedelic, mind-bending, and as scientific as ever. In conjunction with the opening of his exhibition Casa Piramidal, this past weekend at Bushwick’s Jackie Klempay Gallery, Bull organized a performance with his PVC-pipe Didgeridoo sculpture, which enables full-body sound bathing for participating audience members, featuring musician AJ Block.

Bull weaves a fine line throughout his examination of spiritual phenomenon conducted in domestic environments.  He takes easily dismissible subject matter, such as the didgeridoo or DIY culture, and tweaks it just enough to make you wonder if Bull is critical of, or embracing of, this mash of cultures on display. People current on druggie-hippie-rave culture understand that this group has wholeheartedly embraced the “didge,” instantly transforming an Aboriginal Australian wind instrument into an object of controversy.

When asked about his choice of subject matter, Bull responded by saying, “I like the didgeridoo as a ‘material’ because it’s so hated. Didgeridoo players are hated! Jim who I collaborate with in Sweden regularly has experienced people spitting and shouting at him because of their hatred for the didgeridoo. It’s insane. I’m interested in these cliche spiritual and often mass produced attributes. Like didges and hippie shirts from nepal. I like ‘low’ materials and to see how they transform with different contexts. The cool thing though is that every didgeridoo player I’ve met through the project this far has been anything but cliche and incredibly interesting and intelligent.”

Following Bull’s explanation, it should be made clear that his didges are anything but hated. Bull succeeds at taking despised subject matter, extracting the essence, and producing an inquisitive object that embodies any relevant attributes it may possess.  Indeed it takes real skill to be able to turn something so hated into high art.

The first major attribute setting it apart from the hippie didge, is the complex construction and performative aspect. Seeking out and hiring the local didge expert is part of the process, which culminates when gallery-goers lay within the instrument so that they can meditate while completely enveloped by sound and vibration.  There are 7 openings for air to flow through – 1 for the musician to blow into, 2 for the ears, 2 for the breasts, 1 for the belly button, and 1 for the groin. (It hits all the chakras.) The PVC pipes are painted with a stone-craft patina, and placed on a hand-woven yak-wool blanket.  When the performance is not happening, most people do not realize that the object has anything other than a purely aesthetic purpose — it is indeed a curiously beautiful apparatus.

Internet-based research is also a huge resource for Bull’s work.  He’s inspired by amateur enthusiasts, garage scientists and fringe thinkers sharing their work on the web.  Framed and overlooking the entire space is one of the characters he came across while surfing youtube – the owner of Casa Piramidal, a pyramid-shaped mansion in Santa Catarina, Brazil. In the back room, there is a video projection of a suburban backyard. When you don the headphones, vibrating ‘OMs’ fill your ears. Both of these visual and audio elements were culled from the internet.

Adorning one gallery corner is a “rain stick” covered in luscious salt crystals that the mad-scientist Bull grew onsite with bluing and ammonia. In the garden space, the thread between inexplicable meditation techniques and casual Western comfort continues. Three butterfly sporting chairs sit in the grass, outfitted with copper-piping and chic pyramid-shaped crowns. Beside them is an analogous cooler of beer.

Born 1984 in Stockholm Sweden, this is Josef Bull’s first solo show in New York.  He  graduated from Konstfack University College of Arts in 2009 and has exhibited internationally at Museum of Ethnograpy Stockholm; Mare Gallery, Crete; Hanaholmen Cultural Center, Helsinki;  Forgotten Bar / Galerie Im Regierungsviertel, Berlin;  Peter Bergman Gallery, Stockholm. He’s a co-founder and editor of the publishing house and artist collective Nautofon. With such a stunning exhibition history and this New York debut, I can’t wait to see what curiosities the young Bull has up his sleeve next.  Until then, this show is a must-see.  Jackie Klempay Gallery is open the night of the opening, always by appointment, and usually on Wednesday evenings 7:30-9:30 pm.