Calling Good Design a Spade

 

Will Bryant’s exhibition, Outta Shape at Companion Gallery is an exuberant spectacle of wacky shapes in fun blues, pinks and yellows. Bryant’s coevals will recognize the vocabulary of zany squiggles and pastels at play as being “so eighties” though they may be less familiar with the Memphis Design group (of Milan, not Tenessee) who established this style.  Incidentally, Bryant may also be unfamiliar with the history, but he’s clearly aware of the current trendiness of the style.  Playful and not particularly self-aware, the works Bounce! Kaboing! Zip! Blat! and Thunk! around the space like an imitation Mark Applebaum song.  It’s all great design but unfortunately for those with a discerning eye, good design is not the same thing as good art.  

 

To be sure, there is overlap between the fields-artists use design and designers use art-but the fundamental difference is the initial impetus for creation.  Good art seeks to ask questions, spark conversations, inspire and explore.  On the other hand, good design seeks to answer a question, solve a problem or communicate an idea.  Both fields utilize creativity and what’s more, thoughtful design can be more artful than much fine art.  However, those who approach Outta Shape with an interest in being intrigued, challenged by tough questions, or inspired to explore an idea from a different perspective will be left disappointed and possibly dismayed.   At first I gave Bryant the benefit of the doubt.  After struggling for too long to tease out a meaning, a big idea, or even a reason for the works to have been created, I gave up.  Was there something I wasn’t getting?

 

Bryant seems to want to shout “Try new things! Be silly! Break the rules!”  Meanwhile, the works themselves follow every rule in the graphic designer’s handbook.  Each work is balanced and features an appealing palate that either coordinates with or exactly matches its neighbors.   The paintings are hung all catawampus but the balance and spacing of the works reveal the effort made to ensure that no two works are hung too close or at too kooky an angle.  In taking a principle of good clean fun to the extreme, at least two paintings (that I could find) sit on a ledge atop the gallery walls.  

 

Like variations of a company logo, the same squiggles, dashes and dots of the paintings make their appearance in sculptural form.  Six of Bryant’s sculptures are mounted on heavy wire stands reminiscent of cafe table numbers; this presentation reinforces the two dimensionality of the sculptures.   Flat-faced, they greet the arriving viewer and give the impression of cartoon elements brought to life.  Wall-mounted sculptures serve either to break the frame of their color-coordinated paintings or to accessorize them.  Many of the works are spackled with paint like thickly laid icing or drizzled and dripped with coordinating colors.  Even though he dabbles in texture and form here, Bryant refuses to truly break into three dimensionality.  Again, making it clear how very much he clings to his graphic designer’s tools which do not work so cleanly in the third dimension. Together, the works look more like a company branding guide than an art exhibition.  Predictably, a few sculptures also made their way up to that ledge.  

 

Bryant is a graphic designer by trade and his design work can be found in print media, apparel, textiles, consumer products and, disconcertingly, in Outta Shape.  In his works, the textural elements serve only to reinforce the visual narrative that this “fine art” not just Adobe Illustrator files to be proofed and printed in a magazine ad for sneakers.  Because Bryant is such a good designer, this pell-mell exhibition is carefully composed to be visually appealing and, most of all, palatable.  It is easy to imagine the patterns in these paintings for sale on bedspreads and T-shirts at Urban Outfitters.  It is not easy to imagine them meaning much else.

 

Through his design of this exhibition Bryant seeks to communicate the idea that this is an art show.  He is unsuccessful.   Through Outta Shape, he seeks to persuade that good design can be substituted for good art but he simply doesn’t demonstrate that fact here.  Good art is an opening up, while good design tends toward a narrowing down.   If a design is misinterpreted, it has failed to communicate its message.  If a work of art has multiple interpretations, it has touched many people in different ways.    This is what makes Outta Shape so uninterpretable, it’s designed to be a stand-in or facsimile of a convincing art exhibition.  

 

That easy-to-consume, candy-colored, pleasing and sedating design should insinuate itself into an art space without being honest about its intention or identifying itself feels ignorant if not insidious.  Such an act undermines the important, thoughtful, and inspirational work that comes from a mindful artistic practice by implying that such a practice can simply be replaced by or equivocated with good design.  I would like to warn Austin’s overlapping, interconnected and intelligent art and design communities against this sort of thinking and ask that a more critical and conscientious approach be taken in the display of works.

