For a show curated by three people, Andrew Blackley, Stephanie Burke and Steve Ruiz, this exhibition surprisingly fits together quite well. “Registers” is hosted at LVL3 Gallery and is the fourth in a series of quarterly exhibitions organized by Twelve Galleries Project. Twelve Galleries is an essentially anonymous endeavor only ever referred to as the “Twelve Galleries Project.” The project began with a series of exhibitions, one each month, for a year, installed in a new impermanent space, hence the name. Twelve Galleries current approach is that exhibitions will last roughly a quarter of the year, for the next three years, and a pre-existing Chicago gallery is selected to host an exhibition featuring artists selected by three curators. If you think this is all a bit complicated, you’re right, additionally it is strange that no one is taking credit for running the project, as if roving collaborative curatorial practices were self-perpetuating, which isn’t far from the truth.
As you enter the exhibition, you immediately are over taken by Anna Kunz’s Thisbe + Pyramus (2010, seen above), a neon eye-smashing mural. From floor to ceiling, on two adjacent walls, is a rough geometric abstraction. The ground appears to be a light sky blue on which are painted bright reds, oranges and yellows, all clashing and vibrating. It is difficult to see what the substrate is, or where in space the painting actually exists. Is it a large painting hung on a wall? No, it’s painted on the wall—it is the wall. But the abutting wall you can see through. It’s just a scrim. Are these just two hanging scrims in an open space, pretending to be solid walls? It’s interesting how once you adjust, and in a sense re-learn how to see, the piece continues to grab you. You wander around the exhibition, glance back at, and again your spatial depth perception has to be re-set.
As it happens, Thisbe + Pyramus is one solid real wall and one theater scrim abutted to it forming a false corner. The mirrored geometric pattern was created when Kunz placed the scrim up against the real wall and painted it. Since it is a gossamer, fibrous material, the paint went right through it and onto the wall, creating a sort of monoprint and in effect getting two paintings out of one.
The organizing principle of the show is proportion and, according to the exhibition statement, the three curators have ostensibly created an exhibition that “demonstrates the framework’s binary qualities as part of the art making and viewing experience.” But that only makes sense if things are in exact proportion to one another, a 1:1 ratio, or are slightly disproportionate. I take the exhibition’s title, “Registers”, to somehow reference register marks used in printing and printmaking. When stuff doesn’t quite line up, it’s “off register.” This seems to make sense, at least with the work of Kunz and Oliver Laric, where things line up, but not quite. The active zones of these works are the spaces in between, where two halves line up.
Laric’s 2008 double channel video, titled [up and down arrows], presents a series of full emersion baptisms pulled from the internet split between two projections. On the left projection the baptist grabs the baptizee, tilts them backward and pushes them underwater. On the right is a frozen image from the same scene, halted at the moment of emersion. When the figures on the left side projection reach the point where the baptized is completely dunked, the scene freezes. The action moves to the right projection and the baptist brings the baptized up from the water, reborn, as it were. This scene plays out over and over in all manner of setting: swimming pools, lakes, baths and specially constructed baptisteries. The structure and rhythm of passing the action off from one projection to the other echoes the mannered gesture of the baptism ritual.
These two projections are pairs, but not identical. Taken from the same clip, they depict the same scene and were digitally copied from the file pulled off of the internet. But there is only a fraction of a second, perhaps a single frame, where they fit together. It’s almost crucial to know, but impossible to ascertain, if indeed there is any overlap at all. It seems that the moment of transference is key. If they share even a single frame they become complete; a thread running through a diptych-like video. If they do not, then they appear only linked, a clip match up on the performed, on itself, but irreconcilably separated. The choice of where in the action the transfer occurs is also a pointed decision: it is at the lowest point of the submersion. Any number of allegorical insights are possible, along with the fact that on the left is the pre-christened initiate, on the right is the newest member of God’s kingdom.
The other predominant aspect of the piece is how the sensation of drowning, of smothering–suffocation, is prolonged indefinitely. There is always someone holding someone else underwater. We are visibly presented with three tenses: the present, which is sustained through continuous movement, the future, the submerged sinner waiting to be brought up from the depths in the right hand projection, and The Past (once the action–the present–transfers to the right side, on the left lingers that moment of watery asphyxiation.
“Registers” is a strong grouping of work, but other pieces fail to operate with such gravitas as Kunz’s and Laric’s. Susan Giles’ Buildings & Gestures (2009) dominates the other half of the space that isn’t overcome by Kunz’s piece. Giles’ piece is a massive geometric object made of wood and cardboard that resembles a space ship. Upon narrowly squeezing past it, it turns out to be a booth playing a video made up of snippets of people vaguely describing architectural settings. The interior of the construction is fascinating, especially in comparison to the outside shell. But the video is so compelling that it makes everything else feel secondary. As an attempt to integrate art and architecture, or content and form it’s admirable, but ultimately a misfire.
-Erik Wenzel, Senior ArtSlant Staff Writer
(All images courtesy of LVL3 and used by permission.)