Searchin': Los Angeles and the Quest for the Sublime
Searchin' is an exhibition that considers contemporary, critical engagements with the theoretical sublime. Inspired by 70s Californian conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader's project, In Search of the Miraculous, the contemporary artists whose work makes up this exhibition re-examine his quest for the sublime and through it, launch their own journeys into the wilderness.
Emmanuel Kant's definition of and writings on the sublime in his Critique of Pure Reason (1790), created a methodology for humanknowledge of the limits of our imagination. While never equated with nature, the unfathomable expanse of the ocean or seemingly unconquerable mountain peaks became signifiers, even metaphors for the un-representable sublime.
In the nineteenth century, appreciation for nature and the wilderness was caused in part by the industrial revolution and westward expansion's threats to its very existence. As the mechanical revolution gained steam, the power of man defined human existence, we continually sought the attainment of something greater that could, by definition not be constructed, controlled, or even defined.
Ader was deeply aware of the relationship that we have to romantic ideas like the sublime. His series of photographs, In Search of the Miraculous (One Night in Los Angeles) (1973) records his pedestrian nocturnal journey through the city as he traversed from Hollywood to the Pacific. The images of Ader, alone in a city of millions, his shadowy figure juxtaposed against the vast urban lights, and,perhaps most eloquently, the artist's fatal disappearance at sea in 1975, simultaneously maintain a persistence of these seemingly timeless concepts with a postmodern criticality of their existence.
The artists of Searchin' continue Bas Jan Ader's quest for the sublime. By partaking on his romantic journey in the context of 70s Los Angeles, Ader permitted contemporary artists to engage in, as opposed to automatically dismiss, historically modernist notions. They look for the meaning inherent in their own existence, in the city in which they live, and the vastness of the unknown that defines it and them. Some follow Ader's footsteps, or re-trace his paths, not in an illusionary attempt to succeed where he failed but as a process, a re-visitation of a myth of which the original artist is now a part. They enact Ader's quest through their own searches, deconstructing his process and discovering the truths still inherent in his search for the miraculous. Others discover new sites within the Los Angeles that beckon something greater, moments that simultaneously capture the city and transcend it. Alternative signifiers of the sublime are broached, its foreboding, danger and at times tragedy are at brought to the fore, even as the everyday is considered as an equally likely subject for such a dialogue. The artists of Searchin' look for the meaning inherent in their own existence, in the city in which they live and the vastness of the unknown that defines it and them. They stand on a cliff at the edge of a wilderness and consider whether or not to leap.
Mary Coyne is an emerging curator from the Los Angeles area. She is interested in the intersections between contemporary art, theory and performance. Her curatorial goals are to create thoughtful juxtapositions in the ambition ofsparking a meaningful artistic dialogue. Mary holds a Bachelor's degree in Art History with a minor in Italian from the University of Southern California. She is finishing her Master's program in Art History with an emphasis in Museum and Curatorial Studies at California State University, Long Beach.