As I entered the vast open space of Western Bridge, my companion who was already inside grinned at me mischievously. I asked what was so funny. She said, “this piece is everything I both love and hate about contemporary art” … I asked the dreaded question (dreaded because we were presumeably standing in front of it in the middle of a very large room but I didn’t want to admit which “piece” it was) : “what piece?”
My friend smiled and pointed at the floor. I looked down at the puddle of water near our feet, crestfallen. Yes. Yes of course this is the one. This is the piece that will cause all the anguish because unlike Dan Webb’s meticulously documented process of carving a block of wood from perfection into dust (which you’ll find carefully collected in a Plexiglas box at the end of the aforementioned documentation); this piece is going to challenge the very idea of what an artistic process is, and whether or not it needs to be tangible. Is process in the mind of the artist, or is it forced upon us as we toil to wrap our own minds around that thing that we both want and don’t want to understand? Is our own attempt to wrap ourselves around the work to justify its existence as art in its own way a kind of art?
These questions only lead to more questions:
Why is there a puddle of water on the floor? Why am I so consumed with its presence and authenticity? Why does this work want me to want it to be art?
Perhaps that is the most important, most revealing question, as a viewer.
The rest of the work in the gallery is what I’d expect to see - minimal, clean, large, and contemporary. I love this kind of work. It’s what I want to see more of in Seattle. These are artists whose work resides in lofty galleries in Chelsea, NYC. These are artists who’ve been in the Whitney Biennial. But if I’m honest, sometimes I don’t want to see it. I don’t know if I've forgotten how it feels to be around it, or if it’s just that it feels out of place here. Or maybe it’s just so achingly polished and contemporary. It doesn’t matter. Don’t let my internal conflict get to you - I make very minimal work. But sometimes I need things to be … dirtier … messier.
So it says something to me that the most interesting things in Western Bridge are actually the architectural elements of the building. I’m in love with the space. I’m fascinated by the height recordings on a wooden pillar towards the back; not only because it’s a marker of physical facts, but because it’s a marker of who’s been there - many of them rather well known art folks in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a quiet understated slice of history: these people were here at this time. Also there is a large hook on a chain in the front, as well as a complex array of knobs and handles brightly painted red. It’s not supposed to be as interesting as the art but it has such a strong presence in the room that it can’t not have a strong presence in the room. Also when you’re south of SODO, everything is an industrial element. Knobs, tracks, wheels, cranks, gears, scaffolding, cranes, and other earmarks of industry are as important a part of the [interior and exterior] landscape as the mountains, sea, and sky.
The most fitting and fulfilling installation I’ve ever seen in the space is by my former Pratt professor Mary Temple. When she was here, she created a fictional reflection of light that lulled you into that lazy late afternoon moment where sunlight cascades across your wall from a window across the street. It’s so beautifully Northwest in a way - we Seattlites are not without a keen sense of our environmental surroundings. Our light is specific to our open sky, the way it bounces off the mountains, Elliott Bay/Puget Sound, and buildings. Or off of plate glass windows on that warehouse across the railroad tracks.
Which brings me back to water - something we’re inescapably surrounded by. I couldn’t make a joke about Emilie Halpern’s puddle because nothing about any of the work in this exhibit is a joke. It’s all very serious. The puddle of water is four litres, the amount of liquid which can be contained by the human lungs. You have to read the handout to know that. You have to read another art review to know that the puddle evaporates over the course of the day to leave a salt stain on the floor. That’s the barrier. But once you know that, you can’t help but form your own story of why that puddle is there in the first place.
Therein lies the beauty. It’s a story that you make, irrespective of the explanation of its presence. You imagine it.
And so it’s art that I can’t joke about because it's valid the moment I realize I’m the author. It’s the same with any kind of conceptual work - you are doing the work. I make you do this with my own work. Having an artifact at the end of the day doesn’t mean the art is somehow more valid.