 

Before I’m accused of being a curmudgeon, I’d like to make it clear that I don’t hate design. Bryant’s design work, both here and elsewhere, is very good.  The thing is, good design in the real world of industry is generally to be admired for its ability to communicate a message or deliver on some purpose while also addressing constraints such as limitations on ad space, printer capacity and budget.  In the space of an art exhibition, those constraints are removed and the artist/designer is  free to make any creative choice s/he can reasonably execute.  With the practical constraints of economics or function removed, good design loses its appeal and becomes uninteresting.  A more appropriate show would have featured Bryant’s commercial work and would have framed itself as a design show.  This approach would have circumvented the issue of muddying the waters of art and design and would have likely made for singular exhibition for Austin’s small  gallery scene.

 

-Kate Moon

(1023)

 

Subconscious Landscapes: Rocky Schenck’s The Recurring Dream

Nightmares cover the walls of Texas State’s Wittliff Collections as Rocky Schenck’s latest collection of photographs The Recurring Dream reflect the artist’s haunting inspiration. This collection is very large, made up of over one hundred images. Schenck says his photographs are “found realities” or natural scenes that he captures within his lens. He later brings these realities to life by self-tinting each with oil and therefore transforming them into manufactured realities of his own subconscious. In this collection of images, Schenck explores his own experience with a recurring dream that haunted his childhood and works to visualize that trauma through images of the real world. While not sharing any details of the dream that inspired him, it is evident that this dream has tormented Schenck and caused him to address his childhood trauma with this work in an effort to overcome it.
     The Recurring Dream fills five large rooms, every image evenly spaced and similar in size. The entire collection is made up of a small selection of colors, most of them feel dark, aged, and otherworldly. Vibrant emerald green trees sit atop dark backdrops, often with a glowing golden sky peeking through the trees and vines. Some photographs contain aliens, ghosts, angels, and skeletons. Rooms seem to blend together. There is no defined order to view the images. Some viewers walk clockwise while others walk counter clockwise. I accidentally walked past some images two or three times. It was like walking through Schenck’s mind while he experienced this recurring dream; everything feels half real, almost real enough to believe. The entire exhibition suggests the feeling of being in a dream; each image has just enough clarity to believe as reality, but a soft haze, fading edges, and fantastical repetition emphasize the recurring nature of this subconscious exploration reminiscent of an almost-forgotten memory. This struggle to differentiate reality from fantasy is shared by Schenck while he works to confront this trauma by physically recreating it as well as the viewer while investigating Schenck’s work.
My eyes were caught by a landscape on the back wall named Prosenium, it glows eerily. Schenck’s beautiful use of otherworldly colors and soft haze suggest a connection with dreams and fantasy. Adding these colors to the black and white image in such an intimate way is Schenck’s attempt to pull his subconscious out of him and put it into the photograph. The connection between Schenck and this image is intensely apparent. This photo is taken from within the woods. The natural imagery feels tangible and pulls me into a false sense of reality that I can only recognize as manufactured when I actively perceive the colors and am made aware of the fantastical nature of the image. The sky is a hazy greenish yellow and the almost-grey clouds, a blur. The scene is framed with gigantic old trees, overgrown with vines. A lone figure walks past one of the trees, looking away from me with hands in pockets. This ominous figure, dressed in dark neutral tones, seems ghostly and faceless. Tree trunks and leaves glow, contrasting with the dark shadow of forest behind. The forest feels alive; I experience this scene as though I, myself, am within the trees watching this figure navigate these ominous trees. It is hard to differentiate what is real and what Schenck has manufactured, like being in a dream that you can’t tell is a dream or trying to recall a memory that is lost in your subconscious. These haunting elements come together to make Prosenium a perfect representation of The Recurring Dream by transporting me into a dream world.

