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May 2012
Utah's Art Magazine: Published by Artists of Utah
Page 4    
Filtered Perception by Brian Christensen at Finch Lane Gallery - Photo by Zoë Rodriguez.
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Brian Christensen . . . from page 1

Christensen’s complex sculpture “Filtered Perception” erupts conceptually in a many-tiered perspective of the contemporary experience that synonymously addresses the limitations of all of humanity.|0| It is a sculpture on a grand and theatrical scale, dominated by a group of four male figures created of an inner core of urethane foam with a urethane resin coating and an exterior of colloidal silica slurry incorporated with silica sand for a form that looks solid, rigid, stone-like. The figures are identical, their frames measured in direct proportion to Christensen’s own. Each stiffly rendered figure wears a suit; each has a frozen face. A tarnished brass shackle on their left foot binds each to a chain.|1| The men are prisoners. They are slaves. To what, is the question Christensen is addressing. Where in Plato’s scheme there would be shadows on the wall, Christensen places a vintage video camera that displays a sequence of arbitrarily chosen segments of the popular visual media. The implications are expansive.

The work functions like a piece of theater complete with its own resolution. The four men are completely homogenous and represent humanity in general, or what Christensen believes is the result of the leveling and distorted impact the popular media has on humanity. Where the humanist Plato would have appreciated the potential and individuality in each unique person, “Filtered Perception” has an implication that this humanist vision has been lost, that because, as Plato signified, we are limited in our sphere of reference, we draw our meaning from artificial sources, like popular visual media, to compensate for truth. As the visual media perpetuates its ideology, we in turn perpetuate it further by allowing it to take the place of truth, to form our thinking, to solve our problems, and define existence for us.

There is a positive conclusion, however. To the side of the quartet stands a white figure, like the rest but for one difference: he wears a purple, Venetian-style mask.|2| He stands at the foot of a giant white stalagmite, while another video camera, connected to the first, films him. In Plato’s allegory, the figures were eventually freed, and as they left the cave they found that their entire construct of existence had been completely false and that there is a pure reality that exists beyond their fragmented conception of shadows. In Christensen’s work this is represented by the arbitrary imagery of the first camera with a measly cord being the only connection to reality, recorded by the second camera. The fifth figure wears a mask since he has seen reality and in fact stands before it, represented by the stalagmite. He has transcended the media, has found truth and defined his unique existence. The sculpture suggest that even in mortality a taste of pure reality can be discovered by living authentically. As people make their own choices, decide their own thoughts and define what existence means to them individually, they are freeing themselves from the shackle by ending the controlling and polluting didacticism of the media. It is a sculpture of caution, mystery, hope, possibility and the kind of humanism that Plato advocated.

Though the figures in “Filtered Perception” are stiff, they are at least accessible. By contrast “Surveillance Beast” would be hard to describe as anything but grotesque.|3| Conceptually it can be understood as a corollary to “Filtered Perception.” It has an elongated, bulky, caterpillar-like shape that twists upwards. From the surface, golf ball-sized eyeballs peer out from every occupyable space on the form.

“Surveillance” inverts the focus of vision in “Filtered Perception” -- where the figures were chained physically and metaphorically to viewing media -- from seeing to being seen. In a world of advanced technological surveillance and data access possibilities, it is a mystery as to what relationship and what access to privacy various institutions and “powers that be” have to the general public. The grotesque sculpture with bulbous and peering eyeballs casts a dark shadow of paranoia and anxiety that is a creeping and pervasive phenomenon of contemporary experience. This social paranoia might lead to other phenomena, such as a loss of trust in the “system,” a loss of hope, a loss of faith, a complete state of disillusionment as paranoia casts doubt upon everything it touches. It is an ugly sculpture with an ugly message, but is important in its meaning. Like “Filtered Perception,” “Surveillance Beast” serves as a conceptual caution and a warning about the dangers of the fallacies, traps and lies that can overpower the happy experience of contemporary existence.

The heavy strain in this exhibit, of works like “Filtered Perception” and “Surveillance Beast,” is lightened by other works like Christensen’s “Insider Joke.” This singular piece, an ode to contemporary aesthetics, is a sculpture that might look crude or haphazard, yet it possesses insight and explains much of the raison d’ętre for Christensen’s own individual and very unconventional aesthetic philosophy, as well as a statement on the condition of contemporary aesthetic norms. Inside a glass box covered in drip marks of red paint sits a pair of worn-out boots. The box sits atop a filing cabinet. Inside one drawer of the filing cabinet is one perfectly rendered sculpture, and in the other, one reduced to fragments.|4| What could this cacophony of symbols possibly allude to?

