Patrick Collier

 

Ryan Kitson: Caution, artist at play

The Schneider Museum of Art exhibition is marked by flights of whimsy and free association

The first words of the wall text for Ryan Kitson’s exhibit, “Suds Ur Duds/Fermentation Elastic”—at the Schneider Museum of Art in Ashland, Oregon, through Saturday—ask the audience to take in the show before reading the didactics. The same placard has a numbered diagram of the art in the gallery along with the title and material list for each piece. This puts compliant viewers at the mercy of their eyes only. Granted, the average viewer is likely to experience the work before any reading takes place (at least that is how I go about it), so, in keeping with the spirit of the artist’s request, I will return to this matter at a later point.

It might be similarly fitting to address the one Kitson sculpture in a separate exhibit, “From Ignorance to Wisdom,” curated by Blake Shell, which is also at the museum but in a different gallery. Shell selected works by the Southern Oregon University (home to the Schneider) Art and Creative Writing faculty, and has included Kitson, as he was a visiting artist during the 2018 fall term. In that the piece, Fermentation Elastic, is included in the main title for his exhibit, one wonders whether it should be considered a stand-alone or as integral to the rest of his work. Exhibition title notwithstanding, in that this piece is seen before one can see the entrance to “Suds Ur Duds,” one might assume it’s a stand-alone. But in that Kitson is not actual faculty, there may be other machinations at work as well.

Ryan Kitson, "Fermentation Elastic", 12x35x24 inches, resin, glass,t-shirt, plaster, fidget balls, slime, lavender scented bath salt/Schneider Museum of Art

Ryan Kitson, “Fermentation Elastic”, 12x35x24 inches, resin, glass,t-shirt, plaster, fidget balls, slime, lavender scented bath salt/Schneider Museum of Art

Fermentation Elastic distinguishes itself with its whimsy. Mounted on a low plinth, four kombucha bottles filled with liquid prop up a tie-dyed t-shirt like a miniature, four-cornered shelter, out of which flows an orange, sparkly mass with two equally decorative balls stuck in the hardened effluence. The piece is abundantly orange and also color-coordinated in a manner that might be true to a person who would imbibe in the drink while wearing that style of shirt. It should also be noted that in past iterations, the artist has added an additional level of process by filling the bottles with homemade kombucha, which, intentionally or not, puns the word “culture.”

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A bit cheeky but for the tongue to a sore tooth

Ashley Miller's Sweet Things at Blue Sky Gallery

Given the title of Ashley Miller’s exhibition, Sweet Things, one might expect her photographs to contain a certain amount of eye candy, perhaps something gooey, or on a conceptual level, saccharine and cloying. Not so much. Instead, the confection on view through Feb. 3 at Blue Sky Gallery has been lost to the sidewalk where the ants have found it. Innocence has been replaced by repulsion, and one gets the feeling that Miller finds this rather sweet in and of itself.

However, this may not be the takeaway for every viewer, left wondering why the artist created such grotesqueries. Yet, in that wondering, if one then bothered to read the PR for the show, one would understand that Miller is interested in “the subtexts of desire, consumerism, and overabundance present in product and food photography,” adding, “modern society is built on overabundance and addiction.” Plus, she would have us all implicated, our revulsion springing from recognizing our own state of corruption. Indeed, she confesses that she is just as much a victim as well; only she has an outlet, because “this state of anxiety is the starting point for my work…peddling the fetish.”

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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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