Patrick Collier

 

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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I would like to think that as soon as the Italian/Argentine artist Lucio Fontana began his Concetto Spaziale series of “paintings” (he did not use that word), puncturing and slicing the surfaces, paintings were no longer destined to remain flat and affixed to gallery walls. Canvases morphed into sculpture and sculpture referenced painting; close one eye to eliminate stereopsis, and the gallery walls themselves become a canvas. This is one of a couple strategies in Leslie Baum’s exhibit, Co-conspirators and the possibility of painting in a parallel universe at Hap Gallery.

I will say at this early stage that I am not a fan of the title for this exhibit. “Co-conspirators” by itself might be enough as it suggests a scheme, perhaps initiated by a sole mind, then elucidated through cooperation. The agreed-upon agenda then carries an echo from the point of origin, which is what I see here. Baum has created and displayed this complex work in a manner that shifts cumulatively and dimensionally, although the dimensionality are of the second and third varieties.

I have been familiar with Baum’s work for about twenty years. Very much a painter, most of her work remained steadfastly two-dimensional until three or four years ago when Baum began making irregularly shaped paintings. These forms sometimes do double-duty as sculpture. Whether on the wall, on a shelf, or set on the floor, placement has become as important as palette.

Hap Gallery is a small, narrow space, making it possible to take in nearly the whole room from the front door. And if one were to do so for this show, one would be very conscious of the predominating colors of yellow and red, along with black, and a smattering of green, blue and violet. In addition, Baum has coordinated works so those colors lead the eye to take in the space as a whole. For my purposes, I will liken it to how one might encounter an orchestrated suburban living room (but in a good way).

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Looking for a reaction(ary)

Ryan Woodring at Duplex in Portland

I’ve had a hard time finding a good starting point to talk about Ryan Woodring’s show, Decimate Mesh at Duplex in Portland. Do I first explain the title of the exhibit so that readers will understand the special-effects software that allowed him to create the videos in the exhibition? If I chose that direction, it would seem to me that I’d be burying the lead, so to speak, because all of the art—the videos, the sculptures and the print on the wall—has been made in response to the destruction of artifacts by the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in the Syria and Iraq.

The Middle East is a quagmire of domestic and foreign politics and policy; thick and deep with responsible parties. Regardless of efforts to find solutions, there seems to be little chance of change that suits international agendas, largely because each strategy dismisses or fails to comprehend a history of any length more than 100 years prior, let alone a millennium.

Even a timeline of the last 25 years seems to be forgotten. For instance, when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, an impressive number of Kuwait’s ancient treasures found their way into the antiquities market via the Iraqi government. After Desert Storm, no-fly zones imposed on Iraq left archeological sites largely unmonitored in the north and south of the country. This not only made those sites vulnerable to looting, but since additional sanctions relegated a great number of Iraqis to abject poverty, it made these sites ripe for the picking. And remember the looting of the Iraqi museums just days after the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom? (We had been warned ahead of time that this would likely happen.) How about the aerial bombing of mosques by U.S. jets? These things should still be fresh in our collective memory.

Not to mention bloodshed. It, too, seems to be part and parcel to this ongoing, spreading conflict. Even if ISIL insists there is no financial gain in raiding sites holding antiquities, and the destruction they wage is solely on religious grounds, this past week ISIS murdered the Syrian antiquities scholar Khaled al-Asaad because he refused to tell them where more artifacts were hidden for safekeeping. Yes, despite statements made to the contrary, it may be safe to assume they are financing their campaign with more readily transportable relics; and, just to keep the international aspects of this conflicted region intact, there are similar doubts about the Iraq war not being about money or that a half million Iraqis did not die.

All forms of fundamentalism, religious or otherwise, confuse unidimensional thinking with universal truth, and with this comes convenient justifications for most any atrocity.

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No, seriously.

Heidi Schwegler’s “Botched Execution” at Marylhurst’s The Art Gym

All of us have heard the stories of scheduled executions in which the condemned did not die in an expeditious manner so additional measures had to be taken to complete the job. In art we talk about the act of creating a work of art as an “execution,” which might lead one to wonder what to expect from Heidi Schwegler in her “Botched Execution” at The Art Gym. What we do find is a well-represented set of mixed media and found object constructions Heidi Schwegler has made during the past 10 years. The title suggests a gallows humor, which comes through in a few of her works, while many other pieces in this show leave a mark —perhaps even a scar— on the viewer.

One of the first pieces one sees upon entering the gallery is Schwegler’s seven-piece photographic series, “My Struggle.” From left to right, we see a headshot of the artist as she is transformed from a slightly distressed state to someone soiled, bloodied, missing a tooth, and in extreme anguish. This portrait of progressive (self)destruction reminds me of people I see on a daily basis at the rural convenience store near my home. There’s the tweakers, their wild gestures an exhibition of self-assurance from inside raging, scabbed heads. Less frequently, and considerably more subdued and cleaned up, are the victims of chronic domestic abuse. If Schwegler intends to portray the state of mind for either, or merely suggest that her individual struggle with some other issue is equally dark, this is a humorless piece indeed. It is only by imagining that she did not actually knock her left lateral incisor out we are allowed some distance.

