Go to 15 Bytes Home
go to page 5
Subscribe to 15 Bytes For Free
Facebook page PAGE 6 PAGE 7

Twitter page
November 2012
Utah's Art Magazine: Published by Artists of Utah
Page 4    
Works by Trevor Southey, left, and Trishelle Jeffrey, right, at UMOCA's Battgleground States.
0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12

Battleground States . . . from page 1

Of course the content of art has always been part of the experience, and most of us are quite used to searching for meaning. Trevor Southey, perhaps the best-loved ‘Utah’ artist today, cannot be fully appreciated without regard to the piercing appeal his paintings make, that we feel the connection between beauty and the places he finds it. His popularity is due in no small part to his place in a tradition scarcely broken since the Renaissance, in which sensitive renderings of families, farmers, familiar animals, and human flesh are delicately balanced between confectionary-surfaced illusions and iron-cored, undeniable reality. But no Renaissance painter ever made sexuality the theme of a painting. In fact, none painted so autobiographically. But just as literature has embraced the first person voice, so much Contemporary art relies on the authority of memoir. Thus Trishelle Jeffery’s three auto-biographical comix hang confidently among Southey’s five Slavic, full-frontal male nude portraits.|0| Despite their differences in size and medium, in them both artists reveal intimate interior qualities at odds with mainstream conventions. A young woman’s confusion and an old man’s self-acceptance assert themselves as equally valid responses to life.

A very different, no less valid response to life appears in Bas Jan Ader’s video, “I’m Too Sad to Tell You,” in which an unidentified man weeps inconsolably, without explanation.|1| Robert Hughes blamed the loss of modern art’s power on other media that subvert it, and indeed, the sight of unsustainable weeping is so common on television that the shock is lost. But Ader’s withholding his subject’s reason for crying makes it impossible to pigeonhole, to render remote or unthreatening to us, and so it penetrates our defenses. Fortunately, the words on the wall have nothing to add that might intercede and diminish this experience, though the nagging fear lingers that had Ader been less discreet, the alienating balm of a story would have eventually attached itself to, and essentially undermined, his video. This possibility gives a glimpse into what may well be Contemporary Art’s Achilles’ Heel.

Certainly there are other works that can be appreciated without yielding to the curators’ need to explain. Brooklyn-based Nicole Eisenman’s sailor casts a gimlet eye on the celebration of ‘Fleet Week,’ known in some ports-of-call as “when the Navy comes upstream to spawn.”|2| Matt Lipps’ re-photographed collages of women and men achieve a genuine sculptural quality, while reaching across time to distill purported feminine and masculine qualities.|3| Dean Sameshima’s giant dot-to-dot image may be lost on those too young to have practiced this graphic version of paint-by-numbers, but reinvigorates the old saw that the most powerful sex organ lies between the ears.|4| The most moving static image is David Wojnarowicz’s elegiac “When I Put My Hands On Your Body,” an eerie photo of excavated graves overlaid with text, the two media working together to recall how mortality underlies the urgency of sex.|5| All these works are juxtaposed against cards that either overdetermine their meanings or else add nothing. The objects speak clearly for themselves, in a language that cannot be translated into words.

Yet many works depend on the texts not just to make them accessible, but to spell out otherwise inchoate meanings. Pushing this envelope are such merely clever works as Bertrand Planes “Life Clock,” which we learn from the card makes one complete rotation in an 84-year lifetime,|6| and Guido van der Werve’s video, from what we are told is the North Pole, where he supposedly rotates precisely opposite the earth’s rotation, in sum (he thinks) remaining motionless.|7| This kind of thing must look good on a grant proposal, but the clock could as well be broken, ‘the Pole’ anywhere. For anyone whose intelligence is not sufficiently insulted, a short walk leads to two empty picture frames, the ‘artifact’ of David Levine’s ‘invisible performance.’ The story of the Emperor’s New Clothes has waited a long time for a new chapter, and here it is: dress the naked emperor so that only the cognoscenti can tell which one he is.

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s neon cross wants to symbolize a future human state, so it evokes nothing in the naive viewer’s conscious or unconscious memory.|8| Similar wishful works include Jonathan Horowitz‘s white-on-white critique of the ubiquitous ribbon worn by activists of every stripe: add all the colors together and it fades into the background. Along with Terence Koh’s pink triangle and Felix Gonzalez Torres’s silver rings |9| symbolizing coupling, these symbols have the relation to their intended topics that book jackets have to what’s inside them.On the other hand, the works that fully explore those topics are the least accessible in a gallery setting. Carlos Motta’s “We Who Feel Differently” constitutes a portal to “an ongoing online archive of symposia and interviews.”|10| Takashi Murakami’s evocation of Japanese popular arts and Matthew Barney’s scrotum-centered mythologizing are equally impossible to fully appreciate on the basis of what are essentially trailers for larger projects.

And this may be the ultimate shortcoming of this message-based approach to art. Too many of the works here overflow their space on the wall, not in the imagination of the viewer but outside the gallery, in the life of the artist. The films of Jack Smith, represented here by stills,|11| and Tobias Bernstrup’s ‘practice,’ glimpsed in a sculpture of an ‘intersexual pop star,’|12| offer glimpses of a life’s work not present. It’s as if the exhibit has become just another marketing phenomenon in late-stage Capitalism. What we get for our money, time, or effort is just the first installment, offered at a bargain price in the hope that we will choose to purchase the entire set.