There was another photo that stood out among the rest, consisting of eleven identical red-headed young women in various green dresses, in varying sizes, and all looking in different directions and existing in different planes. Her eleven forms do not obey any laws of physics or traditional rules of perspective. The repetition of this character immediately affirms the feeling of being in a dream-like manufactured reality, a feeling that is further echoed by the space in its entirety. Eleven transports me to a mystical blurred view of this red-head a dozen times at once. She appears as a physical representation of a subconscious that is lost, distraught, and contemplative at once in a dream world. The slight differences between her dresses—some lighter than others, some with ruffles, others with sequins—all bring me back to that almost-forgotten memory, a green dress that I can’t perfectly remember. The top half of the photograph is a smoky blue wall, decorated with what appears to be either a fresco or faded reliefs depicting trees and people. As difficult as it is to make out exactly what is shown, it is obvious that it is repetitive imagery, again reflecting the space and the entire collection. This background’s blurred edges make it seem to mirror the lost red-head, possibly depicting the same person or same tree eleven times from eleven angles.

     Eleven compliments Prosenium perfectly, both glow green and live in another realm. I not only saw this collection, but I experienced Schenck’s recurring dream and went on a journey through my own subconscious at the same time. This collection of images has made me reflect on my own experiences with haunting recurring dreams in a very personal way. I feel Schenck’s pain, fear, anxiety, and discomfort, but at the same time I am comforted by it. By sharing this haunting childhood experience and being able to confront it in this safe space, Schenck provides he and myself with an opportunity to overcome these personal anxieties. The book that contains the images from this collection has become a ritualistic tool for me, every time I open it, I begin a journey of self-exploration and can better understand myself. This work will continue to act as a personal reflection of one man’s childhood experience as well as a therapeutic experience into another realm for countless others that have experienced their own haunting recurring dream. (1,000)

Moving More Than Mountains

By Kendall Mealey

             Imagine the home you grew up in, and the home that your family built, being torn down, and taken away from you in a matter of months. That is the exact feeling that the envelopes the hearts of the residents of Peru. The exhibition Moving Mountains: Extractive Landscapes of Peru is located at the Visual Arts Center on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. The exhibit consists of a variety of mediums including photography, printmaking, drawing and video installation by two separate artists: Edi Hirose and Nancy La Rosa. The different artworks revolve around the construction developing in the nation of Peru, and corporate companies behind the remarkable destruction. What were once beautiful rural landscapes are seen now as turning fast into urban money making centers.

The images are placed as cleanly as design plans, mapped out into blocked forms that reflect the growing gridded landscape of the countryside. Through images of construction work, trashed rivers and worn down mountains, Hirose and La Rosa tap into the impact of how everyday life is being affected. These innovations promote the negative reality coming about, as opposed to the bright future the citizens were hoping for.

The photographs in particular relaying the artist’s chosen message of how much pollution has been created as a result of the construction and destruction of the once beautiful city. The artists present this in several of the images taken of the rivers and waterways within the country of Peru, where the serene content is corrupted by copious amounts of trash and machinery plastic. Another point made here was how the greedy contractors and their thirst for never ending wealth and gold affect the cultural norms of the inhabitants around the city day in and day out.

Not only do the photographs have a beautiful balance to them compositionally, but their back and forth description between heavy landscape and heavy machinery gives a push and pull feel to the audience. This lets the audience really explore the idea of the cultural destruction happening, and lets the audience feel the volleyed emotions that the natives feel. We can find this within the bright landscape images and the hidden trash among the reeves of the river.

One of the main sections of the exhibition, a video installation, singles out how the workers’ and business moguls’ appeal for gold and money will run out as soon as the wealth runs out of the city once they have destroyed it. When that happens, the businessmen who once came in will promptly leave behind a once peaceful countryside, now the ruins that they have created for the inhabitants. The video consists of dark construction planned and various terrain mapped backgrounds with simple yellow words that are portrayed in both English and the native languages to Peru. Sounds of construction behind the words help to make the piece seem melancholy. The video was darker and more prominent than the photographs, which were fairly light in comparison; not only by the composition but also by the light sources that were shown directly above them, illuminating specific pieces throughout the space. The contrast of this was very beautiful; it made each of the works stand out from the others surrounding it and contributed to the idea that there was something darker behind the new so-called beautiful constructed landscape.

In contrast to the larger video, there was also a video installation of brighter series of recordings such as the landscapes natural beauty and winding roads. The videos were fairly silent with slight noises of the occasional passing car or walking bystander. This installation however, was in a dark set room that again brings in the dark reality that was sprinkled throughout the rest of the works. There were a series of sky images behind them about the size of Polaroid prints that spelt out the letters GPS to again relate the terrain landscape theme that was located throughout the exhibit.

