Exhibition Review: Price Systemic Profiles Installation Art in Price by Namon Bills
Ask yourself the following questions: How long has it been since I saw an installation? How long has it been since I saw a whole show of installations? How long has it been since I made it down to Price?
The answer on all counts, I can assure you, is "too long," because going on now at the College of Eastern Utah's Gallery East is one of the most exciting shows I've seen all year. Systemic Profiles brings together installations from four Utah artists: Carrie Wardle, Randy Marsh, Steven Stradley and Barbara Frazier. The show runs through December 10, with a reception and artists' talk on Friday, December 4 from 6:30 to 8 pm.
The artists bring varied backgrounds to the show, and the four installations present a rich variety in both form and concept.
Carrie Wardle graduated from Utah State University with a dual emphasis in printmaking and painting/drawing. She is currently pursuing a master's degree at the State University of New York, at New Paltz. Her installation, "Chasin' Ashes," combines printmaking and sculpture to create a translucent piece with an airy, ethereal feel.|0-2| Long, graceful curves of fabric flow in counterpoint to (and sometimes in conjunction with) translucent paper orbs, some floating, some attached to the wall, some resting on the ground. Wardle said her goal was to apply techniques learned in printmaking to create an installation. "The idea was to transform a flat surface into a three-dimensional form. I wanted to essentially figure out if I could mass produce and manipulate sculptural forms in the same way that I can with prints," she said.
Randy Marsh received his BFA from Brigham Young University in 2007 and teaches art at Mountain Ridge Jr. High in Highland. His installation, "Gift Economy," involves an interweaving of painting, sculpture and sound.|3-4| He explains, "Twelve paintings wrap around three walls. A network of strings extends three-dimensionally away from the wall via steel rods. The strings intersect at points both on the wall and at the tips of the rods." The sound element constantly plays in the background, and adds to the concept of the piece, which deals with the intersection between linguistics and economics. "The imagery in the paintings references location, language, textile and commerce. … The language is abstracted numbers that are predictive text," Marsh said. "The sound piece includes both a reading of Wal-Mart stock values and the dial tones that result from text messages dealing with a gift economy."
Steven Stradley received his BFA from Utah State University, and also teaches art at Mountain Ridge Jr. High. He has exhibited at numerous locations throughout Utah. Entitled "Degeneration/Regeneration," Stradley's installation explores multidimensional space, ranging from elements that lie flat against the wall, to multi-level paintings, to linear hanging structures.|5-6| The separate elements hold together through a shared formal language. "There is an integration of elements from wall to painting to planar sculpture," Stradley said. "This integration is a thematic element taking the form of organic linear structures. … These structures move from one plane to another." The concept deals with what Stradley calls "system complexity." "I wanted the viewer to enter a complex space and become engaged in a painting in a more spatial way," he said. "I think of the whole work as painting, [but] three-dimensional. I also like the idea that the viewer becomes an introduced element in the painting that may affect the course that the system takes, or the visual perception that others have on the work."
Barbara Frazier received her BFA from Utah Valley University and lectures in UVU's Art Department. Frazier uses photography as a jumping-off point to create mixed media work. "I work with mixed media, collage and installation within photography," she said. "Where I add, subtract, multiply and divide the materials and images, each action pulls me toward another viewpoint beyond that of the common photographic print." In her installation, "Limbic Work," quasi-silhouette photographic images of a female figure float in space, connected by long loops of metallic tubing.|7-8| The concept of the work relates to memories and the physiology of the brain. "It represents the components of the limbic system, part of the brain which influences the formation of memory, a constellation of connections," Frazier said.
For some of the artists, this is their first foray into the world of installation, and it required the use of new materials and techniques. Marsh called working with sound "a whole new experience." For Wardle, the challenge was creating three-dimensional work from two-dimensional prints. "There was a lot of experimenting that went into this process," she said. "The printing part was easy. Shaping the paper proved to be a bit of a task. … It was all trial and error.” One challenge Wardle encountered was "trying to keep the piece translucent while making it rigid enough to form and mold."
Another aspect of installation that all the artists encountered is its time-consuming nature. For some, the ideas alone have taken shape over the course of years, and the actual work on the pieces themselves took anywhere from several months to a year. Even the installation process itself requires considerable time and often extra help. Stradley explained, "The onsite installation took about 49 man hours over the course of two full days."
In contrast to most other art forms, the artist doesn't actually see an installation until it's set up in the space where it will show. This can be difficult for artists accustomed to looking at and responding to a piece as part of the creative process. "I wasn't sure what the piece would look like installed, even though I had drawn many plans and made careful measurements and calculations," Stradley said. "I just hoped that it would look somewhat similar to my vision for it."
As with any work of art, there were some adjustments that had to be made, but in the end Stradley was pleased with the finished product. "The success that I felt upon installing is very encouraging," he said. "I feel empowered to continue in this vein of work and continue to expand the complexity of the image and the space."
Marsh is already thinking about his next project. "I love installation and I hope to do more," he said. "I would like to do something that is more solid/dense/encompassing that can more effectively alter the space to create a new mental experience for the viewer."
For this viewer, Systemic Profiles was a rich mental experience indeed. So give yourself an early Christmas present and make your way down to Carbon County before Systemic Profiles comes down.
Systemic Profiles is at the College of Eastern Utah's Gallery East through December 10. In addition to the December 4 reception, Gallery East is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m.5 p.m. The exhibit is free and open to the public. For more information, contact the gallery at: 435-613-5327.
Rituals universally define the human race, and provide a common ground where similarities and affinities can be discovered. Przemyslaw Pokrycki’s photographs -- "First Communion," "Neighbors of My Brother"; "My Uncle's Funeral"; "Baptism, My Neighbors" -- are, in the artist's terms, documentation of rituals or “rites of passage.” Taken in the artist’s native country, Poland, the photographs show large interior gatherings of family or friends who have joined together to celebrate meaningful events. The subjects are fully aware of the camera lens, posing in solemn understanding of the event’s importance. Though taken half a world away and in a different religious culture, these photographs function as a looking glass for the majority of the museum’s audience -- LDS students and families -- who go through similar “rites of passage:” sacraments, baptisms, missions, and temple rituals. The works may even be more poignant for those who do not pass through these rituals and sometimes struggle to find their identity in a society that defines itself by these checkpoints.
Utah artist Amy Jorgensen’s photograph "Body Archive 12.13.2007" |0| provides a compelling counterpoint to Pokrycki’s work, showing the ability of “photography” to document both the broad spectrum of the communal as well as the very personal. The artwork was created by the artist placing photographic emulsion directly on her body, with the final product becoming a documentation of the act of art making, as well as an aesthetic object with interesting formal implications. The process reveals a stunning yet voyeuristic image that is both beautifully abstract yet literally figurative, for as one investigates the image closely, forensic biological evidence surfaces. Jorgensen directly cites forensic criminology in her statement, and says that the photograph is what she perceives “to be a document of (her) experience, or proof of (her) existence”. Although not hung adjacently, or in the same gallery, Pokrycki’s and Jorgensen’s photographs converse on the meaning of ritualistic behavior and how such specific actions can become impetus in discovering the essence of personal or communal identity.
One of the exhibition’s strengths is the successful execution of the thesis through the display of works that deal specifically with the creation of portraiture and the self. Kjellgren Alkire’s video, "Rocking Horse vs. the Rodeo," |1| asks important questions about religious and artistic aims. The artist believes the “nature of art and the nature of religion are often very similar. That is to get to the essence of the human experience in a way that is direct and poetic at the same time,” and wants to “subvert our more casual assumptions about the way that art works and the way that church works, or doesn’t work.” Alkire, as his alter-ego “Reverend Roughstock,” wears a western style shirt, and is dramatically lit from above, forming a persona that is an amalgamation of rodeo cowboy and evangelical preacher. Throughout the video, Roughstock preaches and muses the qualities of the rocking horse and the rodeo. The piece nods to a super-present shamanism in artwork of the nowbut relegating itself more to the institution than the spiritual. Jeff Larsen’s "PSA1" offers an interesting conversation with Alkire’s video, with both artists paying homage to Spalding Gray’s monologues. In "PSA1," Larsen, who currently lives in Salt Lake City, dons a handmade, rather pathetic snowman costume, while quietly whispering to the camera in utter seriousness.|2| Larsen’s method of communication contrasts Alkire’s loud, prophetic voice, yet both investigate the power of rhetoric to define and create portraiture.
As Mirror Mirror demonstrates, video has become an ubiquitous and versatile art form in contemporary art. Ben Cooley’s "Valentine for Perfect Strangers" is an excellent example of many new media artists’ use of humor as catalyst for critique and artistic engagement. In the video the artist’s cat, Otto, samples the now vintage sitcom Perfect Strangers, offering an advertisement, seeking personal engagement while asking the question of the viewer “will you love me back?” Otto superimposes his cat face over the Balki Bartokomous character and posts the video online, in an effort to “truly connect with a stranger one-on-one.” Otto even turns philosophical as he quotes Walter Benjamin -- “the only way of knowing a person, is to love them without hope.” The work leads the viewer to question individual intent in using social media networks such as Facebook, and suggests that ultimately we are interested in personal physical relationships. Valentine is a keystone work in the exhibit, as it asks the viewer to consider how we present ourselves to others.
Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno’s "Zidane, a 21st Century Portrait" |3| is a critically acclaimed artwork/film and has found significant theoretical backing from figures such as Michael Fried (who visited the MOA only a year ago). Through the lens’s unwavering attention on the soccer star -- and not the ball -- the film reveals a side of sports players that goes unseen in coverage of athletic events revealing and creating a distinct portrait with exquisite subtleties of a legendary athlete, through subverting the standard modes of sport documentation. The film is a masterwork, and no survey of contemporary portraiture would be complete without it. It would be great to see "Zidane" screened several times in the MOA’s auditorium.
Mirror Mirror showcases an impressive roster of world-class artists, and it is an exciting prospect to see such work being exhibited within the state. Most important, the exhibit presents a blend of canonized, emerging, and emerged national and international artists, along with a few of the very best artists currently living in Utah. Such an exhibition structure is exactly what Utah needs to further its placement within a national and international art-world dialogue.
It would be interesting to see fewer artworks hung from each artist within Mirror Mirroran act that would thin-out the exhibit, heighten dialogue between individual pieces, and ultimately strengthen the overall thesis of the exhibit.
Overall, Jeff Lambson’s Mirror Mirror is successful in articulating and presenting a survey of what is going on in contemporary portraiture. The many media that are present in the exhibit represent the versatility and multi-disciplinary nature that artists work in today. As globalization continues, and the exponential growth of technology perseveres, the complexity of our individual and communal identities increases and multipliesprompting artists to create new ways of representing and expressing who we are. These new phenomena are not easily defined, as is evidenced in the multiple attempts by current scholars to explicate contemporary artistic and cultural practices. Lambson leaves the definitions to the viewers, as he provides an abundance of opportunities for an examination of the significance and relevance of contemporary portraiture, but most important, Mirror Mirror is an opportunity for reflection and introspection as viewers engage with and question their own identity and purpose.