John Brodie’s ‘Versus Artifacts’ at Linfield Gallery

A cut above the rug.

As the title suggests, John Brodie’s exhibit, “Versus Artifacts” at Linfield Gallery in McMinnville, presents a challenge to the viewer, a call to decipher what may be contrary/adversarial within this elegant display.

The gallery itself is a well-lit, big cube with generous wall space. A white couch, white coffee table and white stool, all arranged on a large oriental-style rug, sit at the back and remind me of a very modern living space one might see in an “Architectural Digest” spread. I could imagine a pleasant fundraiser being held here, or keeping with the likeness to a private residence, a cocktail party where I would find myself out of my league. All because of the very white furniture.

In fact, the furniture arrangement was listed as “The Lounge,” and while the couch, stool and rug were the real objects, the table was a fabrication by Brodie. Had things been different, I might have then asked, “Now, who’s out of place?”

Placement plays a big part in this show. It creates a syntax that exists within and between pieces. The vocabulary is fairly restricted in the repetition of materials and motifs, but there is a certain generosity toward the viewer in this, meaning I was able to develop a story Brodie might be trying to tell us.

I mentioned the rug (listed as a carpet in the materials). Set on the outside edge of the carpet was a sculpture, “Artifact Counterweight.” It appeared that it might have the actual function suggested by the title because of a little bundle suspended within the piece. Suitable for its siting, the sculpture includes a fair amount of white parts, yet it also provides a transition between the furniture “artifacts” and the rest of the exhibit.

“Artifact Counterweight” is positioned to direct the eye to a wall piece, “Wall Drawing No. 1,” a somewhat dismembered wooden sculpture very similar to “Counterweight” but then affixed to the wall. Included as part of this piece is a simple, small painting of horizontal stripes on canvas, which happens to be coordinated with the colors of the carpet.

This observation invites a closer look for similar strategies in the rest of the exhibit. Perhaps we should start at the entrance.

There is a small painting, “Hello, Welcome,” just outside of the gallery space proper. It is a very simple piece, perhaps casual, with three blocks of black standing out from an equally thin wash of a beige color with some parts of the canvas untouched. The sparseness of the piece might represent and establish a template for the viewer, or a stepping-off place.

"Stump 1"/Linfield Gallery

“Stump 1″/Linfield Gallery

The incline is gentle.

Immediately inside the gallery are three small sculptures, “Stumps Nos. 1-3”. Consisting of one black stone each, pieces of cut wood that one might find as scrap roughs at a sawmill, as well as “kindling,” paint and book pages, their structuring is reminiscent of Japanese Ikebana in the Jiyūka style (a liberal form that does not require the use of flowers in the arrangement). Sparse, sculptural collages, they echo the interior design flair of the furniture; yet, they also set a tone for both the form and content of other sculpture and framed collage works in the room.

From here, the space opens up with three larger works on the floor, two of which resemble “Counterweight” in construction (thin, long slats of wood and square, concrete bases), yet are a bit more complex and colorful, and therefore want to carry on a conversation of their own.

"Flag (Symbol Set)"/Linfield Gallery

“Flag (Symbol Set)”/Linfield Gallery

“False Surrender” is a vertically-inclined piece that seems to be named that because of the large pink flag stiffened to appear as if it is blowing in a breeze. In that we know the signal for surrender is a white flag, we can wonder why this fabric is pink. Red and white make the color pink; blood is red; we are led in this direction by the camouflage treatment given the base of the piece. Perhaps a lot of blood has been spilled, but then why “False?” Its companion piece, “Flag (Symbol Set),” resembles a flag pole with a light blue banner just below a smaller off-white one at the very top of the wooden slat. Is the white fabric the true surrender flag? (In either case, I cannot imagine a bright white fabric would have ever been found in any prolonged skirmish.) Then what to make of the baby blue one? Pink and blue. And since “Flag” is a “Symbol Set,” I suppose we must make something of the inexpensive rag rug (listed as a “door mat”) placed around the concrete base. There may be a story here.

Just above the rag rug but affixed to the shaft is a small, framed book page printed with another rug not unlike the real rug at the back of the gallery. The print may be a key as a connector, for there are a number of other pieces in the show that portray rugs or tapestry, either printed on a surface or as a component in a collage. (The odd-piece-out in the exhibit may be a large blue vessel made of burlap.) Based on the dates listed for these pieces, it is clear that Brodie has been working with the rug image for some time.

"Seer"/Linfield Gallery

“Seer”/Linfield Gallery

The significance of the “rugs” initially eludes me, although I do recognize a similarity between his and other local artists in their use of fabrics to make banner-like art. A key may be “Seer,” a set of four UV inkjet prints of rugs on hexacomb cardboard and mounted in a way that clearly suggests a face. On a wall containing no other works and directly across from a collection of pieces with similar content (as well as facing “False Surrender”), the mouth is set in a grimace, yet the eyes are wide open. The time of this motif may be coming to an end for Brodie. But I may be projecting.

Or not. In his Artist’s Statement, Brodie writes that the work contains and examines “domestic cultural signifiers,” and in doing so, “generate(s) transcendence over everything for the author and observer, and everyone else.” The goal is new insights that will provide some kind of release or liberation, a rising above it all that carries beyond the gallery. As for how this is to be achieved, and what that the other side will look like, we are given some direction that may need a little deciphering itself: “History makes an appearance like a stone that has not moved for 1,000 years. Dispersion is forthcoming momentarily. Dedicated to those who come into contact with the moment after the fact.”

How about this: History is comparatively static compared to, say, geologic time; metaphorically speaking, something akin to a rainbow is about to emerge over this land; and, this exhibit has been built with those who either live in the recent past or are a little late to the party in mind? An incorporation of artifacts (if only as a printed page) into the art coincides with Brodie’s stated mission.

And so we are brought back to the title for this exhibit, “Versus Artifacts.” “What” versus artifacts? The simple answer would be “Art,” a fundamental theoretical question designed to examine a distinction between the two classifications in the artworld. Or, even though I am disinclined to level such a criticism, how about “Artifice Versus Artifacts?” I have seen such in lesser shows.

As I moved around Linfield Gallery and began to construct the above narrative, I briefly thought I might have to issue a “spoiler alert,” such was the confidence in my interpretation. Pure silliness, for any art worth its salt —and this exhibition is just that— will resist such closure. Additionally, there are aspects of individual works I have left out in my discussion, as well as other pieces I have left untouched, and many merit further consideration in a return visit. In the end, I suppose this essay would serve only as a suitable first step toward the desired transcendence.

Read more by Patrick Collier

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