And it isn’t fair for me to say all the work in the show is totally minimalist, although there are still echoes.
Dan Webb’s endless row of documented woodwork is a tangible reality that I can almost feel with my hands, as though I were carving his skull myself. I love that the climax is a container of the dust at the end of the row of photographs. While I enjoy the evidence, what I’m not so sure about is the need for it to exist as proof. Perhaps I’d prefer to put that together myself?
Mungo Thomson hangs two mirrors facing one another with the Time’s trademark frame and title text painted on them, making you the person of the year. Since there are two, the reflections are infinitely recursive.
Matt Sheridan Smith’s beautifully drawn portraits which have been covered in the weird silver stuff that covers lottery tickets, which has been partially scratched to reveal the drawings underneath. (did he use a quarter to remove it?) At first I thought they looked like portraits from various currency. As it so happens, they’re friends of the artist. The style of work combined with the scratch ticket and all of it pointing to money is awesome.
Probably my favorite piece, Alex Schweder La’a small subtle installation literally lives and grows above the stairwell; which if you don’t pay attention you’ll disregard as mold - something else we sort of take for granted in our damp region. Its presence slowly eats away at the structure of the building, changing it over time, pieces of the paint and drywall slowly disappearing under the blooming fuzz. The world itself revolves around a pattern of growth and consumption, only to grow and consume again. Out of everything I’ve seen in this exhibition, this is the one that resonates most with the title, and with Western Bridge’s pending demise.
These pieces have an earthiness I relate to. I feel the presence and the hand of the artist when I look at them. What more could I ask? I want to know the maker of these things is with me, as buried in the work as I am, making a beautiful mess of things inside and out.
Ultimately, this show gives everything I both love and hate about contemporary art. Therefore I will miss Western Bridge when it is gone. Tremendously.
Western Bridge, Through April 7
3412 4th Ave S, @ Hinds
(I apologise in advance for my blurry cellphone shots below.)
At Gage Academy of Art, the Steele Gallery sits at the end of the hallway where the air is thick with the smell of paper, ink, charcoal dust, oil paint, and varnish. It's a comforting smell if you have fond memories of taking art in school, or if you've even gone to art school. You might remember the sweat and rigour of those first few classes or that crippling first year; how crushing your work load was and how quickly you grew weary of these things:
boxes, cones, cubes, spheres, line-weight variation, contours, cross-contours, drawing “without contours”, vases, cups, bowls, flowers, plants, trees, paper bags, black plastic bags, odds and ends, old shoes, coats, blankets, drapery, bare light bulbs, legs, toes, heels, hips, breasts, necks, noses, ears, fingers, hair, eyes, darks, lights, sfumato, chiaroscuro, darkest-darks, lightest-lights, foreground, background, environment, perspective, two-point perspective, architecture, composition, value scales, “formal components”, cranky art models, peppy art models, tired art models, art models who talk a lot, sleepy art models; tibias, clavicles, femurs, radius, ulna, and phalanges.
It's exhausting to draw. You never know how hard you have to work until you're working. Professors go on at length about how drawing is a philosophical battle with yourself; that what you see is not really what you’re making (you’ll never win that war but you’ll have some epic battles). But it is a real thing, this negotiation between perceived reality; what you see, what you think you see, what you don’t see, and how you must represent it either faithfully or fictionally.
That faith or fiction in representation is the crux of this show, where the work pays tribute to its roots.
Brick and Mortar is Lauren Klenow’s final curatorial exhibit at Gage on Capitol Hill, showcasing a broad range of artistic narrative from conceptual video to traditional painting. The premise is simple: all work begins with the foundational aspect of draughtsmanship; that underneath even the most conceptual piece is the necessity to see and the compulsion to interpret through line, shape, shadow, and colour.
This exhibition demonstrates more than just the intimacy of line from observation.There is a distinct theme of flow, layering, subtlety, and material throughout the work. There is nothing loud about this exhibition - it’s quiet work that says volumes in its brevity.
Katy Stone’s installation is a layered fall of cornflower blue chenille pipe cleaners. The colour is almost electric, curves bowing out from the wall like so many tails. Living here in the Pacific Northwest it would be easy to recall a dripping rain forest of moss - fortunately this piece is not green, and there is no danger of confusing one for the other. This is more like a cloud. Stone’s a tried and true painter even in her installation work. Her meticulously mapped marks describe her more as a painter in space, rather than canvas. You’re living in the same dimension as the work, not just looking at it.
Adjacent to the blue cascade are two drawings by Amanda Manitach - one of them a return to hysteria and oddly arranged figures; one of which somehow remind me of the hanged man tarot. Drooping in a bizarrely relaxed manner her women are strung up and pinned by the feet, patiently waiting for something. Next to the figures is a drawing of a cup and folds upon folds against an obsessively blocked-in section of graphite. Both drawings are compositionally divided by bright crimson drips. Rather than feeling sinister, these drawings feel seductive. A video next to the drawings displays an absurd list of questions and food being smashed into shoes which follows Manitach's course of logic if you follow the thread of her narratives.
Complimentary to Manitach’s solid graphite blocks and folds are Robert Maki’s tender geometric drawings. They feel intimate. I like the one that puckers. Drawing is meant to be a careful, thoughtful act. In an open rebellion against archival nurture and caretaking, this drawing presses against the glass; crinkled, beautifully executed, and sentimentally framed as though despite and perhaps because of its imperfection, it is critically important that we see it.
Brick and Mortar is an elegant arrangement meant to contemplate the binding thread between artists - the base element of art being the crafted line, the desire to interpret and represent what we see, and how we uniquely translate that vision. Some works have more in common to bind them together than others, but overall the success is that you will leave thinking about the relationship of drawing to contemporary art and form your own conclusions.
Steele Gallery: Brick and Mortar
February 17 - March 20
3rd Floor, Gage Academy of Art
Ryan Mitchell, founder and director of Implied Violence, talks quietly in the hallway next to an ether dispensing machine. He is explaining the art of dressage - in equestrian sports it is the practise of training the horse to do what one would not naturally do; at times the horse may refuse the trainer's command in a brief, violent outburst before falling back into dressage. This may or may not be perceptible to the untrained eye, but beyond what we can see or believe the horse is engaging an internal battle - he is negating his refusal by continuing the dance in spite of his struggle against it.
It occurs to me that we do this in our lives nearly every day. We're trained to go to sleep and get up in the morning to work, bending to a system which dictates we must act a certain way politically and socially and perform a series of duties to either excel, keep up, participate, or purely survive. It doesn't matter what you’re doing in your life or how independently. You're a part of this. There is no escape. We continue the dance despite our struggles against it. We must constantly negotiate what we see against what we don’t see, balancing what we know against what we don’t.
The performers of Implied Violence demonstrate this dance with abandon and inconceivable discipline, serving as an unflinching mirror to our lives in extreme circumstance. They keep themselves awake for seventy-two hours at a time to endure the torture of ephemeral masks made of wax, tar, and honey. They bounce in place for eight hours straight in preparation to wear a corseted ribbon-encrusted dress. They adorn one another with leeches and knock each other out with ether to further alter their states, their decision making, and their perception of the world around them. They are both removing and immersing themselves in reality. At times, they balk. These are trials of the will. These are queries of fact and fiction, and whether there is a difference between them. While there is certainly enough photo documentation for you to bear witness outside of performance, it is not a reliable indicator of truth - you will have to decide for yourself what is true.
The work is raw, sexual, and art historical. Performer's eyes roll back in their heads as they succumb to fatigue, manic ecstasy, delirium, and ether. We are reminded of the creation of idols, and Bernini's Ecstasy of St Teresa. Lancing and blood evokes St. Sebastian and stigmata. While many of the acts committed in a performance are presented in a violent fashion, there is an accompanying tenderness - cradling, caretaking, responsibility, and comfort to the performer's confusion and disorientation. It’s relentless, but there is an end. We walk away. They walk away. Hopefully, we are changed.
