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     April 2011
Published monthly by Artists of Utah, a non-profit organization    
Utah artist Jared Steffensen in his Salt Lake studio

Artist Profile: Salt Lake City
Landing Moves
The Life and Art of Jared Steffensen

Pause for a moment and reflect on your relationship to the city or town you call home. Remember how you got there and recall some of the feelings you associate with it, good or bad. Are there specific memories of the city that shaped your perspective or maybe had such an impact on you they still affect who you are today? Have you ever left home and then returned to find that your feelings surrounding the place have changed? These themes are addressed by local artist Jared Steffensen as he gears up for his first solo show titled lofty peaks and wide streets which will open on April 15 at Salt Lake's Nox Contemporary. “When it comes down to it I’m examining what my relationship is to this place. Plain and simple that’s what it is. And it’s a relationship that I would say is neither good nor bad but fluctuates between like and dislike. I think part of it is that I’m understanding more and more is that I’m searching for a relationship to Salt Lake rather than examining my relationship to the city," Steffensen says.

Exhibition Spotlights: Salt Lake
Fiber Space
Surface Design Group, Weaving Guild, and GARFO's Press Plush

If the art world were represented by The Big Book of Fairy Tales, the story of Cinderella would surely belong to those artists who use fiber as their medium. Long relegated to the “hearth” as other artists went off to the galleries, fiber artists have been gaining momentum since the 60’s as they have persistently proclaimed the right to exhibit their work alongside more conventional art forms.

Textiles have always been a venue for art exploration, but never of sufficient status to be considered art in and of themselves. Since human beings first started clothing and covering themselves, color and design have worked their way into these personal items in every region of the world. Native Americans created clothing with animal skins, natural dyes and quills; ancient Egyptians knit colorful dyed wool on sharpened sticks; nobles in the Chinese dynasties wore fantastic silk garments with lavish designs; and completely unskilled peasants created patterns in their padded blankets (quilts) even though they used cast off garments to do so.

It may be that the utilitarian nature of fiber has consigned the medium to the craft trenches and not gallery walls, or perhaps it is simply that patterns are sometimes passed down through generations. It could also be that fiber manipulation has long been the purview of (mostly) women and thus not considered “real art” by the (mostly) male powers that be. Regardless of the reasons, one thing is for certain: the times they are a changin’. And Utah’s art world, with multiple fiber-focused shows this Spring, is lending its hand.

Exhibition Review: Salt Lake
Homage and Influence Forty Years On
The Smithson Effect at the UMFA

We measure marathons by distance rather than time. What one runner can do in an hour requires four hours of another. In setting out to assemble an anthology of artists and works influenced by Robert Smithson, the curators of the UMFA have created an indispensable survey of turn-of-the-twentieth-first-century media, but they have also produced a sprawling smorgasbord of drawings, paintings, photographs, videos, audios, sculpture, installations, and books. No one seems to know exactly how long it would take to see and hear the moving parts end to end, let alone contemplate the often elaborate ‘static’ pieces, but the inescapable fact is that it must be measured by the clock. As a critic, I don’t normally feel it’s my job to tell viewers what to look at, but here wandering into one of the small, dark galleries that open off a long hallway lined by video monitors and audio headsets, or putting on one of those pairs of earphones, can mean committing a knowable quantity, like an unrecoverable hour, to unknown quality. Consider Tacita Dean’s “Trying to Find the Spiral Jetty” (1997), an audio tape recorded in her car while following DIA Art Foundation’s infamous downloadable directions to the best known of Smithson’s works. Anyone who has done this may enjoy the memories it brings back, but not need to hear its entire 27 minutes. Those unfamiliar with the site’s inaccessibility are likely to feel lost among doubtful voices and loud noises. Perhaps its only true audience is those who know the story but have yet to undertake the challenge.

“Spiral Jetty” (1970) is not only Smithson’s best known work, but the only one the average person may have heard of. Made of loose rock poured into a shallow part of the Great Salt Lake to form a 1,500-foot long, 15-foot wide path, it starts out running straight over the water, but then bends and spirals in on itself like water running down a drain. The shape is a metaphor for one of the artist’s major concerns: entropy, or the inexorable loss of energy and organization that science proposes as the whimper, not bang, lying in wait at the end of the universe. Shortly after he finished it, “Spiral Jetty” disappeared under the rising waters of the lake, which at one point reached a depth of sixteen feet above it. A few years ago it emerged as the water level fell, just in time to rekindle interest in its maker, sparking both art pilgrimages to its remote site and reconsideration of Smithson’s projects and, more broadly, his ideas. This history makes the jetty an apt metaphor for an exhibit that gathers together works by 23 artists celebrating his accomplishment and displaying his influence. For instance, the protean scale and variety of component parts prevents either being seen in exactly the same way by two different viewers. Some parts accessible to eye and mind seem to emerge above the murky postmodern waters that submerge others. In fact, the most accessible works—those that directly quote “Spiral Jetty,” which fill the first room and form a thoughtful introduction to the show’s subject—are finally the least interesting. The more an artist liberates Smithson’s themes to play out in new material, the better.

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