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January 2012
Utah's Art Magazine: Published by Artists of Utah
Page 7   

Exhibition Review: Provo

Fabricated Reality, Authentic Existence
A sound installation by Rob and Georgia Buchert

The Art
“…a lot of the deep confusion that beset me when I was a teenager, and the name Katelynn seemed stronger to me, less easily swayed by the people around me, so I wanted to embody that name… I mean Amy is amiable…”

Some works of art dictate to the viewer the passing of time, denoting a beginning and end, usually relating a narrative meant to express meaning. Art is equally as potent when totally abstract, removed from time, its meaning contained in and conveyed by the formal elements of its composition. Agency Randomness Chaos, a new exhibition by Georgia and Rob Buchert at Brigham Young University’s Gallery 303, is both and neither.

Inside Gallery 303, on the main floor of the Harris Fine Arts Center, you’ll find an assemblage of wooden speakers suspended at various lengths from the ceiling of the spacious, white gallery. It is an attractive setting -- minimal and sophisticated – but the art is not something seen. There are no paintings. No sculptures. It is when you find yourself within the array of speakers that the magic of the show begins, as you are immersed in a sound art experience where the space between sound and the mind addresses fundamental philosophies of existence.

What emanates from these speakers are a variety of the following: original compositions by the “Buchert Mechanism,” pieces that might be best described as down tempo new age; random sounds and tones that can be soothing or hauntingly melancholy, but seldom garish, and often surprising; and recorded interviews that feature an individual "who manages his agency in the context of events he didn’t expect or situations over which he may seem to have no control.” The recordings are programmed to play randomly, at greater or lesser volumes.

“…now, when people call me Amy, occasionally somebody I haven’t seen since high school will call me Amy… it sounds terrible to my ear… it just doesn’t sound right. I feel like I regress instantly, and my family will talk about me in the past tense, or they will talk about me as a child as Amy, which seems appropriate…”

Decontextualized, these words seem to float in the air without significance; yet while we are in this gallery space listening to fragments of an anonymous individual’s life and at the same time experiencing the resonating tones of music, with undulating intensity and irregularity of rhythm, this narrative assumes a greater depth. The words and the music lend a sense of animation and gravity to the oration so that the participant seems to experience a perfectly orchestrated moment. To the ear the music is there to support the abstract and fragmented narrative and this vignette adds substance to the music, making it a total experience. But it is not the ear that registers this totality. Rather, the mind creates it. The aim of this exhibition is to explore how and why this is so.

The Philosophy
Agency Randomness Chaos is a metaphor for personal interaction with our response to elements, and an examination of how agency is exercised,” the Bucherts write. And agency, or free will, is a central concern for current philosophical thought.

When Freidrich Nietzsche declared God dead in the late nineteenth century he ushered in a wave of nihilism that philosophers have struggled with ever since. Without God as a fixed center of the universe -- a belief adhered to and a vessel of order that stretches back to the beginning of human knowledge -- what is there of life but a random reality? Nietzsche's philosophy drained existence dry of any possible truths, and denying essential truths denies a recorded tradition of a core of humanity that dates to Plato and virtue. These virtues no longer have any credibility to philosophy in a random world where everything is chance and thus there is no possibility of authentic meaning to life in a universe of happenstance that disparages the past, offers no happiness in the present and denies hope for the future.

With the death of God, philosophy in the 20th-century focused on questions of epistemology, concentrating more on pulling apart meaning than building it up. Some good came from the post-structuralism of Michel Foucault and the deconstruction of Jacques Derrida. Their philosophy, which showed the fallacy of binary opposites like black and white, fueled much of the civil rights movement, and inspired the feminist movement. But while it pulled apart false notions it did little to create new edifices for meaning.

Georgia and Rob Buchert’s sound project is an attempt to understand how we can construct meaning. In the face of nihilism, of the randomness we see in an ungrounded chaos, the Buchert's embrace free will to create meaning. Say the Bucherts, “The random tones and sounds have nothing to do with each other or the interviews, etc. but you will likely experience their juxtaposition as meaningful as you hear them broadcast.” The listener absorbs the various sounds, emotionally and cognitively, and creates a meaning from it. We might call it an existential approach, not identifying a capital "T" truth, but embracing our ability to choose meaning out of the randomness of life.

As the observer at Agency Randomness Chaos creates structure from unconnected events and sensory experience, so we do in life. Personal development has everything to do with free will and the free response to meaning not only dictates the outcome of how we engage socially but is a fundamental element in the creation of society. Although elements might in fact have nothing to do with each other, agency allows the individual freedom to make important life choices, creating an existence, not of nihilism, but of meaning. With this freedom of will and agency to choose, an individual may have power over his or her own life and reality. This encourages utilizing exceptional talents and abilities in education, skills for a meaningful career and adherence to spiritual or religious beliefs that are in accord with individual sensibilities. Agency is the freedom to transcend a state of randomness and challenge the blind chaos of nihilism. It is the freedom to change one's name and one's life.