Departing from a background of High Modernism (the glass box), Christensen now likes to work with a very un-Modern range of material that includes “relational aesthetics not tied to a specific material” (the worn out boots). This is an implication of a free range of material possibilities in an aesthetic philosophy that stresses the importance of the conceptual. In this philosophy, the liberal use of the material encourages a free play of the conceptual context, which is linked solely by the idea. This piece considers the polarity between aesthetic norms, one old and the other new. “Insider Joke” refers to a statement that runs across the top of the filing cabinet: “relational aesthetics are deskilling and reskilling me.”|5| This aesthetic outcry offers a conclusive resolution to Christensen’s work and is a touchstone for the entire show. The philosophy suggests that contemporary artists are better equipped without academic training and didactic art dogma, and are encouraged to allow the conceptual to play the prominent role in their work, married with a limitless range of the material.

Brian Christensen |7| has sincere concerns about the contemporary experience and in this Finch Lane show the limits of mortality are a sure foundation for his conceptualist framework. He develops these ideas in numerous works, that are spontaneous, adroit, intelligent and concerned. After considering the aesthetic relationship of the cryptic and the conceptual as signified in Christensen’s work, this art becomes less intimidating, more accessible, and, in its own way, touched with beauty.

Culture Conversations: Theatre
SLAM: 24 Hour Theatre
Plan B gets creative while the clock is ticking

Twenty-four hours. Five playwrights. Five directors. Fifteen actors. This is the tried and true recipe for Slam, an annual production by Plan-B Theatre Company. In twenty-three hours, five short original plays grow from infancy to full maturity. The twenty-fourth hour is when the audience is invited in to the Jeanne Wagner Theatre to see five world-premier short plays that were all created in a day.

This year marks the ninth-annual Slam but when the idea was initially conceived nobody predicted it would become an integral part of the theatre’s offerings. “When we decided to start doing this in 2004 we didn’t know we would end up doing this more than once. It’s evolved into a key component of our programming with new playwrights,” says Jerry Rapier, Producing Director for Plan-B Theatre Company.

With maturity comes experience. The production has been around for almost a decade and the method and runs like a well-oiled machine. On Friday, May 11 at 8 p.m. the playwrights will meet with Rapier and the design team. They go over lighting options and Rapier goes over a few rules. “We give them parameters that are all very practical parameters but we don’t give them any artistic limitations. They have the freedom to write what they want to write,” he says. It’s also explained there will be no props and actors will be dressed in black. “The plays work better when they’re not trying to work so many elements into a production.”

Each playwright returns home by 9 p.m. and the clock starts ticking. The playwrights turn in for a twelve-hour-long writing session. This year expect to see work written by long-time Slam veterans Matthew Ivan Bennett and Eric Samuelsen, who have each been a part of the production for eight of its nine years. Julie Jensen and Jenifer Nii have written for four Slam productions and Elaine Jarvick is making her Slam debut.

At 9 a.m. the playwrights return to the theatre with a script in hand. “The most common conversation that happens with the playwrights when they all get back together is a comparison of how many hours they’ve slept,” Rapier says.

A team hustles to make copies of the fresh scripts. “While they’re doing that I tell the playwrights who is directing their plays and which actors are in their play. They form this instant family,” Rapier says. Directors and actors are randomly assigned. The playwrights have a few moments to commiserate with their new kinsfolk but by 9:45 the playwrights are “kicked out” and actors go to work memorizing lines while the directors figure out how to put the show together.

Rehearsals run from 9:45 a.m. until 7:45 p.m. There are slumps and moments of anxiety during the process, but Rapier explains, “The truth is everyone wants the evening to be a success. It’s a really supportive environment all the way throughout the day.”

Eight o’clock marks the start of the 24th hour and the audience arrives. When the curtain rises the theatre is filled with anticipation. Rapier observes there is a unique quality to Slam because the viewers are rooting for the actors to do well and it creates a dynamic where the actors and the audience feel they are in it together. “It is the ultimate experience in trust and adrenaline and instinct. And the audience is very aware of all of it. Very rarely is there so much collective energy from the audience to the stage,” Rapier says.

By the end of the night, Slam attendees may have glimpsed a piece of work that will become a full production. Amerika by Aiden Ross, Miasma by Eric Samuelsen, and Mesa Verde by Ivan Bennett are all plays produced by Plan-B Theatre Company that began at Slam. “Our focus is developing new plays by Utah playwrights," says Rapier. "This is a great way for people to see how strong and talented our talent pool is here. From writers to directors to actors.”

Slam - Photo courtesy of Plan B
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