For quite a while several members of the Fugitive Art Center in Nashville have been planning a traveling show as the next step in the development of that group. This became even more of the focus when the fire marshal shut down their gallery space on Chestnut Street – for which I have some responsibility since an article of mine on the group prompted him to check out the place.
The traveling show, with Fugitives Patrick DeGuira, Greg Pond, and Jack Ryan and fellow travelers Steven Thompson and Melody Owen opened this Fall in Sewanee, and then moved to Rhodes College in Memphis where I caught it last week.
I haven’t seen a lot of Owen’s work. This show has several collages and some videos, actually video collages. I liked the videos quite a bit, both of which borrow Hollywood material. In one, clips the MGM lion, in B&W, when he roars. Out of his mouth pop colored jewels that hover for a second in the air and then float off the screen. The lion turns his head in their direction, like he’s watching them. On the one hand you’ve got this vision of the Hollywood studio as spitting out gems. Real gems in their own eyes, aesthetic and commercial, maybe fake gems in the eyes of a critic or consumer. It also seemed like a line in a sutra – “his breath is pure gems of enlightenment.”
In a piece called “Waiting with Guns” Owen splices together images from movies of exactly that, people (maybe all men) with guns waiting or just in the moment before they fire. The clips include Westerns, war movies, crime and detective films. It’s a catalog of the delay before the gratification of action or destruction. An extended tease, a kind of sexual play. It also draws attention to these as moments of potentiality. As the men wait to fire, events could still turn away from the inevitable, from death to forgiveness or grace. These are the decisive moments.
Greg has several pieces here, and the one I responded to most is “Sugar Candy Mountain: The Final Resting Place for the Soul of Saint T.” Greg has created a frame of heavy wire forms like three peaks of a mountain that sit on the floor. Several bunches of small yellow and white plastic flowers (one of his signatures from other recent works) have been clipped to sticks attached to the metal frame. And a whole series of small speakers also poke up from the frame, forming a bed of speakers that play a clip of one yelp of Bruce Springsteen yodeling. Like a lot of his pieces, Greg gives form to the idea of the Western landscape (and the West, and the country, and the world) as constructed artifice that is taken as natural, or as a scene in which the natural has been replaced by constructed approximations – a metal mesh that looks like mountains, flowering bushes created by cobbling together plastic and sticks with metal clips. What set this piece apart for me was the clip. The yodel sound is direct, human, and emotional. I picked up the reference to Springsteen from a review by Joe Nolan in Number – when I heard it I thought it was from a Native American ceremonial song. This little clip could be from a field recording, which gives it resonance and universality. The emotion this sound brings into the piece, with its enactment of construction and substitution suggests that inspite of the apparent damage inflicted, it is also what humans do.
Patrick DeGuira installed his piece “Life Flower” which has in the Fragile Species show at the Frist. At Rhodes, the piece is installed in a room with a glass wall to a hallway and a doorway access. The piece includes filling the space with green and yellow paper strips, so you have to look at the piece from outside. There is a photo element and a sound element. At the Frist there was one access point from which you could take it all in. Here at Rhodes if you look through the door you can hear the sound but only see the photo in reflection on the windows, or look at the photo through the hallway windows and not hear the sound – so the work gets fragmented and there is no point from which you can take in the entire thing.
Jack has some of his typically brilliant drawings on mylar, combining iconography of Ted Kaczynski, snow owls, and Western geography. Also, a simple sculptural piece using a skull which reminded me of a recent piece by Patrick. Thompson also produces very fine work based on drawing, one of which is in this show. He builds up pieces from layers of what looks like tracing paper with drawing that I think is on both sides of the material, clear plastic strips, bits of paper and small wood sculptural elements, some of it marked with graphite. There are also two oversized felt suits, but I still get more out of the drawings which have a seemingly endless amount of detail to dig into.
This show is going to Austin sometime after it closes at Rhodes in December, and I think they are looking for other stops. I expect there will be plenty of interest in more iterations of this show.