An artist I encountered in the gallery told me candidly what she thought of the works. She added that, if talking to her former art-school buddies, she would have spoken differently than she did to me. Specifically, she would have given them what she knows to be the ‘right answers.’ And I realized that, so far as that curator is concerned, the right answer may be the only answer. Failure to respond to the figurehead on the wall indicates inadequate preparation, a lack of familiarity with things not present, but to which it points.

Battleground States contributes to a richer understanding of the range of gender possibilities. That said, it’s unlikely to change anyone’s mind. I returned to Trishelle Jeffery’s enchanting ‘I Just Want to Know What to Expect,’ and to Trevor Southey’s lovingly observed portraits. Working on very different aesthetic levels, each recalls a universal experience from life: the one of quotidian confusion, the other of how it feels to cherish another human being. I wonder if it’s too much to hope that art will free itself from trying to do something a Facebook post does better, and instead do the thing it does best: shiver us to the soles of our lonely feet, and reacquaint us, however briefly, with our deeper selves.

Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
Display and Displacement
Emre Hüner at the UMFA's salt 6

Housed in a small room in the Modern and Contemporary gallery of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, salt 6: Emre Hüner plays an unlikely interlocutor to the immense retrospective, Nancy Holt: Sightlines, installed just one floor beneath it. If one of the central threads of Sightlines is to examine Holt’s works as a collection of framed perspectives, each responding to and visually delimiting their environment, salt 6: Emre Hüner offers a complementary (and contrasting) study of framing and perception with another set of tools altogether.

The final show organized by Jill Dawsey for the UMFA, salt 6: Emre Hüner is the latest installment of the museum’s ongoing semi-annual contemporary exhibition series. Born in Istanbul and now based in Berlin, Hüner works in a range of media including film, sculpture, installation, and drawing. Hüner has exhibited widely – in recent years his work has been shown in Manifesta 9 (2012); Paradise Lost at Istanbul Modern (2011); and Nobody’s Property: Art, Land, Space at the Princeton University Art Museum (2010), to name a few. The work shown in salt 6 stems from Hüner’s residency at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam, where he worked in the ceramics studio.

salt 6 offers a sampling of the many media in which Hüner works. The exhibition includes five ink drawings from the series Shrine of the Post Hypnotic as well as two new video installations titled "Aeolian Processes #1 and #2," which feature a number of small sculptural objects of Hüner’s making. The videos are projected onto two free-standing wood and Plexiglas structures that simultaneously serve as projection screens, gallery partitions and sculptural entities in their own right.

Recycling many of the same forms from Hüner's A Little Larger than the Entire Universe, his installation for Manifesta 9, the two video installations debuted in this exhibition offer a glimpse of that same universe -– but this time at a further remove, meticulously staged and heavily mediated. The contents of this universe -– an unnamable variety of found objects, alternately organic and machinic sculptural forms, and brightly colored propping devices –- are choreographed for display and filmed in 16 mm (transferred to DVD for the exhibition). Each of the "Aeolian Processes" offers an assembly of objects treated to different modes of presentation: #1, a sequence of still shots, each a filmic still life; and #2, its dynamic counterpart, a succession of sculptural objects rotating relentlessly on a potter’s wheel, the camera continuously shifting distance and focus. Standing at the fulcrum of these two screens, positioned adjacent to one another, the viewer is able to compare these methods concurrently, to evaluate the effects of each mode of display.

In the exhibition’s corresponding essay, Dawsey characterizes Hüner’s work as an “allusive universe” -- his work pulls from an ever-expanding source bank of references, rooted in diverse fields of knowledge that reach indiscriminately to various moments in art historical, literary, and scientific domains. Hüner constructs topographies of disparate, and often incongruous, components staged in tense relationship to one another. Hüner’s works in salt 6 are fraught with suggestive gestures that are not only allusive, but also elusive. Never offering a complete citation, Hüner’s references are instead oblique and incomplete hints at another source, always pointing elsewhere but never exactly anywhere.

The effect of these indirect references is a certain sense of alienation. Assembled together under some unidentifiable category, the objects in Hüner’s scenes are in exile, dislocated apparently for purposes of display. An interrogation of practices of presentation (and their consequences) underwrites the exhibition in its entirety. Here the structures of mediation are not silent or supplementary, but rather vocal collaborators that bear weight on the work itself. We cannot ignore the constant flicker and flash of the film, nor the irregular and obtrusive constructions that house the screens. The framing devices are conspicuous and leave no work exempt -- the series of drawings, mounted in a neat row on the wall in discrete white frames, are implicated as well by proximity. We become acutely aware of the layers of arbitration that delineate each of the works and the show itself.

The climatologic process that "Aeolian Processes" makes reference to in its title -- the erosive power of wind in shaping the landscape -- is echoed in the transformative force of display. The geologic landscape is malleable to the covert pursuits of wind, just as Hüner’s scenes are subject to the impact of their displacement and re-presentation. Hüner’s recursive technique of bearing new work from the seeds of the old allows us to trace the same forms through many of his works. As they resurface, the forms are largely unchanged; it is instead the variable framing methods that shift our perception and generate new meanings. The story changes every time it is told.

Emre Hüner, Aeolian Processes #1, 2012, film still, Courtesy the artist and Rodeo, Istanbul

Become an Underwriter


Go To Salt Lake Art CenterborderBook ArtsdividerZion Park
dividerUtah Museum of Fine ArtsdividerRepertory Dance Theatre
Sugar Space
Become an Underwriter