Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
From Raw Nerve to Live Wire
Andrew Rice at Saltgrass Printmakers
On the radio recently, another self-proclaimed expert predicted confidently that from this day forward, the printing of maps would cease. Instead, from now on we will all find our way using the GPS-linked apps on our cell phones. An alternative future he unconsciously conjured, though, was of society after its technology has collapsed, when those GPS satellites have gone the way of moon landings, or cell phones have succumbed to an intractable virus, and mankind is left helpless among the streets, freeways, airports, and launch pads that were its proudest accomplishments, wandering like someone who has lost his glasses and stumbles from here to nowhere, unable to find anything. Had he thought before he spoke, he might have conjured the world envisioned by Andrew Rice.
One of the most resonant images of our time is the empty suit. An ironic expression of many things, not least the feeling we share that our roles may become more real than our selves, the suit can be formal or informal, uniform or unique. But Andrew Rice, one of Salt Lake’s master printers, has settled on a suit that none of us wears, yet which perfectly captures many of the irreconcilable paradoxes of modern life. Given the recent, sudden ubiquity of hazmat-style garb worn by the doctors and nurses struggling to stop Ebola from becoming a global pandemic, Rice could be excused for ripping his imagery from the headlines. But the fact is it has been a couple of years since his astronaut figure, in a space suit with the paradoxical power to render the wearer at once anonymous, yet unmistakably human, moved from a peripheral ornament in his prints and drawings to become the central image in his ever more atmospheric, more powerful work. One can only hope that the prescience he showed then is not being repeated in his latest work, currently on display throughout the front room and working spaces of Saltgrass Printmakers. In these collagraphs and large drawings, in which the artist employs his oil stick like a chisel, the astronaut figure has disappeared, leaving us to contemplate the now-empty urban landscape through which he moved.
It’s no criticism of Andrew Rice to point out that his concerns are commonplaces among his contemporaries. From the Hunger Games movies and a thousand post-apocalyptic novels to the report of the National Geologic Survey, released as this was being written, that Utah now leads the nation in water consumption, the threat of extinction is on the mind of every person who is paying attention. What Rice does, though, is crunch together seemingly opposite models of thought and behavior. He takes the vaunted human urge to explore, to press on into the unknown, one of our favorite things about ourselves, and turns it around, showing how a device meant to allow us to carry our home environment into alien places increasingly measures the shrinking of that environment. But what his imagery says about our environmental crisis is the narrow view when compared to what it says about how we put ourselves in this predicament in the first place. First, these images invoke our increasing isolation from each other; the ability to shut out unwelcome intrusions of any sort that feed our sense of entitlement to be selfish. What are our individual cars, gated communities, McMansions equipped with closed-circuit entertainments, and presorted news programming, guaranteed to contain nothing we disagree with, but isolating membranes allowing us to focus on the lifestyles of the rich and ‘famous’ as personal goals? Meanwhile, the celebrity politicians who promise to deliver what we want turn away instead and join the wealthy class of oligarchs who actually run our world for their own interests, leaving us with only our increasingly dilapidated life-support suits.
But Rice doesn’t stop there. Or it might be more accurate to say he doesn’t start there. The astronaut blundering down the labyrinthine corridors of a poisonous city harks back to Shakespeare, even to the Greeks. The space suit which replaces our skins in the hostile environment of space stands in for the individuality that makes our existential predicament both possible and yet tragic. We can touch each other, even join each other briefly, but the very thing that makes individual life possible renders us permanently alone. In one image from a previous body of work, the astronaut plucks a daisy and attempts to blow the tiny parachutes into the air. Of course the helmet that keeps him alive prevents it. So it is that everything breathing permits us is lost, including a lover’s whisper and a citizen’s speech. In one of the most disturbing images, a hunter in a spacesuit drags a deer carcass through the corridor, an image that foretells how far more than the ability to find an address by GPS is at stake in an increasingly alien, technological world that omits human senses and abilities.