There was a singular sculptural piece that was a 3-D printed jewelry piece that was a bright gold placed upon a black velvet background and set alone and apart from the rest of the works of art. A single bright spotlight was placed directly above it, increasing its reflectivity and highlighting it further. The piece was meant to represent the major river ways that run through the countryside of Peru. These rivers are the main collection of trash and debris that have been produced by the migrating dump trucks and various excavating vehicles.

The exhibit was properly spaced out to offer individual viewing range for each of the art installations, but not so far as to disengage the audience from the artwork around it. Each of the drawings and sculptures presented in the exhibition were accompanied by written descriptions that allow the viewer to aptly understand what the artist was trying to convey without straining too much individual thought into the process. This way, the artists were able to clearly make sure that the audience understood their viewpoint, making very little room for one to interpret anything else. The exhibit does not exclusively limit the audience to look at the artist interpretation of the pieces, but also encourages a further exploration of what all the images could mean.

The overall exhibition does an excellent job at creating an atmosphere that brings about a feeling of empathy and hurt that the residents of Peru are feeling. Hirose and La Rosa take intent, and relay it seamlessly to audience. It really captures the contrasting opinions of the business moguls that are destroying through their insatiable lust for more and more money. The pull of the artworks is truly entrancing; drawing you in deeper and deeper just to discover what all is hidden within each photograph, video and sculpture. With the back and forth emotions of happiness and homeward betrayal, the audience is not only captivated and driven to explore each piece, but also thrown into the disappointment that is felt throughout the country. The subject matter of the exhibition reigns consistent throughout and the variations of the pieces make a positive impact to all of its audiences. (1029)

Discovering the In-Between

You Don’t Know My Horizon, Kim Faler

Art Pace


One important thing that art does for the audience is getting the individual to think. This is accomplished through Kim Faler’s work You Don’t Know My Horizon. The work is a series housed in Art Pace, a residential gallery in San Antonio. The building serves as a partial living and gallery space which is in the downtown area of the city. Seasonally, Art Pace chooses a curator who picks out three artists who are local, national, and international. The gallery provides opportunities for the residents to work beyond their boundaries to further the intended effect. Compared to other gallery visits, this location had the most leeway for the artists to expand on their ideas. Faler’s work provided a lot of insight indirectly into the self, but maintained a focus on the material and how it plays into the theme of the series.

When first entering the gallery space, a week before the grand opening, it was littered with tables, brushes, paint, and materials which looked to be in the first stages of completion. Real grape vines were covering a table in the back corner, and drawings were sprawled out with a few pencils accompanied by various sharpeners filled with shavings. There was even a mat laid out with casts of rocks ready to be painted for the next step in her art process. In the last section of the room, there was a repetition of shapes that looked more like alphabet soup laid out in lines that did not make sense. This little preview was both ambiguous and enticing for what was to show the following week. When I was first introduced to Faler and her work, I was with my class on a field trip to the gallery. The most interesting thing about this special pre-cursor to the show was the ability to talk to the artist personally about her work. The idea of life being very temporal was an important subject matter for Faler. She wanted to cross a boundary between time and space with her works. She mentioned that there was the idea to connect with the previous life of the material prior to becoming art. Faler discussed details pertaining to the medium, the inspiration, and the concept of her work in detail that highlighted the train of thought for my return in the week of its grand opening.

Now that Art Pace was officially opened to the public, I could see first-hand what Faler meant when she previously discussed her concepts. Taking that first step into the room, I saw canvases leaning against one another with letter-like moldings elaborately positioned on the fabric. Watercolor paints had been sprayed onto the sculpture the night before and had begun to work itself onto the moldings and drip down off the frame and onto the floor. Standing next to these puddles, I see the dryness of the paint and how it stretches against the dark brown, glossy floors. It reminded me of the moment of time Faler had talked about because she mentioned how she wanted her viewers to think about the past while being in the present. I too thought of the work and what had happened for it to look this way because it’s right in the middle of the room. It’s unavoidable.

