jeff wall, the flooded grave 1998-2000
i have been looking and thinking about this photograph for many days. it took jeff wall 2 years to create this image. this is an idea i am working with, the slow picture.
wow, yes. yes ok yes.
transcend into liquid: John Opera
On a recent spring afternoon, Andrew Rafacz’s west loop gallery is besieged with violent sounds: high heels clattering, doors slamming, slightly hysterical laughter in the hallway; evidence of the weekend’s upcoming art carnival at the Merch Mart across the river. I am sitting on a wood floor under John Opera’s recent Anthotypes, which couldn’t be a more perfect counterpoint to the activity of the afternoon.
Opera’s small negative-paintings are quiet and unassuming, humble-looking, even, compared to the neon exuberance of many of the things hung on the wall in the next room over. Instead of neon, most of the anthotypes are laid down on birkenstock shades of muted browns and greens, the inks made from organic dyes hand extracted from various plantlife, instantly evocative of summer, when they were made. They have a quality of children’s summer-art camp activities; potato ink pressings and marble painting (I grew up in the 90’s). I don’t think the evocation is too far mis-laid; like the marble-paint masterpieces of my glorious summer youth, there is something in Opera’s prints that evoke a wonder in process and material, and reflect an untutored vision of Nature (capital N intentional) in their abstractions.
In speaking of the inspiration for Anthotypes, Opera mentions the post-Romantic notion of the Sublime, unconscious psychological motifs, and Jeff Wall’s 1987 essay on the role of fluids in photography in “Liquid Intelligence”. Opera’s interaction with the Sublime in this work seems to be one not keen on fixing this experience on a visual level but mining it on a poetic level of transcendence, where it connects with the altered states of the unconscious that are otherwise present in Anthotype’s hallucinogenic swirls and watery dream-ripples. From the forms almost self-created by the liquid emulsions and dyes, then burned retinally by hours of sunlight, emerge patterns that are immediately recognizable on a basic level of human cognition: there is wood grain. cobweb. caves, stalgmites, rock. fern (some of this imagery, like the black circles, tie the work to previous bodies, where black suns are rendered via in-camera exposure anomaly, a relatively “dry” self-referential photo-tech phenomenon utilized historically by such psychological photographers as Minor White et all). The process paints John Opera, too, into the traditional role of Romantic artist, perched on a sheer cliff, daffodils in his picnic basket, leaf pressings in his leather notebook, sea mist from the crashing surf on his glasses, totally tweaked on the vast inalienable wonder that is the spectacle of nature. In Anthotypes, photographic process is re-worked to its early days of experimentation, when the fixing of images still held a basic fascination, when process was necessarily as much a part of the art as content; when the image’s slow and mysterious appearance was a strange and revelatory birth. A wonder. And in Anthotypes, I can feel the reverence for nature’s process, for the mystery of the emergence, the patience and the abandonment to that-to wonder.
In “Liquid Intelligence”, Jeff Wall writes on the
“confrontation of what you might call the ‘liquid intelligence’ of nature with the glassed-in and relatively ‘dry’ character of the institution of photography … water, symbolically, represents an archaism in photography, one that is admitted into the process, but also excluded, contained,and controlled by its hydraulics. The archaism of water, of liquid chemicals, connects photography to the past, to time, in an important way.”
For Wall, the modern developments of picture-making are technical, dry, in a literal and figurative sense, separated from the “sense of immersion in the incalculable” that enters in when the liquid is in play. Opera’s Anthotypes illustrate Wall’s “immersion into the incalculable”; in their tribute to the Chthonic incalculable, the unconscious and mysterious, they begin to work like a visual poem to the sublime.
Wrapping Paper: U-N-F-O-L-D at Columbia College Review
U-N-F-O-L-D, a group show/field exhibition/summer art camp exhibition, has come to Columbia College’s Glass Curtain and MoCP. And it has a message. The earth is dying, y’all.
Getting over the intensely heavy-handed propagandistic message in a bottle thematic behind David Buckland’s project is the first hurdle in beginning to deal with U-N-F-O-L-D. I must not be the only person who avoided seeing the show because of this, which is a problem from the onset.
The U-N-F-O-L-D show’s premise was based on the the creation of Cape Farewell, a situation that brought artists selected to participate to two symbolically besieged places on earth, the Artic and the Andean rainforest. The artists were tasked with creating works based on this experience that were to serve as “cultural response[s] to climate change”. I would have liked to have understood the selection criterion for the artists that were chosen to participate, out of curiosity; some seemed, like the duo Akroyd and Harvey, to be making work that explicitly dealt with the environment previous to their involvement with Cape Farewell. Others, like the musician KT Tunstell and Robyn Hitchcock(he of Soft Boys and other musical amazingness fame), seem to posses no other structural or conceptual link-in to the exhibition other than an interest in the topic at hand and their status as culture makers. I was actually a little annoyed at Robyn Hitchcock’s contribution, not only because it was sort of lame sonically, but also because it, with KT Tunstall’s truly inane 16mm film whose existence was justified in the wall text as being relevant because of its archaic format (the medium is … the message? ), flavoured the whole ordeal with a Bono-fronted AIDS-rock benefit feel with all the attendant well-intended yet paralyzingly inane and self-indulgent moments that have come to characterize such events.
Yet an AIDS-rock benefit feel isn’t too far from the general feel of this exhibition, at all. The elephant-in-the room is so obvious as to be painful: with all of its good intentions, how effective is work on climate change truly in influencing, educating, and ultimately, the real point here, right, in preventing or lessening climate change when the environmental costs (in gas fuel, in production, in material, etc) that went into making this show are sure to be as much part of the problem it intends to highlight?
Some of my favorite pieces in the shows spread across the 2 galleries turned out to be works that seemed to engage with the question above, posing a challenge to the very context of the show’s organizing principle, the Cape Farewell visits, or those who seemed to skirt the message and respond in abstracted visions.
Shiro Takatani’s Ice Core, a multi-panel video of an ice core drilling chute, was beautiful in its simplicity. Akroyd and Harvey’s Diamond made from a polar bear bone found on the Antartica trip, also satisfies in a similar way. Those works that became less interesting to me required more time reading lengthy accompanying wall text that contextualized the work than looking at the work itself;they are pieces that couldn’t easily exist on their own, or conversely, ones that were so beholden to their message that they were little more, such as David Buckland’s Ice Texts, glacier projection photographs.
I will be presenting my work at On The Cusp on April 14th! 4 Serial.
Introduction to Art History Council 5:00-5:05
Introduction to Conference and Keynote 5:05-5:10
Panel I (new artist practices)
Presenter 1 Pat Elifritz “Power of Selection” 5:15-5:30
Presenter 2 Casey Champion 5:30-5:45
Presenter 3 Katie Wadell “Organization as Practice; Applied Aesthetics
as Radical Art” 5:45-6:00
Presenter 4 Zachary Johnson 6:00-6:15
Panel 2 (new photography / exhibit space)
Presenter 4 Casey Winkleman “Materiality of Photography” 6:45-7:00
Presenter 5 Leah Shirley “Color Photograms” 7:00-7:15
Presenter 6 Alexandra Leon “Relentless Repetition” 7:15-7:30
Presenter 7 Keisha Leek “Inside Out: The Landscape As Exhibit Space”
Closing statement 7:55-8:00
Introduction to Art History Council 5:00-5:05
Introduction to Conference and Keynote 5:05-5:10
Panel I (radical art theories)
Presenter 1 EJ Hill 5:15-5:30
Presenter 2 Matthew Mullane “Listening As Being” 5:30-5:45
Presenter 3 Michelle Rinard “Lowell Darling and the Road to a
Gubernatorial Performance” 5:45-6:00
Presenter 4 Gretchen Holmes “Critically Ambiguous” 6:00-6:15
Panel 2 (on the cusp art making)
Erol Scott Harris Jr “Art & Theoretical Practice” 6:45-7:00
Christopher Semel “Art as Truth” 7:00-7:15
Drew Labarre 7:15-7:30
Closing statement 7:45-7:55
Paul Nelson Studio Visit at UIC
In the over-warm studio of UIC MFA candidate Paul Nelson on a late afternoon in March, sun blasting the dusty, cozily institutional room’s white walls and settling on the various collections of plain objects(browning bananas, a ratty couch, stacks of found papers) that clutter the space like castoffs from a summer spent inside, Nelson is clearing his throat and falling apart trying to describe his practice.
Nelson’s efforts can be seen as part of the collective clutter of his studio; when first entering the place free of context, you might be hard pressed to pick out where and what the work was in the room. As Nelson works his way to his practice’s core philosophy-“making is meaning”, a mantra he repeats to himself as if to test its validity—you begin to understand that the schizophrenic array of sheer stuff in the studio works as an apt visual metaphor for this philosophy. Here, everything and anything can be re-purposed as the subject of a free-wheeling approach to creation, manifested in the compulsive zines and books that Nelson churns out, a one-man industry. Like industry, Nelson’s production values speed, repetition, and cheapness. Unlike traditional industrial operations, Nelson’s work also values the completely unique, the damaged/cosmetically unappealing, the unrefined.The zines created by Nelson find their subject matter in trashed images of Lindsay Lohan, retail catalogue pages, intimate snapshots of friends,preset adobe illustrator gradients printed out on cheap paper, but most often, nothing at all-doodles and spontaneous, mechanical compositions errantly reproduced to fill volumes of compulsive desire to externalize … something.Though he expressed a strong dislike for both zine culture and internet mass-generational sites like Tumblr, there is a strong conceptual link-in with these forms of communication, which value the near- instant gratification of sharing, like a sort of a communal visual diahrrea, an offshoot of ADD internet hyper-culture. That Nelson makes this impulse unique, handmade, and deeply intimate is something that I began to appreciate the more that I thought about it after the visit; there is a useless sort of poignancy to paying tribute that anarchic spirit of childlike making that, like the bookshelf designed for one book (my favorite piece of Nelson’s), seems to have no place belonging to it but the one it inhabits, and for no other reason than just because.
I questioned Nelson about the coherence of his other non-zine work, such as an abandoned, handmade wooden half pipe he constructed for a remote country location, a site-specific sculptural entity that, like most of Nelson’s work, has a utilitarian feel if not exactly utilitarian function. The half-pipe began to work for me when paired with another installation sculpture— 99 hand-made canvases spray painted with the word ‘YUP’ and stacked vertically like materials in a warehouse—literally, an approximation of ‘stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap’. Like the half-pipe, there is something glib and defeated about the work, like a dream deferred, a pipe dream. Nelson’s work seems to be moving towards an idea of confronting the making of meaning via these half-pipe dreams, which reassure us that doing something-anything-is more desperately important than surrendering to the nihilism of never creating when faced with the insurmountable odds of meaning-making in the first place.
Cheers to that.
View Paul’s work at http://www.paullouisnelson.com/