There isn’t any rule against making art from a personal, as opposed to universal, point of view. Indeed, it could be argued that most good art started out with something private in it that energized the man or woman who made it. But it’s also true that, for example, only when Leonardo released the Mona Lisa from his personal fixation, whatever that might have been, could the powerful sense of self-possession he captured in her portrait begin to hypnotize the masses.
Vincent Mattina explains his own personal motivation for Sleepless in his exhibition statement, but he only reveals the absolute nature of his feelings in “CRAP Helmet,” the one pedestaled sculpture here, which stands in the center of the semicircle formed by the surrounding 10 assemblages. Anyone familiar with pulmonary therapy—the use of air delivered under pressure to treat breathing problems—will likely recognize that the work’s title riffs on “CPAP,” the generic name for the often-claustrophobic masks worn in bed to keep the wearer breathing while asleep. What animates Mattina’s art is the tradeoff between necessary assistance and the nightmarish experience of waking up with one’s head wrapped in plastic, which in his version becomes an elaborate headdress complete with bulky electrical wiring, goggles, and earphones, so that it bluntly walks a line between sensory deprivation and its capacity to expand his awareness enough to make art.
Judging from the evidence found in Utah’s galleries, assemblage is one of the more popular techniques among today’s artists. Four of the five artists—all men, it must be said—now showing at BDAC use found objects extensively in their constructions. The lovechild of collage and mixed media, assemblage tolerates grafting together found and fabricated, old with new, and representational alongside real, in order to leaven nostalgia with a healthy dose of anxiety.
If assemblage can now be thought a medium in its own right, works like those at BDAC present some of its genres. Mattina focuses largely on time, which he invokes in part through the mixture of vintages everywhere present here, as well as with the many watches and clock faces, and especially the antiquated clockworks. A piece like “Chronos Departs,” in which the mechanism has been displaced outside its case, like a vital organ removed from its body, also indicts technology: today’s state-of-the-art medical gear will soon enough look as dated as a pendulum-regulated timepiece.
Assemblage enthusiasts are known to focus on content to the exclusion of formal concerns. It’s worth noting, then, how the sheer material density of Mattina’s works serve to overwhelm the viewer’s visual attention, until the details lose focus, becoming a kind of cinematic background, like the scenery and set dressing that generate the atmosphere surrounding the actors in a film narrative. His choice of water, with its implication of drowning, and boats, that signify consciousness, play key roles in “Orange Claw Hammer,” which also includes a sextant and diving helmet. “Tempestuous,” with its old-fashioned cork float, and “Delta Waves,” with obsolete copper plumbing, expand the metaphor. Anyone can, and likely does, feel a strong connection between consciousness and floating, dreaming and drowning, or even sleep and death; in this way, Vincent Mattina’s sleep-deprived suffering becomes a meditation to share.
Sleepless, work by Vincent Mattina, Bountiful Davis Art Center (Underground Gallery) Bountiful, through Sept. 14.
Geoff Wichert has degrees in critical writing and creative nonfiction. He writes about art to settle the arguments going on in his head.