In the right-hand corner is a pile of molds that have been casted on rocks. The play on this is the lightness of the rocks that are assumed to be heavy. Faler spoke on this sculpture as being a representation of imagination. This supposed rock is only a rock; however it transcends into another form; a different kind of rock. Some of them are covered in different textures from a process known as hydro-dipping. Faler took each cast and dipped them into translucent printed designs which transfer onto the surface. It creates for the viewers, more so myself, a very self-awareness of what is going on with the work. It is working past the shallow layer of realism in a 3-Dimensional world to press on the notion of what else there could be in organic matter people pass by every day such as grape vines. It’s as if she says not to take for granted with ordinary objects. We must use our imagination to think beyond the factual evidence of the rock only being just a rock. For instance, off in the adjacent corner from the entrance, Faler dipped grapevines she bought into aluminum paint and placed them in such a way that looks like a series of brain cells interlocked in a unique pattern. It hung from the ceiling so the viewer could walk around and even under the sculpture. The material was previously grapevines but Faler hadn’t stopped there. It’s an effective method in repeating the idea to think beyond; to move past the surface and play with the physicality of reality.

On the right of this work, there is a display of four consecutive images where the drawn-out sea foam is very low in the first image and grows across the quadtych. It was my favorite part of the exhibit mostly because it had to do with the idea of the momentary. The idea here is a bridge between memory and forgetting like a film strip playing out what had taken place. Faler wanted to create the motion of the sea foam that worked its way up the shore just as she remembered it. Key word: remembered. It also recalls that memory that anyone would have if they’d seen the ocean. Even as I look left to right, or right to left, I still can see the water working casually onto the sand and receding back in a rhythmic fashion.

Throughout the entire exhibit, Faler impressively kept up a game of intrigue and interaction. There is this continuation of engagement between the audience and work of art. It is as if she embraces this gap between the art, its subject matter, and the audience members. The artist fills a void of dead air to communicate a message that is not a statement but an underlying question on what’s going on via perception. Faler becomes this in-between since she lays out the ground work for all to follow. (1036)

 

Rebecca Alvarado

Surrealism in the Real

 

The Whittliff Collections:

Recurring Dream, Rocky Schenck

SURREALISM IN THE REAL

            Walking into Rocky Schenck’s exhibition at the Whittliff Collections induces the feeling of venturing into a vault. Although the gates to the gallery are completely open, there is still a feeling that there are precious things held within, waiting for discovery and adoration. I was met with a large font foreword, almost as a warning to caution viewers to what they are agreeing to enter. I immediately noticed how massive this exhibition is, later learning there are over seventy works on show. It’s a representation of Schenck’s acknowledgement of his reflection and investigation into the effect of dreams.

The foreword recognizes Schenck’s tendency towards black and white dreamscapes, but includes a preface that this time there are also hand-tinted oil prints. I was intrigued by the effect of this technique, not being familiar with the Victorian process of hand-tinting.  Even with the size of the entrance and the font of the words on the wall, I was not ready to see four square feet of images in a triptych. These are just a few of the color images warned about from the beginning. These three, as is the whole exhibit, are set horizontally with the center line being at eye level, allowing for the work to be seen without discomfort.  This set is pure landscape, a complete absence of human life. They have been treated equally with soft tints of purple and orange, with a dominant shadow of black for contrast and clarity. Together, Schenck creates a dreamlike sense of American identity through these images. The left: a classic image of the Grand Canyon (classically titled, “Canyon”), the middle: a typical beach scene from California, and the right: an estuary that opens up to the sky. Beyond having the same color scheme, the sky line is even throughout the triptych, merging the three without having to be glaringly obvious about it. I enjoyed the continuity between groups, enforcing a united identity between the images.

The exhibit continues this carousel of themes. Included in the exhibit, are four sections of grouped works and, in each section, there are colored images juxtaposed to ones that are black and white. Schenck is not limited by set bounds. Walking through the gallery is similar to how I imagine being able to skim through a gallery of dreams. He includes soft focused landscapes with high contrast carnival scenes, with cartoon-like harshness. Schenck shows off his skill at a somewhat forgotten ability, hand-tinting even the black and white images. He purposefully enhances vignettes and creates an implied focus point even in abstracted works.

