Archive for the 'Jeff Ray' Category

Fever to Tell

The exhibition of work from the recipients of the 2008 Murphy and Cadogan Fellowships in the Fine Arts has come and gone, but I arrived in time to snap some pics before it vanished. The show filled the small gallery in the War Memorial Veterans Building on Van Ness, a venue that housed Meat Show a few years back. I seem to have no knack for hitting the performance pieces. I missed the functioning hot dog stand at Meat Show, and this time around I wasn’t able to attend any of the performance/discussions held on Anthony Marcellini’s stage installation called A Grass Mound (With Kind Regards to Utopia). That said, Meat Show still remains one of my all-time favorite SF gallery experiences and I have a feeling that the pieces on display at Immediate Future will linger in my mind for some time to come.

Annie Vought’s Scatter, 2007 presented words pinned like lepidopterist specimens to the wall.

All by its lonesome to the extreme right you can find “hope.”

I came back to this piece a few times while wandering through the exhibit. Untitled (plane), 2008 captures the fragility behind many of the things in the modern world in which we have a misplaced feeling of security. There is more to it than the simple jitters of travelers or the world’s collective memory of a horrifying attack. With the price of oil skyrocketing and the world tottering on the brink of economic meltdown, the idea of air travel as leisure activity is less than secure. The image itself is a springboard for any number of conceptual shifts that are occurring as we reevaluate the legacies of industrialization and First World economic hegemony. Claire Jackel’s paper sculpture is simple and haunting in its delicateness.

The more jaded might find this one rather frivolous, but I kind of adore this love letter synechdoche-style. Including furry paens to My Dad, David Crosby, My Muse, and My first true love, collectively Gina Tuzzi’s Beards of Paradise have a kind of Burger King crown charm to them. Peter the Great and other misopogons need not apply.

Dollar Heroes, 2008 are the result of a unique barter system that Elisheva Biernoff set up whereby the responses of those who received her art paid back inspiration in turn. The initial set of hand painted images represented someone the artist respected. As she passed them off a day at a time to people she admired for “their small acts of heroism or common decency,” the recipients offered up their own figure to be represented on a replacement.

The piece is accompanied by a record of the transactions, with descriptions like “May 20, 2008. Ned and Michael were playing a banjo and guitar in Café Trieste. I gave Ned the Gregory Pincus dollar. His hero was Samuel Gompers, American labor union leader.” The hand painting over the mass produced, the act of giving away what is deemed something of fixed value, the exchange of stories: all the elements add up to an exercise in rewriting human experience over the bureaucratic and systematized.

A great unwritten chapter in Art History is that of the exhibit in the tiny, dark, booth-like alcove of a museum or gallery. Even arcades forced those in search of private entertainment to indulge in it while bumping shoulders with the rest of the hoi polloi. But seclusion is the name of the game if you want to endure a few minutes of Paul McCarthy’s Clown Torture. Tucked away around a corner near storage is April Grayson’s looping video Another Word for Family, 2007. The short film is an exploration of the filmmaker’s hometown in Mississippi. Personal stories relate how the experience of racism seared the lives of residents. One woman describes the memory of burning crosses on the front lawn. Another attempts to reconcile his memories of an idyllic childhood with the fact that people from other parts of the country view his state with unconcealed scorn.

Jeff Ray’s Heterotopia: Sauna with video and sound installation, 2008 took me back to another Paul McCarthy exhibit, wherein I found myself dressed like a reindeer sitting inside a little wooden shack with a similarly clad Japanese businessman watching a video of a swearing elf covering herself with chocolate. Ray’s exhibit is all about how a space can be infused with the personal, less a haunting than a habitation. Reading the accompanying plaque and sitting within the wooden shelter, it becomes clear that transplanting a small building within a gallery is not an act of eccentricity but a necessity. There are two stories playing in projection inside. I watched the one about the Swedish woman relating her still vivid memories from childhood of her family’s sauna. The work, according to the wall signage, was inspired by the artist’s intention to erect a shelter at his mother’s home in response to her “battle with cancer caused by the toxicity of her home.” The effectiveness of the finished work for me is its ability to capture experience through the tactile and through the interaction of the visitor who “moves into” an environment suffused with personal emotions.

What at first glance look like row upon row of crayola crayons are actually replicas of M16 shells made from plastic.

Take a few steps back and the picture of George W. comes into focus. WARHEAD, 2008 by Moses Nornberg demonstrates that less is more, in every possible sense of the term.

S Patricia Patterson’s watercolor Curtain, 2008. The self assured expression of the eldest along with her relaxed posture contrasts so beautifully with the unreadable nothings radiating out from her siblings.

I can’t remember the last time I encountered works as daunting as Jina Valentine’s Consumption II(a), 2008 Marx vs. Foucault and Consumption II(b), 2008 Kaprow vs. Nietzche.

Tiny scrawled writing occupies every available inch of the twinned dry erase boards on display.

Try not to give in to the inevitable feeling of intense guilt at not reading every bit of it. Of course, once that starts, you begin to think: do I have to read the whole thing to be able to comment on it intelligently? Perhaps I can look at it conceptually, the fact that she is using a medium that screams impermanence or the fact that the labor involved in something that is ultimately perishable says something about the folly of creating “for the ages.” Perhaps if I throw in a bit of text, that’ll somehow give the illusion that I read it start to finish: “Contemporary art production is a multi-valent and self-perpetuating creation circuit. At the most fundamental level, art objects demand that we form words about them/ and the words formed about these objects inspire the creation of other art objects.” Oy vey. That’s only line one.

Even if it points out the limits of patience (i.e. laziness) of today’s viewer faced with a work painstakingly inscribed and displayed for viewing or even if it’s an elaborate joke masquerading as message, I liked it if nothing else because its impenetrability is linked directly to your input.

While it would be overreaching to read into the works collected as indicative of some kind of impending trend, I found it heartening that so many of them seem to place so much of an emphasis on narrative. The replacement of the impersonal dollar with the personal story and subjective determinations of heroism, the word cloud of Annie Vought, the posture of a charred paper plane as the limp body of a dead swan, a tiny shack with memories on playback, indeed all the works mentioned here have a desperation to them, the need to explain, to relate. Damien Hirst’s works are zipping through the auctions right now, but so are many works by Chinese artists, where themes of history and memory collide. In the face of globalization, the leavening of the subjective in lieu of the official, the brand, the franchise, these are anxious attempts to speak us back into existence.