Artist Profile: Salt Lake City
The life in art of John O'Connell
John O’Connell’s new work fascinates on several levels: they are abstracted 3-D compositions with spare painted portions that beg for lots of time to absorb. Mark-making and writing are there but mostly obscured beyond recognition; inexplicable cuts are evident in the surfaces of the structures, some modular sections are almost sled-like in construction, others squared off. “It started maybe a year, year and a half ago,” says the artist. “All these new ideas, all the possibilities, all the new strategies that can be folded into this work: That’s what it’s all about for me – making things that I haven’t seen yet.”
The majority of this new work was in a recent solo show at NAU Art Museum in Flagstaff, A Subjective Archaeology, including massive pieces as big as 15 feet long. A selection of more modestly-sized work is featured this month in Salt Lake City at A Gallery’s exhibit of the artist, Fabricated, where the abstract visual vocabulary the University of Utah professor has been refining for years crashes into the basic construction skills learned in the postindustrial New England of his youth. The results are impressive, a high-water mark for a prolific artist whose journey, sometimes angry, frequently spiritual, has led him to see painting not as visual representation but a form of existential re-presentation.
Music Profile: Provo
Christian Asplund creates a home for experimental music in Provo
“When I was a student, the feeling was composers were super nerdy, academic, and kind of out of it,” says Christian Asplund. “Composers were the pocket protector guys.” Asplund didn’t see himself in that vein, but he knew he wanted to write and perform music since grade school. Growing up in Kingston, Ontario, Asplund learned to play piano from his mother who had him reading notes before he could read words, and tunes have been floating around his head since before he was a teen.
He recalls a particular moment at 10 years old when he knew writing music would be his calling in life: “I was walking home from school and I noticed I had all these tunes in my mind. They were all over the place, and I realized I always had melodies in my head — and they weren’t pieces I had heard before like when you usually get a song in your head.” He went home and asked his parents if they had the same experience, but they couldn’t relate. It was then that Asplund knew he was different. He wrote down the pieces on manuscript paper. “I wasn’t very good at it, but I knew what music looked like. The score for my first piece was ludicrously detailed with every dynamic.” Asplund also improvised with the music he learned, changing things around and experimenting. When his mother wasn’t looking he’d pluck the piano strings to create different sounds. Even early on, avant garde and experimental music piqued his interest.
Asplund currently teaches composition, orchestration, theory, and the group for electronic music (GEM) at Brigham Young University. He attended BYU as an undergrad himself, but it wasn’t until he was working on his doctorate at the University of Washington in Seattle that he discovered what a new music scene could be for composers like him. It was the end of the grunge era, which was big in Seattle. The area had an interesting population of hybrid musicians — composers and performers with classical training but connections to jazz and rock. He made a surprising discovery: audiences accustomed to attending classical music concerts had a difficult time with new music, but those who listened to grunge and rock music were OK with it. They didn’t have the same hangups with dissonant sounds. So when he took his music to a different venue — like a record store — he got a larger audience. Seattle was a great place for him to experiment and perform music, but every city has its scene — even Provo, Utah.
Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
The Future isn't Fixed
UMOCA exhibit curated by Susan Caraballo examines the bleak future that isn't what it used to be
“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times . . .” So Charles Dickens celebrated an era that has resonated far too often with human history, but perhaps never more so than it does with the Americas today. In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens captured a revolutionary era at the moment idealism was turning to terror, allowing a charismatic egotist named Napoleon to hijack the hopes of nations and turn promise into catastrophe. Closer to home, influential Americans with gigantic egos have frequently touched the lives of their fellow citizens in similarly powerful ways. As 2016 struggled to give birth to 2017. Fidel Castro, who lifted his island nation out of feudalism and colonial exploitation and into the 21st century, but in the process drove many of its most promising, creative citizens into exile, died even as citizens in countries around the world seemed determined to turn back the historical process of worldwide unification and human rights. While this process played out up and down North and South America, Cuba and the United States have become like hood ornaments on the Ubercar of destiny—a convenance now seen clearly not to be taking any of us where we once thought we were going.
Yet there’s another way that these times, while threatening to become among the worst in politics, economics, and human rights, are simultaneously some of the best. Great difficulties have always brought out human creativity, and a characteristic of this moment is the surfeit of powerful art that can be found almost anyplace in the world today. Artworks that are technically accomplished, aesthetically sophisticated, eloquent, and emotionally plangent can be seen in every corner of the globe. Yet because of their sheer numbers and distribution, it’s a challenge to encounter more than a fraction of them. Thus the rise of a new kind of connoisseur, who replaces the collector, and journeys—not for herself, but on behalf of the audience—in search of significant art wherever it may be found, and makes it available to a willing public. To Salt Lake City, coincidental with big changes here and abroad, the Cuban-American curator Susan Caraballo has brought work by seven international artists: videos and installations she found in Oakland, Miami, Guadalajara, Panama City, São Paulo, and Buenos Aires. They range from calm and contemplative to disturbing, and one that qualifies as harrowing. Every one is rooted in humanitarian concern for the present environmental and minority rights predicament, and each fulfills Caraballo’s intention that it "examines violence and man-made atrocities in general" (though "without explicit and violent scenes") "and reflects how the future before us looks bleak and far from what we envisioned the 21st century to be."