Hidden from the entrance, there is a long wall that branches off into sub-rooms that hold and connect each sectioned off area of art. Here, I found a set of four images. Their theme is a carnival show, highlighting Near Vegas, the center image. Schenck successfully implies a foreboding air to these images while maintaining the fun and cartoonish theme. Similar to Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters, Schenck is heavy handed with his lines, transforming a simple smile to a garish imitation. The work on the far right, a line of can-can dancers preparing to open the thick stage curtain behind them, is frightening not due to what it shows, but what it doesn’t. There is threat lurking behind a solid curtain of dark blue, menacing in its obscurity. As far as dream inferences go, in this grouping, Schenck produces the opening act of a nightmare – a seemingly unobtrusive, supposedly fun activity marred by hostile enclosure.

Following the map of his dreamscape, Schenck shows five idyllic images – free flowing with soft and welcoming forests. I was impressed with Schenck’s ability to capture such varied and contrasting subjects. Patterns continue within the artist’s exhibition. While not completely flat, Schenck rolls his horizon lines from one image to the next, ending on a work that has a high vantage point, allowing a sense of openness that leads to the implication that nothing is hidden from sight.

I was able to pick out certain viewpoints and people as familiar as I walked through the gallery. For instance, in almost every room there is the same woman, never fully facing the viewer, but recognizable none the less. Schenck transforms her from a lounge singer in noir to a colored symbol of Western folklore titled Lolita to one of the dancers lined up in the Vegas carnival. This tactic of repeated icons shows the subtle flow of connections between the works being exhibited. Here, the title of the exhibit, The Recurring Dream, is revealed as true. Schenck, admitting he is strongly influenced by remembered dreams, reflects this surreal influence in unobtrusive repetition throughout the exhibit. Schenck chooses and varies colors at will, changing the overall tone of the exhibition from what could be an overwhelming amount of grey to a merry-go-round of colors and emotions.

In his artist statement, framed opposite the foreword, Schenck writes that his photography focuses on “documented dreams.” His goal is to blur the line between the real and the imaginary. With photography, there is a peculiar assumption of realness which remains even when transferred to prints. While the images might have certain implications of realness, the reality is that they were created in Schenck’s mind, with his hands, and tinted to his choice. What once might have passed as a representation of reality has now been covered in multiple layers of surface oils moving it into a limbo. The works hover between worlds of completely imaginary and a scene taken from reality.

It’s an interesting concept that Schenck dives into in Recurring Dream. At the Whittliff, he gets the unique chance to have free reign in a gallery space that can easily hold such a large number of works. With over seventy images hanging on the walls, Schenck successfully constructs a gallery of universal dreams that I enjoyed. Regardless of a person’s background, the haziness of the works Schenck presents combined with the distinctive effect of hand tinting invites everyone to seek common ground with the implications Schenck provides in his works.

(1014)

Owo Ni Koko: Don’t Get Too Attached

Exhibition: “We Are All Bewitched”

Artist: Olaniyi Rasheed Akindiya, a.k.a. Akirash

Location: Big Medium Gallery at Canopy

Event: East Austin Studio Tour

Unlike the other installations at Big Medium, “We Are All Bewitched” confronts the festival-goers with its part-art, part-consumer detritus concoction aimed at “addressing the economic systems that impact daily life.”

At the center of the room stands a cardboard toilet (money-clad toilet seat on backwards) with a red and yellow cardboard tree to match climbing out of the bowl. Laid around the centerpiece is a web-like net of the same material. Hundreds of colorful, fake bills are scattered around the toilet-tree, from all over the world—I counted at least eleven different currencies, not including the assortment of coins interspersed throughout the bills. Running up the trunk of the surprisingly sturdy tree are several sets of strings lights: red, orange, and yellow to complement the abrasive hues of the center sculpture. At the back of the room hangs a massive, crinkled canvas of a red, abstracted face with cash for eyes (depicted by iPads).

