I think I tend to lament the exhibits I miss out on more than I savor the ones I’ve experienced. I’ve been fighting a fever for the past few weeks and it’s meant that I haven’t been able to get to a lot of shows before their closing date arrived. For days I’ve made plans only to reschedule them, hoping and assuring myself that as soon as I was well I could just somehow cram them all into a single whirlwind Saturday afternoon.
Ridiculous said my body, so I’ve had to find solace in the images archived on the gallery sites. One show I really regret not being able to attend is Michael McConnell’s you can’t make them stay at the Braunstein/Quay Gallery. In the site pics a profusion of animals, from raccoons to rabbits, impatiently leap from the walls into the installation space, victims of negligent or half-finished taxidermy. In Left and Leaving sheep emerge from a painted wall that seems both trap and carnival ring. Their frozen bounds give them the liberating postures of carousel escapees. Two children view the proceedings from the walls as the animals in varying states of furriness cross dimensions. The boy and girl may appear in control of the proceedings as the very real rope to the wall ring is grasped in their hands yet their two dimensionality contrasted with the solidity of the sculptures call this into question. After all, the rope is merely affixed to them. They are in fact “holding” nothing. Then again three dimensionality is no indicator in art of greater “realness.” The fur on the animals that may or may not be artificial does nothing to plead their case either: is the tactile more real? The ropes “grasped” by the children and those suspended by the ceiling are in fact the only objects in the piece that can be called real, but in the service of representation, how is it that they dangle from above like low hanging branches (oh, for a quicktime 360 view of the gallery!)?
There are qualities of installation that make me, I think, if not value them more than other kinds of art at least deem them very highly. Left and Leaving exists only for the brief time it is properly displayed in a space and in the records of those appearances. An image of the Mona Lisa will always give you more or less an idea of the original work. But a photograph of an installation is one point of view, one that cannot capture the experience of moving about the work or allowing you to examine all the relationships between its elements. Where is Left and Leaving now? Were the pictures on the wall carefully removed or scrubbed off completely? Will the rope be used again or will it be deemed replaceable and discarded? Will it remember that it was once a piece of art? Are the sculptures boxed up somewhere? Do they get fitted with styrofoam and wedged into a Self Storage locker or is their box acting now as a coffee table in a crowded artist’s apartment?
The Age of Mechanical Reproduction didn’t end up devaluing the original like Walter Benjamin thought it would. Viewing McConnell’s work online brings to mind the story of the whippet who became lost in JFK Airport’s cargo area two years ago. I picture him wandering in a bewildering city of crates, their silence about their contents both tantalizing and frustrating.