Exhibition Spotlights: Springville
Feast and Fast
Jennifer Barton, Sunny Taylor, Carolyn Guild

A lot can go on at the Springville Museum of Art. Sure, the Soviet era realism and impressionism never seems to find its way into storage, and when the annual Spring Salon and the Religious and Spiritual Art exhibits are hung they stick around for extended runs, but most months, like this month, the museum hangs six or seven shows in galleries on a cycle as short as the moon's. Which means, if you're not careful you might miss something.

One thing not to miss is the current exhibit (in what I used to think of as the main gallery, back when the Museum's entrance was to the north) of works by Jennifer Barton and Sunny Belliston Taylor. Barton and Taylor are both accomplished artists, playing, at different levels, with abstraction. In Barton's works, objects and figures float in nondescript spaces, full of subtle textures and abstract developments. Her work in this exhibit is split between a series featuring various renderings of a young woman, and still lifes in which domestic objects, mostly scissors, play off each other in formal variations. Barton’s figures are never fully developed. Only a small portion ever seems to be concrete or "finished," the rest fading into strokes and smudges. It's not like a traditional figure study, however, where the rest appears "unfinished." Barton's figures were never meant to be fully concrete. As if to drive the point home, some of her most cursory lines sit on top of, rather than beneath, the "finished" work. The works with scissors and cloth and spools of thread bring to mind a domestic setting; but the pieces give way to the background’s surface play as much as to the objects, making one wonder if the tools are being used for practical or playful purposes. Scissors and thread can be used to make collages or sew dolls as much as to hem skirts and stitch curtains. In one work, a bowl of untouched pears floating above a pair of scissors suggests that whether her tools are being used to create clothing or art, the act is as necessary to life as food.

Sunny Taylor (who I always want to call Belliston, if only because her maiden name reflects the dynamism and play of her work so much better than her quotidien married one -- no offense Justin) appears to have taken the three simple strips that appear in Barton's “Elizabeth Series III,” found a way to make them reproduce, and, like a curious biologist with unlimited grant resources, sets about pushing the simple organisms to an endless --and captivating -- series of combinations. The strips twine into nests, bend like straws, and swirl in a vortex. They are one with the ground, sit atop it, or fade into darkness. They can be dappled and stippled, stark or shaded. Sometimes they are even simply thread sewn on the surface. They are always inventive and a pleasure to look at.

Next door, the retrospective of Hilma Mole Payne (covered elsewhere in this edition) shows a classic Utah landscape artist, as good as, if less well-known, than many of her contemporaries. As if to emphasize the advantage of having so many shows in one place, the exhibition of J.T. Harwood paintings upstairs allows us to see Payne in light of her teacher's work. Though Payne's works look better (fuller) in person than in reproduction, they pale against her teacher's (but how many of Harwood's students ever outshone him?). The Harwood exhibit has culled works from the last dozen years of the artist's life. They must have been comfortable years, because as these works attest he was able to spend an ample amount of time in Europe. The oils show a painter in expert control of his medium, from the depiction of an encrusted fountain in Paris to the wonderful attention to light in his coastal scenes. My favorite pieces, though, are the collection of drawings in an adjacent gallery. Executed on dark papers, these pastel, pencil and crayon works are given only hints of light and color, leaving the rest of the space untouched. They are lovely and evocative postcard scenes, charming for their simplicity; for what they say and don't say; for what they leave out, and what they demand you fill in.

Restraint like this gives art a touch of grace many artists never achieve. Carolyn Guild achieves a type of grace in her photographs by purposely choosing to restrain her work to the shades of traditional black and white photography. With some subjects this might not be noteworthy, but since Guild captures the landscapes of the west, her monochromatic act of faith renounces one of her subject's most obvious strengths -- its wonderful palette. Some of her photographs play to the medium's logical strengths: The dripping icicles against a dark background in "Clear Spirit No. 11" or the patterns of bare trunks against white snow in "Bugaboos: Queen of Spades" are wonderful studies of contrast, pattern and form. But when Guild shoots places in southern Utah like Bryce, Canynonlands and Arches, she foregoes the colors that most of her peers use to dazzle. In some respects, though, we see more, not less. Since we aren't giving in to an orgy of color, in "White Rim - Island in the Sky" we can concentrate on the pattern of undulating crests and in "Fractured Shadows" we are more attune to the textures of the rock, sensing the abrasive surface beneath our fingertips. In both cases fasting can be feasting.

Sunny Belliston Taylor at the Springville Museum of Art

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