Another canvas takes up much of the right wall. It has, at its core, the same building materials as the rest of the exhibition: cash. Brightly colored, flimsy, provocative cash. After taking a closer look at this particular work’s title (it’s called Owo Ni Koko) and researching basic Nigerian languages and cultural history, I found that the phrase “owo ni koko” is Yoruba (one of Nigeria’s largest ethnic, linguistic, and cultural groups) for “Money is the Ultimate.” It’s supposedly a common first name given to baby boys, and I even found an African hip-hop hybrid song with the name. There was the subtly sarcastic, slightly cynical edge I had been craving since walking into a room with a cardboard toilet tree at its center. An edge, by the way, that I found to be quite paradoxical to the “declaration of joy and creative triumph” at the heart of Akirash’s practice as a whole.

akirash2.jpg

Speaking in a review of his latest installation at Big Medium, he explains, “Money has cast a spell on every human. They say that money is the root of evil. Is this really the right phrase, or should we say that we give this paper the power to control everyone?” As Owo Ni Koko takes a crack at a normalized yet questionable proverb embedded in Nigerian society, Akirash uses excess amounts of those all-too-familiar paper print-offs to test the onlooker’s depth of comfort with the capitalistic-to-a-fault web of economies our livelihoods depends upon.

At first, it reads as a celebratory outpour of joy. But…  it has an edge; cynical overtones pervade the entire work. Upon closer inspection, it reads more as a reflection on the necessary evil of capitalistic systems when money can literally control the livelihoods of entire populations, for better or for worse. It seems to be groping for the logical meaning within a system and a symbol that can hold so much power over those who prescribe to it (especially involuntarily). Is the subtle cynicism hidden under the mass of colors and forms what Akirash was trying to accomplish? Or, is the mass of colors and forms just acting as a set of visual elements that in turn build on each other and form another level of commentary? As Huxley expressed, “That’s what the human brain is there for: to turn the chaos of given experience into a set of manageable symbols.”

Through his mound of post-consumer visual elements, Akirash ties himself firmly to Robert Raushenberg’s combine experimentation of the 1950’s and 60’s, using post-consumer waste and a bright, painterly style to reflect on cultural binds the western world finds itself in. Like Rauschenberg, Akirash employs the forgotten leftovers of consumers’ past to further objectify and consume the materials, but in a completely different light.

For example, in Rauschenberg’s Odalisk (1955), he parodied an entire pictorial tradition of female representation by combining a squished pillow, a stuffed rooster, and the harsh lines of an empty box covered in a veritable plethora of nude women. By nature, parody always has a double meaning; Rauschenberg’s finished product simultaneously started a conversation about historical gender roles and their representations in western art as well as the methods used to convey those representations through a visual critique of the history of the ‘odalisque.’ Akirash uses his own personal visual style and an altogether different choice of content, but uses the same technique of visual parody.

combine 1954.jpg

Akirash’s “We Are All Bewitched” also mirrors more contemporary art, as well. Specifically in regards to content, his installation was reminiscent of an auction held by Sotheby’s in London, called “To the Bearer on Demand.” Even as the ubiquity of money in the art market was literally on display, sources like the Telegraph and Sotheby’s themselves still attached expected price tags to each work, as if they were an implicit part of its meaning. Sotheby’s art specialist, James Sevier, says,“The dollar is more than just American currency, it is a symbol of aspiration, wealth, and glamour.”

Tim Noble and Sue Webster  had a light sculpture on display in the gallery ($, 2001), complementing one of the Warhol prints that Sotheby’s was so excited about. It flickered mesmerizingly, but that leaves one to question what they were suggesting about the stability of the massive symbol they had parodied. About their series of light sculptures (in reference to their more popular shadow sculptures), they state, “[they] reference iconic pop culture symbols… with the aid of complex light sequencing these signs perpetually flash and spiral out messages of everlasting love, and hate.”

tim noble and sue webster.jpg

Although Noble and Webster have a decidedly more sarcastic ring to their work, they are inherently getting at the same message as Akirash in “We Are All Bewitched.” Even though it seems like an affirmation, the more time one spends with it, the more it becomes anything but. The rubbish-art sculptures present in Akirash’s latest work come off as much more of a warning sign than anything else. ‘Don’t get too attached,’ they could be calling out.

-Hannah Jurgens

Word count: 1007 including header, 987 not

 

 

A Chaotic Placement of Art: A critical review of “This is beyond insane. This is babel.” By ALAS

December 15, 2016

The best way to experience an exhibition is to enter with only knowing the title. Knowing just the title, leaves much more room for excitement and anticipation. Therefore, I find an exhibition’s name the most crucial aspect because it is the first encounter visitors have with the artworks. Upon entering, This is beyond insane. This is babel, and taking note of the first details and artworks, questions – similar to, “Who is ALAS? What is their artistic motive?” – begin to have answers.