Further relief for the viewer might be found in the nearby sculpture, “Passing Resemblance II.” Apart from the hands and head, which are silicon replicas of Schwegler’s own in a 1:1 scale, the overall size of this piece is that of large doll. I usually would be disinclined to speak to Schwegler’s real-world small frame, for physical characteristics are often incidental at best to an artist’s output; however, she seems to be using her physique to emphasize the hands and head as a priority for an artist.

Heidi Schwegler, "Passing Resemblance II"/Art Gym

Heidi Schwegler, “Passing Resemblance II”/The Art Gym

It’s a smart piece, and judging from the number of phone photos taken at the opening reception, “Passing Resemblance II” was the popular centerpiece of the exhibit. Quite often I caught three or four people standing around the doll, eyes fixed on it as they conversed. It was not dissimilar to family gatherings in the living room in which the newest child is placed in the middle of the floor for assessment, and as distraction during lulls, even though there isn’t much about this piece that would make one engage in some coochy-coochy-coo.

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Eyes bigger than your gallery

"Of Boldness and Subtlety" at Hap Gallery

I have seen some wonderful art at Hap Gallery, and have come close to writing a review of any number of exhibits, but have always resisted. Even now, as I am move forward with this essay, it is with some reservation, for while more often than not there is work worth serious consideration in any given Hap exhibit, there can be an overall unevenness to the shows that pulls me up short. So it is with the current exhibit, “Of Boldness and Subtlety,” but I’ve stayed quiet long enough.

Hap is a small space in the Pearl (916 NW Flanders), and as such, must take care to edit installations so that the individual pieces can either breathe, or, if in close proximity to each other, create a seamless dialogue. Granted, some curatorial decisions, whether salon-like or out of contrariness, will disregard such a strategy, which is all well and good in this multifarious world in which we find ourselves. Even so, one should expect some curatorial consideration and resolve to be evident.

This is the second exhibit at Hap curated by gallery artist Gabrielle Garland. Her first effort brought Scott Wolniak and Jeremy Coleman Smith to town this last September. The strength of that show rested not only with the work on display but also with the artists’ ability to collaborate in the space. However, even then the work came close to overwhelming the narrow gallery. With “Of Boldness and Subtlety,” the space is not the issue, for there was no crowding. Still, there was definitely a problem with too much work—or maybe just too many artists (there are six)—in the show.

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On the south side of Southwest Washington Avenue between 11th and 12th, and set back from the street, two buildings butt up square to each other. Last year, a local art program, Forest for the Trees, arranged for an Australian artist, who goes by the moniker Rone, to paint a large mural of a woman’s head surrounded by flowers on the side of the building that fronts 12th Avenue. I first saw this mural, “Every Rose has It’s Thorns,” back when I covered PICA’s TBA:13. (The hotel I typically stay in is not too far from there.)

That was the day a mural broke my heart.

I had been looking at the empty canvas of that wall for years. It used to be beige in color, and then a few years ago, it was painted brown. The darker color made it even more exciting. You see, every evening as the sun reachs a certain point, the windows on the north side of Washington reflect light back onto that wall. I have a picture of it when the wall was blank, but I cannot find it. I did, however, wait around last Friday afternoon to see the light show again, despite the mural. I took a picture.

Rone's "Every Rose Has Its Thorns"

Rone’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorns”

You can see the reflections, how many there are when the angle is just so, both on the brown wall and more clearly on the gray wall of the building behind it. The lights trail across those surfaces until there is no more direct sunlight. Yet, where once I was able to experience something truly wonderful, there is a blemish in search of a brand name to attach itself to.

What is Rone’s woman looking at? One might say she is calling our attention to the narrow strip of that part of downtown that lies between 12th and I-405. Parts of it are a little run down and therefore might be considered thorns, but any benefit of the doubt on that account rings hollow. And to make matters worse, thanks to this year’s “Forest for the Trees” initiative, there is another mural of a woman on the wall to the east. The artist, who goes by Faith47, has given us “Capax Infiniti” (Holding the Infinite), a very tall and dismissive damsel with her back turned to us. She is turned away from the winsome woman of the west wall as well, so I’d like to think she is just too embarrassed to be seen with the adjacent travesty. Yet, it was her arrival that prompted me to write this long overdue essay.

Any number of critiques can be leveled at these murals—social, political, economic—and I dare say the same can be said for many of the others brought to us in 2013 by “Forest for the Trees” (the 2014 group contains a little less schtick and is somewhat more inventive). These artists are skilled enough, yet it is the kind of talent ad agencies seek out to make what they’re selling more desirable and consumable. (I worked in that industry for a good number of years, until, as my personal joke goes, I decided I wanted to go to heaven.) These two murals are among a total of three on the west side and within an area of downtown that is seeing an increase in the number of high-end boutiques, eateries and hotels. This fact alone speaks volumes.

Early Saturday morning I sat in my truck across the street from these walls, had a smoke, drank my coffee, and thought about what I would finally write about this marred wall. I watched a number of people pull out their phones or hike up their cameras to take pictures of these murals. No doubt, many people think these things quite lovely. But if only they could have experienced the walls unadorned as I had. Would they then grieve as well?

“This world needs more pretty things, don’t you think?” Perhaps, but please, not at the expense of the sublime.