Half a self, a cave-dweller
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Half a self,
Yve Laris Cohen
Curated by David Everitt Howe
November 6 - November 14, 2010
Opening Reception: Saturday, November 6, 7 - 10pm
Performance Schedule: Saturday, November 6, 7:00-late (see below)
Viewing Hours: Friday-Sunday, 12 - 6pm, and by appt.
The Former Convent at St. Cecilia’s Parish
21 Monitor St., Greenpoint, New York, 11222
Bringing together interdisciplinary work by thirteen emerging and established artists and critics, Half a self, a cave-dweller is, at its core, about the ways in which iconography both constructs and subjugates identity—when the icon becomes, in a sense, autonomous. With video, painting, performance, photography, and installation, this group exhibition presents a sparse installation of work that reacts against an overwhelming amount of representation—from art production to advertising, popular culture to political culture—characteristic of post-modernity. Where does one locate the subject, the body, the ego, when it is both constituted by a desire for images and consumed by their memory—when images are so fully a part of it?
Taking residence within a former Catholic convent, the exhibition considers the convent’s architecture—with its three floors of bedrooms, public spaces, and determined religious sites—as a sort of optical apparatus, in which its nearly identical, demarcated spaces become sites of subtle interventions and expositions. Rather than adopting the segmented logic of its floor plan, Half a self, a cave-dweller allows artists to distribute their work amongst the convent’s many spaces. Taking a cue from Marcel Proust’s overture to In Search of Lost Time—in which the narrator describes a domestic space in constant perceptual shuffle, vacillating between past and present—encounters are rarely fully realized at once. Rather, work is seen in glimpses, in slips of time; temporal disjunction is a key component of the exhibition’s viewing experience, both in regards to the work and to the former convent itself—it is both timeless and placeless, seemingly suspended in an unspecific era.
Conflating language-based conceptualism with modernist painting, Paul Branca paints words and punctuation marks on small canvases, rendering linguistic signs as transcendent objects. Disjoining object from image, place from time, Julia Brown presents an auditory work about the taste memory of an extinct Mediterranean clam. Redolent of painters Franz Kline and Charline von Heyl, Mary Simpson’s prints feature the rudimentary image of an eye, its iconography subsumed into gestural abstraction. These are accompanied by a video produced in collaboration with critic Fionn Meade, Marysas (2010). Footage of two hands, pressed one on top of the other—one real and one a “copy”—trace the outlines of historically-defined images, thus marking a profound shift where reference is lost and facsimile image gains a timeless, and desiring, autonomy. Further elaborating on this shift, Ellie Krakow deconstructs both icon and index as she distributes eight photographs among six bedrooms, each of which portrays one of two Greek busts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Alternating between views of the sculpture’s front and back, its iconic visage and its metal armature, Krakow has also selectively removed portions of the image leaving its negative space. Emphasizing both architecture and photograph as framing devices of meaning, Krakow exchanges a past experience at the Met with a present experience at the convent. The intervention thus brings attention to the perceptual act of viewing. With these works, among others, the apparatus is a key motif; adopting a Minimalist concern with sites of reception and temporal contingency, such frameworks become ancillary to the image—it can, on its own, seemingly gain new contexts at will.
Other artists perform and re-perform notions of gender and sexual difference, both in relation to religious belief systems as well as to pop culture representations. Taking residence in the convent’s elaborate chapel, artist Yve Laris Cohen appropriates iconic choreography from the ballet Giselle, repeating the same movement from 7:00 pm during the opening reception until complete exhaustion. Framed both by the chapel architecture—which features delicate stained-glass windows and a stone altar—as well as a grouping of photo shoot lights and softboxes, Cohen’s endurance-based re-performance subverts notions of religious ritual and gender hierarchies. Jonathan VanDyke’s critique of normative tropes is more explicitly related to popular culture. He has enlisted a male and female pair of performers to reenact segments of dialogue from the Douglas Sirk film Magnificent Obsession (1954) starring Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson. Much like Cohen, VanDyke’s performers repeatedly perform the same three scenes as rituals of rejection, redemption, and reconciliation. Serving as backdrops, two hanging sculptures of framed homasote boards, shaped like modernist canvases, feature a system of pipes and orifices to transport paint. Viscous pigment slowly dribbles onto the floor streaks, inverting the heterosexual bravado of Abstract Expressionism: action painting is thus seemingly rendered a painting of inaction, as layers of paint slowly accumulate into sculptural form.
Lastly, a third strain of work investigates the subject in relation to nation-state and capitalist ideologies. Nicolás Guagnini proffers photographs of women shopping in SoHo. Framed by window displays and shopping bags, the women are seen as both representations of capitalist design as well as objects of heterosexual male desire, correlating both. In the bunker-like boiler room, Chelsea Knight and Austin Shull present their collaborative video installation Acting Out (2010). It features a group of actors rehearsing Alfred Jarry’s early 20th century play Ubu Roi, a satire of bourgeois political power and greed. In some ways a precursor to Brecht’s theatrical productions, Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty, and the Theater of the Absurd, the staging of Ubu Roi in Skowhegan, Maine’s county jail underscores the arbitrariness of social codes of conduct, as well as the political abuses of America’s penal system. Seth Scantlen displays clear Plexiglas boxes of fake flowers, flooring tiles, and children’s dolls, as a sort of disheveled monument to consumer culture. Carla Edwards rounds out the group with a large handcrafted quilt made of strips of American flag dyed black. These works, among others, draw parallels between capitalist design and political will. They look at the subject, again, and in sequence, where meaning and image are disoriented in their own after-affect.