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: Response to “You Do the Math” at Jackie Klempay Gallery

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

In undressing, both body and clothing inherit a vulnerability, the aura of nakedness. Curiously intimate, encountering another’s wardrobe: an identity disassembled, dissected. The widespread use of washing and drying machines is based not only in convenience, but most importantly in the preservation of the sacred aura of privacy they afford. We treat the washing of our clothes with nearly the same attention to privacy with which we treat the washing of our own bodies. And while stricter, the limits we place on who may see our unclothed bodies are similar to the limits we place on who may see our disembodied clothes. Privacy preserves the identity’s delicate impenetrability. The image of our clothing reduced to a potential state indicates the extent identity depends on them. The symbiosis of cloth and flesh: what the body gains from the garments that adorn it, so do those garments gain from the bodies they adorn.

 

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The main installation in MacGregor Harp’s show “You Do the Math” at Jackie Klempay Gallery consists of several racks of clothing set up in the gallery’s backyard. There is a sense of displacement: these objects have been transported from inside to outside, from a place of impenetrable privacy to a place of pure vulnerability. Yet even stranger  than displacement are the accompanying senses of appropriateness and familiarity: moved outside, how closely these racks resemble trees, the floral patterns on some garments recall branches heavy with foliage. It is not uncommon for the inner and outer worlds to interact with and seep into each other. Within the privacy of our homes we allow vestiges of the outside world to adorn, flowers and potted plants, paintings of landscapes, open windows act both as barriers and portals. While outside we set up furniture, build patios and fences, extend shadows of the private world. When an item is displaced from its natural environment, it adapts to the new one. Throughout the vast cloth of civilization there are holes and windows where the flesh of nature breaks through: city and national parks, both barriers and portals.

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Exposed flesh is an empathic stimulus; is it because these sheets of cloth, the ghosts of identities, remind us of flesh that we have the same reaction when we encounter them exposed? Morbid considerations emerge: flayed skin swinging from limbs of trees, displayed here, perhaps, as a warning to trespassers, or perhaps removed in the interest of scientific experimentation (vivisection is the most extreme form of undressing). The ghost of gender is here too: the wardrobe is deliberately feminine, and belongs to the artist’s fiancee, as do the tufts of hair that sprout from the top of each rack. This gesture, the incorporation of hair into the installation, draws associations between the synthetic fur represented by the clothing with real, organic human fur. Clothing is the vestigial phantom of fur shed from our genes in millennia past. Gooseflesh is the skin’s longing for a lost protector, the present-absence of body hair lingering above exposed skin. These displaced reflexes persist, senile languages from old evolutions. The hair anthropomorphizes the clothing racks, though there is already something abstractly human in their design.

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The work in MacGregor Harp’s exhibition makes use of subtle gesture, minimalist arrangement, and understated display: one installation, a bowl of cigarettes set in a corner on the floor, could easily be overlooked by inattentive passers-by. Another piece, a pack of cigarettes displayed on top of a printed cloth, simply presents the object for uncomplicated consideration, where the full weight and irony of the phrase “American Spirit,” coupled with the native mascot, speaks for itself. Cigarettes, an omnipresence with a tinge of the forbidden, somehow ubiquitous, mundane, and yet generally frowned-upon, a commodified taboo, a dangerous comfort, a self-destructive system, that functions in disappearing: these associations reveal themselves. Harp’s choice of subjects is not particularly biased; cigarettes and flowers are the two major ones, and are juxtaposed in some ways (the size and white-grey scheme of Cigs contrasts starkly with his Flowers series), though the artist also incorporates into his work sports logos, newspaper comics, and, of course, clothing. The artist’s fascination lies with these overlooked objects and symbols, which have a consistent but rarely considered daily presence, and in representing them Harp employs a delicate playfulness that slides from the abstract, to the personal, to the absurd.

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Location: 81 Central Ave

Hours: Saturday, 1-5pm

Contact: klempayj[at]gmail[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: Synthetic-Organic Delirium: Thoughts On and Around “For Thinkin’ Long and Dark” at English Kills Gallery

Written by Conor O’Brien, Living Gallery

Images taken from Brent Owens’ show “For Thinkin’ Long and Dark,” at English Kills Gallery until March 30th

"For Thinkin' Long N' Dark"

“For Thinkin’ Long N’ Dark”

In the shadow beneath everything there is this seething discomfort that pushes outward, forever toward the sun. The city relegates domains to nature, parks and sidewalks where grass and trees sprout seemingly from some organic core, but this is purely nostalgic. They are planted on top of the edifice, and while they bend theatrically toward sunlight beneath a shallow coat of soil, their stunted roots tickle numb pavement.

