Patrick Collier

 

The Best of a Bad Situation

Elizabeth Malaska's paintings at Nationale use the canon for their own purposes

The desire to express a deep appreciation for an artist’s work while knowing that when it comes to writing about that work one feels somewhat out of one’s league… This may be the highest praise an arts writer can give an artist. And while attempting an essay may not do the artist any favors, such it is for me with painter Elizabeth Malaska’s When We Dead Awaken II at Nationale.

First of all, the title has a curious phrasing and demands extra effort to decipher its meaning. It has the flavor of an echo, as if it could be attributed to some older text, a poem perhaps. Sure enough, a quick check of Google brings me to Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It’s the title of his last play, which is about a male sculptor and his long-lost, female model/muse. One day she reappears and, as it turns out, she has been driven mad by his fame and the loss of her role as his dedicated model. Furthermore, she feels as though her soul has been taken in the experience, and from that moment on she has considered herself dead. Somewhat paralleling her disposition, the artist considers her largely responsible for his masterpiece, the work that put him in the spotlight, yet he has felt empty ever since. No surprise (this is Ibsen, after all) they both die tragically in the end.

Having found a context for the title by reading the play, I could have let my research end there had I not then had a similar intuition about the title of one painting in the exhibit, “Not to Pass on Tradition, but to Break Its Hold over Us (the Archive and Its Shadow).” The phrase cannot be random, and in fact, the non-parenthetical part comes from a 1972 essay by Adrienne Rich, the title of which is “When We Dead Awaken – Writing as Re-vision.” I believe it is from here Malaska draws her most direct reference. In short, Rich makes the argument that women need to find a way to write with their own voices, unburdened by the male-dominant narrative that is embedded in the canon. If we consider that this is also Malaska’s goal in painting, then we might do well to take a closer look at this particular painting as perhaps being most directly related to this effort.

Not to Pass on Tradition, but to Break its Hold Over Us (the Archive and Its Shadow)/Elizabeth Malaska

Not to Pass on Tradition, but to Break its Hold Over Us (the Archive and Its Shadow)/Elizabeth Malaska

Here my feeling of ineptitude arises. First of all, as with many of Malaska’s paintings, I find myself wishing I had a deeper knowledge of art history, for the references in her pictorials are many, and presumably full of meanings I will likely fail to grasp. I can, however, hope to provide the reader with a descriptive gist of it all, and in the doing, perhaps come upon some insights.

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Busy Bodies

MK Guth’s "This Fable Is Intended for You: A Work Energy Principle: Final" at Elizabeth Leach Gallery

It’s a bit sad, really, writing this review for MK Guth’s This Fable Is Intended for You: A Work Energy Principle: Final at Elizabeth Leach Gallery. I know I’ve missed something significant—something prior to the making of the sculptures presented. After all, it is Final, and indeed the last iteration of a body of work, the bulk of which exists only as documentation. It also seems to be the last of a decade’s worth of projects she has done that involve braiding. I regret I’ve missed them all except this one.

MK Guth, Installation View/Elizabeth Leach Gallery

MK Guth, Installation View/Elizabeth Leach Gallery

The progenitor of this current work, This Fable Is Intended for You: A Work Energy Principle, occurred in 2009 and 2010. Here is part of the description from the extensive catalogue created for Guth’s 2012 exhibit at Marylhurst’s The Art Gym: “…a public project at One New York Plaza… Guth invited New Yorkers to bring unusable fabric (old clothes, sheets, rags) to a storefront transformed into an artist studio. Over a five-week period, Guth worked with volunteers to take the materials apart…and weave the fabric into large ropes and sculptural shapes. Guth then choreographed a series of performances for the Under the Radar Festival, in which 24 participants used the ropes to create complex and evolving geometric shapes and patterns.” But this is all by way of providing background more than context for Final.