Showing at Saltgrass allows Rice to take commercial as well as artistic risks, while allowing the public a rare opportunity to enter the studio and see the art in the place where it takes physical form. If asked, Rice, a sophisticated print teacher who likes to show his matrices alongside the prints he pulls from them, can be persuaded to demonstrate the variety of printmaking techniques that go into his richly complex collatypes. One of the more popular local artists, in spite of (or because of) his dour subjects and treatments, Rice shows how a raw nerve can turn an artist into a live wire. His drawings or paintings—he admits he doesn’t know which to call them, and it doesn’t seem particularly to matter—profit from close viewing of their heavy impastos of dark oil. That said, the big change here is the disappearance of the figure. He calls these recent prints “more abstract,” and it’s true, but only in a way. Though deprived of their dramatic actors, these images permit the eye to conjure space within them, space wherein they recall the confining walls, the corner where a shadow was once cast, and the menacing environments formerly encountered by the astronauts. What’s different is how removing the figures allows him to concentrate on the surfaces that once surrounded them. The collatype technique—as in collage, the name implies gluing together—lets the artist layer found materials into suggestive, even familiar textures that become de-familiarized when printed using intaglio and relief inking simultaneously. De-familiarizing renders these textures newly aestheticized, so that with exposure what initially generated negative reactions brings feelings of pleasure instead. With this greatly more generalized agenda, the works recall the wonderful bas-reliefs of Claire Wilson, fragments drawn from architectural constructions, that she showed at the City Library a year ago. The difference between what we call representation and what we call abstraction is way overdrawn, more important to judges than sinners, and works like these, that make us fall back in love with the abstract nature of reality—or should that be the abstract reality of nature?—cannot be seen too often.
Another Language Performing Arts explores Utah's Ghost Towns
Another Language Performing Arts Company’s latest project Ghost Town is currently in development but is already generating excitement in artists across a number of disciplines. Ghost Town is a crowd-sourced, online event involving artistic work inspired by Utah ghost towns and will be unveiled in 2015 as the company's signature project marking their 30th anniversary.
Founded in Salt Lake City in 1985 by Elizabeth and Jimmy Miklavcic, Another Language is known for combining art forms in innovative ways and broadening access to community arts education with the aid of current communications technology.
“For our 30th anniversary we wanted to celebrate by creating an opportunity for western artists to participate in a Utah-themed project,” says Jimmy. “We already have photographers, visual artists, dancers, writers, sound designers and musicians involved. They are creating very interesting content and we are excited to see what people come up with.”
The creation of original content inspired by a Utah ghost town is wide open to the artist’s interpretation. Possibilities include photographs, movies, animations, visual art, music, soundscapes, poetry, text compositions and multimedia. Correlations between historical ghost towns and modern conceptual ghost towns are encouraged. What is your personal ghost town? What do you see, think, and feel when experiencing a place that was once thriving? These are the type of questions they want artists to ask.
“I created content for the Ghost Town project about the south shore of the Great Salt Lake, where Jimmy and I went into the Substation Shell and the Salt Lake Garfield and Western Railroad Car 502 to shoot video and stills for the TorinOver10 festival in Torino, Italy," says Elizabeth Miklavcic.
The Miklavcics certainly aren't the only ones who have wandered around the remnants near Saltair, and her image of the railroad car will strike a chord with many. That the railroad car was torn down last year gives the image a special poignancy, imbuing it with the same sense of nostalgia and mystery we feel in ghost towns.
"I used the stills to explain our own personal ghost town of being unexpectedly laid off from our jobs,” Elizabeth says. “I think all of us have personal metaphorical ghost towns in our lives, this makes the exploration of ghost towns intriguing. I imagine the mystery of the story, and what these places were like in their heyday.”
Sound engineer and industrial designer Kevin Gray will be building binaural headphones and microphones, which can record an astonishing realistic three-dimensional stereo sound field around their location. He will record the environmental sounds of Standardville in Carbon County in the early morning and then in the evening, giving the listener the opportunity to compare the subtle differences in the soundscapes.
Phillip Bimstein and Red Rock Rondo are contributing their “Back & Forth (A Ghost Story)” about the sighting of two ghosts in Grafton nearly 90 years ago. Their music video is performed in the Grafton cemetery.
Lily Havey, (the only exception to the focus on Utah ghost towns, because of her personal experience), is creating paintings inspired by her internship as a Japanese American at the Amache Relocation Camp in Granada, Colorado. She also stayed as a young girl at Topaz in Delta, Utah, but another artist had already reserved that site.
There are over 150 ghost towns in Utah and participating artists are welcome to add others that may not be listed on Another Language's site. “We hope that this project will take on a life of it’s own and involve many artists from many different backgrounds. Ironically this project is a celebration of life, by acknowledging life’s transience. The only reality we have is the present and it is important for all of us is to live fully in the present,” says Jimmy Miklavcic.
The deadline for content is July 2015, but web pages are built as soon as content becomes available. Reservations and artistic works are presently being accepted. Registration is required, because once a ghost town is selected by an artist it is no longer available. In that way as much of the state can be covered as possible. Sites can be reserved at: anotherlanguage.org. The program will be “unveiled” in August 2015, though viewers can presently see each site as it becomes available. The project will be on permanent exhibit at www.anotherlanguage.org.
For more information on Another Language Performing Arts Company’s 30th anniversary celebration go to: