Perambulating the Bounds

Saturday, April 15, 2006

MTSU Senior Show

MTSU’s Art Department has its show of graduating seniors up now through April 20 in the gallery in the Todd Building.

Jacqueline Meeks is one of the people in it, and she had interesting work in a group show at 310 Chestnut a few months ago. The pieces here confirm that she is worth keeping a eye on. She has just three pieces in the show, a video, a sculpture, and a drawing. The video, called Breath, projects separate images of a man and a woman cropped so only their mouth is visible. I’m guessing it’s her and her boyfriend, Ryan Lewis, who also has work in the show. Their faces are pretty still, and you just hear the two of them breathing, and then at intervals they put a sheet of plastic to their faces and open their mouths, breathing in so the plastic gets sucked into the mouth cavity. Then they take off the plastic, close their mouths, wait a bit, and repeat. This performance of suffocation and silencing, if you take it as a reflection of being a couple, could be seen as very cynical about the possibility of relationship, but it also acts as a shared suffering.

Her sculptural piece consists of several white trash bags stuffed with something, laid out on a plastic curtain, lit by a bright lamp hung on a wooden ladder. The elements seem dirty and messy, but well-composed. The bags have the right mass to them, and the curtain and some ropes form a pattern base for them. The lamp gives the idea of surveillance. Her other piece is a drawing in red ink of boy’s legs attached to a shark’s body, the shark body cut away to show its inner organs. It shows she has traditional technical skills and the ability to imagine very detailed images, in contrast to a kind of crudeness in the sculpture.

Ryan Lewis’s pieces in the show are a comic book, a couple of short stories in zine form (about the size of those Joe Chick religious comics), an audio piece and a video that wasn’t playing when I was there. The comics made me think of Daniel Clowes’ complaints about art school not acknowledging comics as a legitimate form. That’s changed. Ryan’s comic started like a diary, cataloging fairly trivial events in a student’s day, but then took form as a story about his grandfather’s death. I liked the way he eased into this narrative, and he does some really smart graphic things with the narrative. The audio piece seemed to be journal notes from maybe his grandmother, talking about her two daughters, performed with a man (presumably Ryan) reading in falsetto the stuff quoting the kids. I wasn’t crazy about this piece as I was listening to it, but it was interesting to think back on. The material in the journal is mundane and does not have a clear narrative, but even so some ideas come up (how does the child understand or express love for the mother). More interesting to think about was the reversal of elevating this non-dramatic material into an obviously dramatized context (the male voice undermines any illusion of verisimilitude). I saw it as a subversion of the idea of drama, and of the material presented for consumption within the modes of drama and narrative.

The last person in the show I’ll mention is Sher Fick. She produced several pieces for the show. Several of them were sculptural assemblages taking things like a gumball machine and a spice shelf and filling them with objects, mostly broken, crushed, or discarded. A number of the pieces included capsules that encased small objects in a dome of acrylic or plastic. Stuff like pieces of toys, a blade of grass, an entrance button from the Neue Gallerie, small bits of flotsam. Dolls, usually broken apart and even crushed figured in a lot of the pieces. There were also some 2D works with images embedded in encaustic. The childhood and domestic imagery were handled with a pleasurable liveliness. One piece that seemed of a different character was called Ashes, Ashes, and consisted of neat piles of stuff arranged on a bed of moss-covered sod. Each pile consisted of different material that from a distance looked like mounds of spices ready for a ceremony, but when you got up close you could make out each was originally –milk glass, a doll, foam stuffing.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Kendall Buster at Cheekwood

I’m a sucker for artists who fill a space with stuff, like Tara Donovan’s million plastic cups at Pace Wildenstein in New York, Ludwika Ogorzelec’s web of plastic strips in Nancy Margolis, or Deborah Aschheim’s growths that invaded the Frist Center. This mode seems to be a specialty of Kendall Buster, a faculty member in VCU’s sculpture program. I saw her show at Fusebox in DC last Fall, which consisted of a bunch of blue tents hung from the ceiling and placed edge to edge to create a false ceiling that filled the gallery and sloped from a height you could walk under and a dimension that squeezed you to the sides of the room. Now she’s got Cheekwood’s Temporary Contemporary space filled with yellow fabric columns hung from an irregular grid of hexagonal frames. The piece is called Subterrain (Column Field), and when you enter the small room you can imagine you are in a cavern or underneath a surface. The color and shape also put you in the mind of honey combs, and the artist’s statement points out architectural associations. I’m not sure there is too much to make of these sorts of pieces from an interpretive standpoint, but they are pleasurable in a visceral and intuitive way. It’s great fun to go into any environment utterly transformed by art (Dan Flavin and other people who work with light achieve this too), and it provides a kind of release. This piece wraps you in color. The kinesthetic effects of her pieces stand out, and I find them directed more at pleasure centers than intellectual or linguistic centers.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Repurposed art at Alter in Clarksville