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Because the past is just a goodbye

Blake Andrews at Blue Sky gallery

I’ve known about Blake Andrews for many years. He is a force to be reckoned with in the world of photography, particularly because of his minimally titled blog, B. Steeped in the history of and a dialog about photography, the blog is informative, but its real bite comes when Andrews applies his creative, incisive wit—sometimes so dry that how one interprets him says more about the person reading than what he writes—that makes it a must-read. Those who make the mistake of taking him at face value are said to start bleeding a good 24 hours later from the place his scalpel almost imperceptibly pierced their skin.

But we’re here to talk about his exhibit of photographs, specifically his exhibit, Pictures of a gone world at Blue Sky Gallery. All framed by sprocket holes (not visible in the reproductions here), the 28, black and white, analog photographs carefully attend to a specific aesthetic and technical history of his craft. The subject matter is mostly his wife and kids, which some might consider a bit of a throwback. But the images illustrate the title for the exhibit, “Pictures of a gone world,” which, the exhibit’s PR informs us, is also the title of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s first book of poems.

“Gone?” If I were of a literal bent, I’d see no pending doom in these photographs. (Well, maybe in one photo, but we’ll get to that in a bit.) Quite the contrary: I see joy, even in the most chaotic of moments portrayed in these images, and a lot of fun being had.

Emmett (2013)/Blake Andrews

Emmett (2013)/Blake Andrews

Oh! “Gone!” Like in “Gone, Daddy, gone,” as in “far out,” taking things to a new level, or being unconstrained. It is a vernacular older than Andrews; another time lost; still, albeit anachronistic, applicable for this exhibit.

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Art review: Beyond the horizon

Teresa Christiansen's new photography show at Melanie Flood Projects takes liberties with the landscape

The title for Teresa Christiansen’s current exhibit at Melanie Flood Projects, Indifferent Horizons, is taken from an early passage in Robert Smithson’s essay, “Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan.” Smithson speaks paradoxically of a horizon that is “closed in its openness,” always moving yet static, out of our grasp yet right below us. His hyper-attentive meditation on physical space functions as a way to displace himself for the making of art.

While only two of Christiansen’s photographs and photo-based images contain a quasi-apparent (and therefore if not indifferent, then problematic) horizon line, this is not necessarily a sticking point. As Smithson would suggest, “Contrary to affirmations of nature, art is inclined to semblances and masks, it flourishes on discrepancies.” We can, however, find a comprehensive understanding of Christiansen’s works by virtue of their content, and then place them in the tradition of landscape. In contemporary landscape, the need for the horizon has been deprioritized, as well as other liberties taken regarding the how and what of representation, all to address less direct “depths” of the natural world.

Teresa Christiansen, “Monument”/Courtesy Melissa Flood Projects

Teresa Christiansen, “Monument”/Courtesy Melanie Flood Projects

Because Christiansen has not limited herself to the standard presentation of flat, 2D prints, her manipulations also align with other art genres, namely sculpture, and collage, and certainly recall painting. But make no mistake, the eight pieces exhibited in the gallery are very clearly about and of the photographic tradition. Still, her piece “Monument” is more collage than photograph, or rather, is an interwoven amalgam of various, torn, black and white photos, and is a good representation of having one foot in photography and another in another medium. Her fragments of prints are strong in content, layered and interwoven to create a formal structure reminiscent of cubist or abstract painting. Yet it is the skilled placement of these torn scraps that make this piece an uncannily idealized (and therefore impossible) landscape. Moreover, it is brought about in a very old-school, cut-and-paste manner.

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On a scale of more

Emily Counts at Carl & Sloan Contemporary

The positioning of Emily Counts’ sculpture, “Moves Moves,” in the front gallery of Carl & Sloan Contemporary suitably makes it the focal point for her current exhibit. A good four feet out from a corner, it necessitates that two walls remain blank. At 82 inches tall and comprised of an array of stacked components made of stoneware, porcelain, platinum luster, concrete, wood, epoxy clay, copper wire and bronze, it initially brings to mind the cairn-like stone balancing acts that one sees on rocky beaches. Similarly, it stands as a monument, if not to excess, then an unapologetic variety of treatments.

