Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Steven Chodoriwsky’s Nondescript Corners of Chaos and the Creative Process

I began by asking myself, “When was the last time I walked into a gallery and immediately burst out laughing?” The conclusion I finally arrived at was, “Never happened before.” There are rare times when we all laugh on emerging from a gallery, unable to believe what we’ve just seen. But this time, I exited the Finch Lane gallery as a total believer, utterly convinced by what artist and designer Steven Chodoriwsky, assistant professor in Multi-Disciplinary Design at the U of U, has put forth.

“A picture of a nondescript corner in a temporary and reviled building taped up in a nondescript corner of a permanent and beloved building” is the kind of title that cries out for a usefully brief version. “A picture” might suffice, but even better, “Nondescript corners” — though the plural form never appears in the original — captures more of what it feels like. The full title imagines two rooms, two buildings, one temporary and frankly hated, the other relatively permanent and treasured. It could be, for instance, the action of a graduate who, in order not to forget it, tapes up an image of her hated college dorm room in an out of the way corner of the first home she can love: the one she chose herself and can imagine actually wanting to stay in.

That’s not it, of course. The critic can’t always intuit what the artist intends. What this is, what it’s meant to be, is a highly condensed and somehow selected, functional landscape portrait of the campus of some very large and otherwise spread out organization. Chodoriwsky probably began with the University of Utah — his employer, after all, and a splendid example of what he wants to show — but chose not to unnecessarily limit his universe of discourse. After all, any sprawling collection of disparate structures with various purposes will probably look like this: especially one that is constantly being remodeled, and so forever under construction. One thinks, perhaps, of the Pentagon, which once spawned a tale of a wall that was being painted on one side when a power saw burst through it from the other.

What won me over instantly on entering the gallery was a massive jumble of shipping palettes dumped on the floor, and which climbs almost to the ceiling. Later, after having been drawn around the gallery by a veritable wonderland of seemingly haphazard assemblages, I would return to where I began and notice a handwritten sign on one of the palettes. “There’s no structure” was followed by a blank space, then: “Except the one we’re making” — which is the most profound statement about academia in our time, of course, but just as well about all social and even natural endeavor that one is ever likely to encounter.

It’s also an indictment of someone like this writer, like me, who would undertake to describe the work of art that surrounded it. Whatever the scribe chooses to describe first will take primacy in the list that follows, and so distort the resulting image. Besides, commentary has in no way been omitted. Projected on a wall is a typewritten statement that reads, in part:

other

atmosphere

oppressive, there

the usefulness of

trying it or st udying

this year?

which reminds viewers that academia, art, and many other organized activities contain, even if unformed and incomplete, their own criticism.

If the comment on structure suffuses the installation, so does the additional thought that not all structure that does exist is deliberate. Some arises on its own, as happens when content is transferred from one medium to another. Digital media, like the computer this is being written on, impose their own limitations, as anyone will know who’s tried to deliberately misspell a word, or do something else mildly creative or entertaining on a computer, only to have a spelling monitor “correct” it. The original of the typewritten stanza quoted above has some additional information about the typist, in the form of commonplace machine errors that computers have rendered essentially impossible to make. These are lost in this transcription. A photo of a light switch placed next to a working one raises doubts about originals and their copies, while multiple projectors around the room help demonstrate a hierarchy of representational systems.

In the middle of the gallery, a scaffolding for all practical purposes blocks the explorer’s passage, thereby imposing a detour or diversion. However, the truly “practical” visitor might take this as an opportunity to violate social norms and gallery etiquette by bulldozing a path through the impediment. Here Chodoriwsky might be suggesting that what’s meant to enable progress can end up by rendering it impossible. And that may be the foremost lesson of “A picture of a nondescript corner in a temporary and reviled building taped up in a nondescript corner of a permanent and beloved building:” the chaos that so often, seeming unavoidably goes along with creative processes, whether industrial, scientific, academic, artistic, or whatever, are counterintuitively both necessary and conducive preconditions for success. And if that’s not what Steven Chodoriwsky had in mind, it remains my best suggestion for what to take away from his splendid and eye-opening work of art.

Steven Chodoriwsky: A picture of a nondescript corner in a temporary and reviled building taped up in a nondescript corner of a permanent and beloved building, Finch Lane Gallery, Salt Lake City, through Mar. 3

Installation images by Geoff Wichert, February, 2023

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