I got up to Clarksville today to see the show at Alter Gallery. Alter is a small nonprofit space run by a few young recent APSU grads on what I assume is a near-zero budget. They have a single large second floor, windowless room in Clarksville’s old downtown. It’s got a good rough feel, and well-lit enough to make up for the lack of windows.

The current show is work by Blayne Clements and Miranda Herrick (Miranda is one of the people running the gallery, and really seems to be the prime force behind it). The two artists both did work with reused materials, playing off of each other while they were developing it. Miranda’s main piece is a large rag rug, made out of plastic bags rather than scraps of cloth. Rag rugs are one of those pieces of Southern vernacular home furnishings made by tying together bit of cloth in a continuous spiral. Miranda learned how to make them from her grandmother. Her grandmother used to buy cloth for the rugs, although I think the original idea was you could make them from scraps. Like a quilt. So it makes sense to make one from plastic bags, although it creates what Kristina Arnold calls a “tacky crafty” effect, its smooth surfaces glistening rather than offering the soft, rough texture of cloth. It also ends up weighing 75 pounds as Miranda points out in the gallery guide, and took her a year or so to assemble. The piece looks like a pool, with a dull blue aqueous center, and it makes you see the similarities between this common home décor and mandalas and other circular forms for meditation.

Clements cuts up product packaging and reassembles it into abstract and figurative shapes. He does things like rearrange Kool cigarette cartons to separate the blue, green, and the white letters, rearranging them to create a sort of iris. Beer 6-pack cartons turn into a landscape. I liked the more abstract pieces best. One consists of many UPC bar codes shingled, with an image of a woman in a breath mask with a bar code across it. “Square Study” has a whole bunch of panels, each one running a riff on a different texture and color of packaging – popcorn, some sort of decorative gray and black pattern with an Indian motif, one that’s silver, another dark blue, and so on.

The work in this show reminded me of several other artists working with product packaging and discarded materials: Louis Cameron, Mimi Moncier, Dan Peterman. It’s a pretty rich vein, and these two artists make nice statements of their own from it.

Alter is located at 124B Legion Street in Clarksville. The only scheduled gallery hours are 2-4 on Sundays, so this show will also be open next Sunday (April 16). You can probably also try them at to arrange a visit another time

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Disoriented with satellite radio

Had XM satellite radio in my rental car this week. It makes music even more like wallpaper than commercial radio. Some of it is the lack of talk breaks. Just this smooth, endless flow, one song after another that fits together without interruption. Airless. Even when it’s a show that has someone tending it, it still seems deracinated. Part of it is the excess of polish that comes from something deployed on a national scale, but it’s also the lack of any reference to the ground it sits on, whether a DJ’s reference to the weather outside or a sports score, or an ad for a car dealer. It so obviously comes from no place, and this leaves me feeling depressed and alienated. I think of the automated radio station in Night of the Comet. Something left over after the world has been destroyed. I guess I feel the same way about most nationally syndicated radio shows. Radio is a lot better when it comes from some place – even if you are at a distance, listening on the internet.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Heard a concert tonight at UC Santa Cruz featuring microtonal works for piano by two Canadian composers, Bruce Mather and Jacques Desjardins. But you ask, how can you have microtones on a piano? One pair of works was written for three pianos tuned to A440, a third of a half step below that, and a third below that, so that between the three pianos you got 36 tones. More amazing was a DVD they showed of Mather playing a piano that had been tuned so that the distance between middle C and the top of the keyboard was one octave, the same below – giving you 96 tones in each octave. Extremely cool things happen then. The key seems to bend out of tune or into another tune. Kind of a Doppler effect. When he plays a run, it initially sounds like repetitions of the same note, or like the pitch is just sagging. Interior lines seem to crawl around. Especially with the 36 tones over three pianos, the overtones with the sustain pedal seem more metallic, like the decay on a cymbal.

The two-octave piano was built by Sauter, modeled on ideas of the Mexican composer Julian Carillo.