Emily Counts, Moves Moves/Carl & Sloan Contemporary

Emily Counts, Moves Moves/Carl & Sloan Contemporary

Still, the title seems to suggest a self-conscious awareness that asks if the accumulation of materials and designs might be a little too much (include in this the verb/noun double-duty of “moves”). Both a question of excess (More More) and a concern for balance, if asked, I would assure the artist that her use of black, white and grays lends a cohesiveness to the work. Yet, there is more to consider.

A little more than halfway up “Moves Moves,” one of its ceramic components is made to appear as if it has been forcibly pierced through and through. A cord of ceramic tubes (large beads) strings through the holes and hangs like dead, uneven appendages, which makes the tower become a nearly seven-foot tall figure; and as a figure, the many treatments and designs on the ceramics become adornments as they echo ritual scarification, tattoos and head gear.

Cords of ceramics are evident in the three larger pieces in the gallery’s main room, while two smaller pieces contain a similar gesture with chains made of bronze. This stringing was also in evidence in her exhibit last year at Nationale. It would not be a surprise to discover she also makes jewelry, specifically necklaces. I mention this not to close down the reading of Counts’ endeavors but to open it up. After all, it is the interplay between the jewelry-like structures—along with their role in creating the human form—that leads us to consider the implications of a decorated body.

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Memories are made for this

Jonathan Berger at Adams & Ollman; "The Emotional Life of Objects" at Bullseye Projects

As soon as I saw an image online of Jonathan Berger’s installation, “A Future Life,” at Adams and Ollman, I wanted to write about the work. More precisely, seeing the plinths, the floor and wall panel were built with small cubes of charcoal, set off a cascade of memories from my young adulthood and family history, and I wanted to tell those stories. The art struck a nerve; and no doubt I was not the only one (nor the only art writer) to be so moved.

Preliminary information about an exhibit will do that for me. It doesn’t happen often, yet a photo, a well-written press release or an intriguing title for an exhibit will not only get me in the door but create the kind of sparks that have me composing sentences on my drive to and from the city. This week it happened twice, the second time was the exhibition title, “The Emotional Life of Objects,” for a group show at Bullseye Projects.

It was 1980. I was in graduate school and had begun hanging out with a new group I had met during summer semester, all younger than me by four or five years and seemingly driven by the complementary mottos, “Fuck art, let’s dance,” and “Make your own party.” While not conducive to my graduate studies, I was nevertheless fairly swept up into their.. .well, let’s just say I enthusiastically attended a lot of dance parties.

One of those parties was billed as a Decadance, and attendees were expected to come wearing either lingerie or underwear. It was held in the basement of a house, whose I don’t remember. Nor do I recall what I wore aside from the handkerchief I always carried to mop sweat at these shindigs. Toward the end of the night I had to blow my nose, only to then find the handkerchief spotted with coal-black wetness.

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Caught (up) in the act

Jazz by Paal Nilssen-Love and Ken Vandermark; Sound art by Aiko Suzuki

Music is very nearly my constant companion. As I write, make art, do chores, drive, sleep or endure an Abba earworm, tunes are always in the picture, whether as a minor distraction, or on occasion, actual entertainment.

I was not what you’d call an “angel” as a kid, but I wasn’t a reprobate either. I did the naughty things other kids did, certainly things I shouldn’t have, but I did seem to get found out with more frequency than others, and perhaps more harshly punished, which included being grounded for long stretches of time. I mention this because during these terms of backyard incarceration, I avoided a sense of isolation by idling away the days with a portable radio at my side.

Chicago’s WLS-AM and WCFL-AM battled for my pre-teen attention. And when the FM dial started to become more populated, I listened to hippie-rock on WDAI (94.7) and a late-night alternative program, Triad, which took over a classical station out of Elk Grove Village (106.9) at 9:00 pm. Call it escapism; I thought of it as the outline for an escape plan.

That plan didn’t pan out, so I enlisted in the Navy. With my first paycheck I bought a little red Hitachi transistor radio. Radios after hours were forbidden in boot camp, but I hid mine in my pillow. While listening to that radio in my bunk I learned Picasso had died.

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