Albert Von Keller is a quiet introduction and accompaniment to Implied Violence. His paintings suggest beauty and glow with a supernatural light. Underneath them lies something more less aesthetically beautiful, far more uncertain, and Other. Although his work doesn't feel as direct as Implied Violence, it's subtly informative and involves romantic things like candlelight, witches, and ectoplasm. But similarly, we learn that states of consciousness are altered, trances achieved, and he claims that "nature breaks out in this moment without restraint" while performers dream-dance and produce flowing emanations.
Von Keller's time was one of new discoveries and technologies; what had previously gone unseen was made visible. The body was the New World, a new line between fact and fiction and the differences between them. In order to feed his fascination, Von Keller engaged in paranormal exploration. He investigated the human psyche, prophesy, and trance states en tandem with the study of Christian resurrection, mystical healing, and stigmata. He held séances and performances in his home and studio, and directed his subjects as they posed for a photographer in order to paint them later. But as with Implied Violence, his photo documentation is not a reliable indicator of truth - you would have to have been there or be willing to synthesise the information in the painting versus the image in the photograph. Here again, you must decide for yourself what is true.
Albert Von Keller and Implied Violence share an examination of the line where our idea of reality begins to blur. While Von Keller records those who step into unknown territory through mysticism, supernatural territory, and religious fervor; Implied Violence actively engages that pursuit through deprivation, bodily exertion or abuse, and tests of endurance. We stand by as spectators, while they endure as synesthetes and somnambulists. They push hard against a veil that we, in dressage, protest and accept all at once; hovering in a quantum state of is/not, yes/no, true/false, real/unreal, natural/unnatural. We must come to admit that despite what we want or seek or strive for, there may simply be no answer at all but our own. We dance, we fight, we dance. Hopefully, we are changed.
Shortly after I moved back to the Pike/Pine corridor, I started noticing how this little storefront next to Sal's Barbershop had really interesting things to look at. I’d walk past hurriedly on my way to somewhere else and make a mental note to come back, but every time I came back I had to peer in the window because chances were I was late to another thing and I’d curse under my breath for lack of time. It’s the story of my life, the need to slow down.
I remember one particularly arresting show of portraits I wanted to inspect more closely, and I also remember noticing every time I walked by there were people hanging out together, inside and out, laughing—obviously a tight knit group. I remember feeling a sense of approval, that this is what places showing art should be like. Well that gallery is called pun(c)tuation, and you really need to spend some time there and this is why (and I'm an out-of-practise blogger so this is a total ramble):
In the last couple of years, Capitol Hill has forged a small art presence, on the edge of what I hope is a boom. Grey Gallery (now on hiatus) was the first, followed by Vermillion, to combine efforts of a community hangout (read, BAR), gallery space, and music. I agree with this strategy and want more. While Grey is gone for the time being, the combined efforts of Amanda Manitach and the folks at The Living Room have brought art to their intimate high-ceilinged space with their first opening, It Is Happening Again, a solo show by Joey Veltkamp. And while Crawl Space is now a distant memory, Ghost Gallery has revived what I found to be an awkward but endearing space to have a show; complete with enclosed lawn, people spilling out into the street, and an impromptu barbeque.