"Flamin' Dogs"

“Flamin’ Dogs”

A city park is a great potted plant, a safe expression of that groaning core muted under countless leagues of steel and hollowed earth, muted but not subdued. The city is humanity’s indulgence in confusion manifest. The impotent desire to escape nature and the body that ends only in a synthetic recreation of the body, and nostalgic oases of nature.

"A Tourist Everywhere I Go"

“A Tourist Everywhere I Go”

The buildings we filter through, where we live and conduct our daily rituals, are an expression of corporeality cast in brick, rubber, and steel; abstract and geometric, but still distinctly bodily. And in the hollow spaces, the tunnels, the pores, the moist and dark pockets of the city, organisms sprout and spawn.

"Pale Blue Finger"

“Pale Blue Finger”

This constant, intimate interaction of live flesh on blind stone produces a masochistic delirium: the desire to be split open and spilled over sunheated cement; to release upon rock and brick that throbbing pink core, inverted and all nerve-endings; to fill every dead crevice and corner with living, fertile material; absolute sensory pressed against absolute numbness, synthetic-organic fused: this is the experience of city life.

"Flesh Wreath

“Flesh Wreath

This urban pastiche of materials organic and synthetic comes through in Brent Owen’s work. All of Owen’s sculptures use wood as their base material: stumps, driftwood, branches form the core of each piece.

"Leviathan"

“Leviathan”

The synthetic-organic interplay comes through by various means: in some pieces the wood is carved and painted to resemble neon lights, and a neon effect is recreated by shining an outside light-source on the sculpture;

"Butcher's Block"

“Butcher’s Block”

Several pieces resemble large tapestries, one even extending past the wall and curving onto the floor in the manner of fabric;

"Nightbird"

“Nightbird”

Other pieces, while retaining the original shape of the stump or tree branch, are painted and decorated with various objects (eagle decals, hawaiian leis, toy eyeballs, jewelery, etc.) in such a way that the forms enter the realm of the surreal.

"Out of the Sky"

“Out of the Sky”

Even when the objects are not expressly representing the body or human figure as in the case of “Flamin’ Dogs” and “Flesh Wreath,” even when they remain abstract or free associative there is still something vaguely corporeal about them, with their wrinkled, veiny exteriors, protruding limbs, and gaping orifices. “Out of the Sky” resembles a giant heart or stomach; “Mystery Cave,” while resembling a normal tree stump on the outside, has a fleshy, pink, and bejeweled interior.

"Mystery Cave"

“Mystery Cave”

The mixture of (usually dead) organic material with synthetic material is present in most kinds of art, but in Owen’s work, this association has been foregrounded. The dead organic material is given a new corporeality, a revived organic form, in part by being brought into contact with inorganic material, especially those which are associated with the body, as in wreaths, jewelry, piercings, tattoos.

"The Misfit"

“The Misfit”

Piercings and tattoos are significant in Owen’s work partly because they call to mind an everyday microcosm of a larger synthetic-organic co-evolution: to fill skin and veins with ink, a synthetic blood; to open and expose the skin with metal jewelry.

"Beiber Loaf"

“Beiber Loaf”

When one pierces oneself, the skin first reacts negatively, becomes irritated, and retreats from the alien object. Then the skin heals and (unsuccessfully) attempts to fuse with the object, to adopt the object into its physiology.

"Wizard Stick 1, 2, and 3"

“Wizard Stick 1, 2, and 3”

The injection of new technology into daily life follows this path: the eyes grow fond of artificial light; the lungs acclimate to exhaust-laced air, the stomach, to digesting mass-produced chemicals; the spine contorts to fit the harsh geometry of its environment; the body, the blood is kept alive on electricity and synthetic medicine. In that great laboratory, the city, these newer, stranger permutations of the human form are spawned generation after generation; and the old generations, like Dr. Frankensteins, look with horror upon the unrecognizable creations they’ve reared into being: pierced with metal, filled with ink, and speaking a strange tongue, their brains throbbing with ideas fearless and unholy.

"Mancave"

“Mancave”

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

Gallery Location: 114 Forrest St.
Hours: Sat & Sun 1-6pm
Contact: info(at)englishkillsartgallery(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