A Heap, a Little Heap, the Impossible Heap

Appropriate to the season, the Upper Gallery at CCA feels almost haunted. The place is deserted, dark but full of noise. The chug of the film projectors in the back, irrupting aural emanations from looping videos that sound like the opening and closing of doors, as well as a pair of speakers, one of which whispers while the other rejoins with a long “Shhh…,” has me constantly turning my head to see who might be behind me. Perhaps the ghosts of former works of art linger about the place. The Exhibition Formerly Known as Passengers after all is a show in a continual loop of expansion and contraction. Starting with twelve initial artists, one by one they move to occupy the space in the center of the gallery, their contribution growing to fill it. After a month’s time, their “solo show” in the central cube ends, and their work vanishes to be replaced by another’s.

Just as you step into the gallery you encounter Kristen Morgin’s Captain America. The wall signage is helpful here, because what looks like Found Art is actually an elaborate bit of artifice. Morgin “uses a mixture of clay, cement, and glue applied over armatures of wood and wire to create true-to-scale objects that appear to be in a late stage of decomposition.” So what appears a ’50s era relic: a rusted metal child’s pedal or push car is in actuality a mimic masquerading the evidence of decay. There is something about castoffs and dilapidated structures that is appealing to Americans. Perhaps it’s the result of our planned obsolescence mentality: our sense of renewal built into replacing rather than building upon the past. Our garbage is quickly hustled out of sight and to discover remnants is to face a version of ourselves we thought buried. So there is a nostalgia to the derelict gas station, a sadness in an abandoned child’s toy. The accompanying plaque suggests that the car “conjur(es) up a post-apocalyptic vision…” and to some extent I suppose that’s true. It certainly could have been used as set dressing in Terminator’s flash back scenes or in the wasteland of The Road Warrior. I think though that the fact that it is carefully constructed to seem a victim of entropy is an indicator that our industrial, throw away mindset is itself a relic of another time. The fruit may be already rotting on the vine.

Kirsten Pieroroth’s Untitled (2007) is an expression of her interest in “the corruption of everyday items” and you’d be hard pressed to identify it without a little help from the materials list. A pile of bristly hair and crumbly shards of sawdust are what remain of a broom after a pretty thorough attempt to destroy it utterly. Again I’m reminded of the fact that few items even reach the point where they are rendered unusable before they are discarded. There are probably plenty of whole brooms buried under mountains of earth fermenting in coffee grounds. The pronounced nature of the broom’s destruction suggests a kind of vindictiveness to the act, which in turn reminds me of Tsukumo-gami. According to Shintō belief, even the artificial can be possessed of a spirit, and the Tsukumo-gami are the Japanese ghosts of discarded items or those that have been particularly mistreated. Traditionally it was the practice to yearly partake in a kind of exorcism of any bad spirits that may have developed in household utensils. Recently though I’ve noticed a number of films that cast a jaundiced eye on the way humanity cavalierly creates and casts aside, in both the victimized Tsukumo-gami of the children’s film The Great Yokai War and the abused “dolls” of Ghost in the Shell: Innocence.

Nearby, suspended from the ceiling is Abraham Cruzvillegas’ Autoconstrucción: Spatial Development Perspective (2008). A bulbous mass of buoys hangs in a tightly packed mass, as if drawn together by gravity to form the rough shape of a bumpy globe. Spheres and cylinders crowd for room, each bearing little hints of their former life. There are dodge ball-sized floats, others the size of medicine balls. Some are tubular bits of hard plastic, ridged or encased in netting as well as a series of joined styrofoam rings. Most bear traces of faded paint worn away by their service at sea as well the stains of algae blooms. One is so excessively scored that one wonders what tempest-torn waters it once bobbed about in. On another dozens of barnacles still cling to its surface. I found inscriptions like “IND. PLAST. CASTRO PESCAFLOT SPAIN,” Korean characters and the cryptic indicator “CF 2093” scrawled in permanent magic marker . While there are any number of associations that can be drawn from a work assembled of buoys, in the end I for some reason felt a resistance to reading too much into the possible symbolism. Buoys of course mark the safe limits of a territory. As flotation devices, they can prevent you from perishing in an environment that attracts us despite its inherent danger. I eventually discarded such analysis and enjoyed it as a purely aesthetic object: something beautiful despite being a conglomeration of disparately sized and shaped items. The piece reminded me a bit of a bunch of grapes or perhaps something Arcimboldo would have dreamed up had he gone in for something a bit more abstract.

I spent a bit of time looking at a work by Claire Fontaine, but not nearly as much time as I spent reading up on “her.” You see, Fontaine is actually the persona of two women who took the name from a popular French brand of school notebooks. Possibly more. It took a bit of reading to sort out: a collective of two people and assistants that refer to themselves as “her:” a woman of the age of four since the collaboration was founded in 2004. There are several exhibits here, one displaying concealed box cutter blades in American quarters and another an elaborate demonstration of lock picking. I honed in on Equivalent VIII (2007) an homage to a piece by Carl Andre from the ’60s. A stack of books are arranged in a rectangle on the floor. Actually, each “book” is comprised of a cover (I believe they’re Editions Flammarion publications) wrapped around a brick. Fontaine’s work, it reads in the signage, “responds to a feeling of political impotency in contemporary culture and is motivated by the history of radical protest, particularly the Paris student uprisings of May 1968.” The works selected are chosen “texts of radical literature.” I was a little surprised by the selection. Sigmund Freud? Walter Benjamin? Alexis de Tocqueville? I had never really considered any of them as radicals. But then again it wasn’t that long ago that authors like Alfred Kinsey, Freidrich Nietzsche and Ralph Nader were called out as agents provocateurs (and hey, look Freud did make the list).

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