Which brings us back to pun(c)tuation. It’s an artist’s cooperative, opened November of last year, and seems to find that beautiful combination of fine art, craft, and folk roots to bring us colorful, intricate, process-based works by artists. Their statement says simply:
A co-operatively owned mixed use space
Focused on sustainable consumption
A home to all seekers of good taste
Incubator for Making and Doing
We are here to do one thing and one thing only: Share
I like this newly surfacing verbiage, of calling one’s self a maker, a tinkerer, a cobbler. It’s come to my attention through various conversations that while we understand we’re artists making art, it doesn’t always sit very well, nor does it taste quite right. When confronted with that prickly question of “what do you do” and answering “I’m an artist” I have to find some negotiable way of also saying “no, I’m not a painter or a sculptor, I make large scale paper shit that hangs from floor to ceiling made to look like soft fur but that also feels slightly dangerous and before you ask, no, nothing ever sells” and that’s a cumbersome way to introduce yourself. Rather perhaps I could say “I’m a maker of things”.
So this month’s featured maker is Stacey Rozich, a local artist with Slavic roots. Her imagery is rich and intriguing in the way that only creatures from the dreams Croatia can be. Sparking a memory, her work is evocative of another Slavic-inspired artist, Rachel Budde, who’s pro-cum-ant-agonists have become ever darker, bleeding over the fringe of our subconscious if only to remind us that those monsters are real and actual mirrors of ourselves. The difference is just that – Rozich’s creatures are more friendly reflections; perhaps ourselves in costume as more sinister archetypes. They cross over with Gala Bent’s strange menagerie; they bear two or too many legs, fur, aren’t quite right but aren’t terrifying beasts of the psyche.
Rozich’s own pull towards the irresistible allure of creatures and folklore has led her to pursue images and stories outside of the former Yugoslavia and delve into the worlds of Russia, Scandanavia, West Africa, and Native American mythology. Through her work, we see the threads which combine the elements of human fears, dreams, and storytelling.
Perhaps reminders are simply there to gently inspire us to do or be better, and don’t need to be so frightful as to make us look away. In sensing my own trend towards faerie tale inspired mythology and folklore, I’ve noticed a pull towards the quietly abject: long soft falls of hair, patterned swaths of fur, triangles for teeth, and a consistent recurring theme of danger belied by beauty. I don’t really know why so many of us are going there but I know it’s frankly irresistible.
Patterns of Renewal by Stacey Rozich opens tonight at Pun(c)tuation, 8pm-11pm @ 705A East Pike Street, Seattle WA 98122 and will be up through August 18 2010
This series highlights guest curator invited artist's own words about the work they've done for this year's Seattle Erotic Art Festival. Today's artist: Shaun Kardinal
As with the most of the other works in my ongoing series of self-portraits, this photo was taken immediately after finding solace in the mirror of my bathroom and seeing (or perhaps sensing) that all was as it should be. Knowing these moments are not mine alone, I hope to capture some semblance of them to share my experience. I hold on to the feeling as I prepare – camera, film, tripod, shutter-release cable – and continue to ponder the chain of thoughts which brought me there. In this particular instance, it was the sting of the mouthwash I had originally hoped to capture. However, as I continued through the roll, spitting and pouring anew with each advanced exposure, the pain left my mouth. Dulled there, I soon found a lingering burn in my eyes. In this final shot on the roll, I continued to pour an excess of the stringent fluid, allowed it to trickle past my jaw and onto my chest. Only then, as both the burn and relief reached different parts of my skin, did I come back to that place, where was I fully reminded that everything was ok.
This sort of moment might not immediately strike many as being erotic- but upon close inspection, the process parallels many aspects of a sexual encounter with oneself–an intriguing moment puts in motion an instinctual series of events; sometimes frustrating, other times emotional, always aiming for climax. (Hell, even afterwards there's the cleanup and occasional remorse.) Sharing this moment can be voyeuristic, even if it is only a representation of a moment.
As someone whose upbringing was repressed sexually, I found my first experience attending SEAF nothing short of glorious. I mean, come on–it's a celebration of sexual and artistic release! Strange and often perfect bedfellows, those two.
I look forward to seeing the interpretations other invited artists bring to the festival. Also Waxie Moon.
Shaun Kardinal, Spearmint (detail) 2009/10 silver gelatin print
image courtesy of the artist