Edgar Arceneaux’s current exhibition at Susan Vielmetter Projects has a ravenousness that is at times as frustrating as it is intoxicating. It’s hungry to engage immense ideas—metaphysics, phenomenology, cosmology—and, as always, such ideas tend to be elusive. Arceneaux knows this and whenever he stops trying to depict the abyss and simply interacts with it, his work has the satiating quality of an ocean swim. You feel you’re a part of infinity instead of a powerless observer.
In the main gallery, three wall-length paintings hang like curtains, alluding to vastness but shrouding it at the same time. The graphite, enamel, gesso, charcoal and dirt that Arceneaux has used and the way he’s left the edges of the paper jagged give the work Rauschenberg-like grittiness, yet the images are also ultra flat, almost photographic. They exude a depthless tortured soul quality that seems inaccessible. Thankfully, these heavy paper curtains are not the end of the story; they’re the teaser, the façade for Arceneaux’s installations.
“Circle Disk Rotation,” installed behind a temporary wall built just for this show, has a seductively low tech frugality. A video of a cardboard disk rotating shines onto an actual cardboard disk hanging in the middle of the space. A few strategically placed fans blow just enough to keep the disk in slow motion. It’s a simple conceit, but it works wonders. Moving through the diffuse pinks, greens and blues that the video creates, your body interrupts and deflects the light, participating in this cycle of representations and projections.
In another project room, Arceneaux has set up a table covered in a white cloth. Along the back wall of the room, twelve drawings stand rolled up and upright in two metal racks—a thirteenth, the lead drawing, stands alone between the racks. Viewers may don gloves and pull the drawings out one by one, spreading them across the table. The process is addictive. Each drawing is dually named after an astrological sign and a disciple—the freestanding drawing is Christ—suggesting a fugitive, syncretistic recreation of the last supper. You feel like an archaeologist of sorts, like someone who can actually play a role in unraveling the abysmal space of ancient history and pulling strands into the present.
It’s the best sort of interactive art, the kind that invites you to tangibly interact with the world’s bigness.
(Images from top to bottom: "Correlations and Isomorphisms", Installation view; "Eyes floating in the abyss", 2008,Graphite, dirt, gesso, charcoal and enamel on paper, 100" x 140"; "Giant fractured glass tripod", 2008, Enamel, oil paint, and lead on glass, wood frame, steel tripod, Overall dimensions: 92" tall, 58" wide and 4' deep; Glass: 62" x 58", all images courtesy Susanne Vielmetter Projects)