The information given on the exhibition label briefly informs visitors of the San Antonio based collaborative, ALAS‘s, history. These two artists create their works by experimenting with rural objects and combining unrelated ideas relevant to their (rural) lifestyles. The Texas State gallery worked in their favor in this regard, because the large space welcomed exploration by giving visitors ample room to move around. ALAS‘s exhibition required a decently large amount of space due to the range and large amount of works.

While beginning with Gallery I, my curiosity heightened upon seeing markers (Sharpies) scattered on the floor, along with drawings apparently created by visitors because their content did not match that of the gallery works. It was apparent that the artists had provided the markers because of the amount and placement of them on the floor. This was the artist’s way of inviting the viewers to use the markers and draw or write freely on the provided parchment paper scattered on the floor. This gesture was appealing because the suggestion engaged the audience as opposed to leaving viewers to silently stroll through. The gallery walls themselves were covered with the artists collaborative name, ALAS, written in paint using an ominous font. The font appeared to contrast the rural essence of the works, therefore creating confusion amongst my first impressions of this exhibit. Confusion began to surface because the exhibition had a rustic, disheveled feel to it which did not match the font used on the walls. The displayed art itself ranges in medium and style from postcards, lists of objects and places, to a pair of dirty cowboy boots.

Upon entering Gallery II, I began to realize that ALAS’s works appear to be personal and intertwined with certain references that are significant to their partnership or friendship. This was my hypothesis in response to the obscure and seemingly particular subject matter, for example the specifically chosen pair of cowboy boots sitting alone on the gallery floor. The spot in which they were placed felt random because nothing was around them except the debris that had fallen off of them. From just examining these boots, it was certain that there was a story behind them or something being represented. Many artists use their works as symbols to portray something they have experienced or deem important. A sense of symbolism was received from this pair of boots, but it lacked a definite as to what the symbol meant because the object was not intriguing. And at the same time it felt very empty because of the banality and lack of effort in presentation of the boots. The two San Antonio based artists brought with them their rural backgrounds and characteristics, but unfortunately did not include much depth or imagination in their works. Many people who appreciate art, appreciate the combination of uniqueness and personality.

The exhibition, aside from the opportunity to draw with markers, was not inviting or interesting because the works lacked allure. In other words, the works presented an “inside joke” kind of aesthetic, which left viewers confused and uninterested. One work in particular that portrayed this feature was the random assortment of postcards laid out on a small wooden table. Each postcard had different text on it and were in no way related to the next. This work was creative, but there could have been more done to draw in the viewer and get them questioning the deeper meaning of these postcards – instead I just moved on. Another reason for the disconnection felt between the viewer and work, was the subject matter. I personally did not relate to their rural, obscure backgrounds and because of this did not understand their works. It can be difficult to appreciate a work of art when one doesn’t connect to the work, or relate to it in any way. While it is true that not every work will interest every person, I believe when an artwork is high quality art it can be appreciated by the majority of it’s viewers.

In addition, the art was arranged in a somewhat awkward or disorderly fashion, which was unpleasant because it disturbed the flow of the space due to the lack of direction. The works were placed in random locations on the walls and on the floor itself, which left large empty spots within the gallery. It gave off an unplanned, thrown together kind of aesthetic. Granted, they may have chosen the placement of each work specifically for a certain purpose, but it then leaves me feeling as if the disorder could have been more interesting or effortful. Personally, I believe the disorderly arrangement of the works reflected the lack of skill of the artists. If they are going for a chaotic aesthetic, then they could have put more time and effort into making the arrangement aspect of their exhibition more interesting. It seems as if the artists believed they were going “against the norm”, but did not follow through with the shock value.

Despite the exhibition being unenjoyable due to disorganization and lack of personableness, it remains one I will remember when visiting other exhibitions. This exhibition was unlike any I had seen before and it will be an experience to reference to when encountering new artworks and artists. The subject matter and artworks themselves were obscure and certainly possessed some sort of symbolism for the artists, however the presentation in its entirety was lackluster. Both artists may be worth checking up on in the future, and curiosity does remain, although, as to what their future exhibitions will contain and the subject matter they will choose to explore.

Rachael Pantuso

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