Encoach @ Springsteen Gallery (Dickie/Varadi)

Kodi Fabricant

Install view

“Art is a terrible risk, and no one would do it if they didn’t believe in themselves. I’m not sure if I buy it, but the idea has been floated that we, who do this shit, hope that through this work we can maybe escape. Even if you have to hand in your meatsack at some point, your work will stand in for you later. It’s the deposit you put down. Pay the meat price and get in the art tube.” In Steve Kado’s short story accompanying Encoach, a two-person show featuring works by Keith J. Varadi and Georgia Dickie, he skeptically addresses motives for art making. Specifically, escapism and self-preservation become central themes.

A bird’s “hand” in the work, even hypothetically, is critical in creating meaningful dialogue around motive. The presence of bird labor displaces motive from self-aware artist to non-self-aware animal performing the same work. I am using this information to decode the significance of color-sorted pellets by canary and I think it’s safe to use the canary as a stand in for any bird or non-self-aware animal. Male bowerbirds build complex structures of various found objects and sticks, usually grouping disparate objects of like colors together in an effort to attract a mate.

Birds preserve their identity through population, while artists preserve identity through objectified perception (i.e. art). This interpretation poses new questions surrounding an artist’s motives, like “Who/What are they trying to attract through their work?” making attractiveness a key component on the path to self-preservation. For me, this is a much more interesting read than plain old bricolage. The canary is the strongest component of Dickie’s work, and I wish it were more explicit.

Steve Kado’s writing contains clues for decoding the work as well and clearly states his intentions for writing in the last couple lines, “Believe it or not, this piece started out as a reflection on the way primary accumulation and risk were interrelated. It was based very strongly on some ideas detected in the work. JSYK.” Just so you know: A casual way of presenting integral information.

Keith Varadi
Keith Varadi

Oh, Hell; Past Gone; Grim Ripper; First Sight of Water; Regal Funk; Steal Those Cuts; Menagerie, PST; Foie Gras; World Truth; Live Like This; Maiden Man; Self-Help Writ Wrong. These phrases decorate 5×7 cloth panels by Varadi. An insider told me they are all titles of his poems, a detail that is not explicit, although it may be assumed or known by the artist’s friends. I almost expected full poems to be shown, considering Varadi’s reputation as a poet. The pieces mimic hardbound book covers, and are of varying cloth and ink color combinations. The colors are similarly rich, vibrant, and seductive, willing a longer pause from the viewer. The selection of this swatch of colors reminds me of Jenny Holzer’s Inflammatory Essays (1979-82) in which Holzer uses backgrounds of varying colors with black text, creating a visually stimulating support system for her provocative content. Varadi’s titles range from provocative (Self-Help Writ Wrong) to dramatized romantic (First Sight of Water), to absurd (World Truth).

Dickie’s work is less literal. Near the back wall of the gallery, Pisetions (binders) stands displaying storage unit, metal, coral, wax, binders, rubber, and various found objects including some sort of midi splitter and chair parts. Not birdbrain bricolage, but regular. Objects are spatially redefined, perhaps for therapeutic purposes, but definitely not for attractiveness. Liminality exists between binder spiral spine and what looks like the molted shell of a 7 in. plasma ball. This piece did not captivate me in the same way as others by Dickie. The placement of the objects is too normalized, on display and restricted to even-numbered shelves. I over think the term “binder” in effort to read the piece. The shelving unit becomes a binder of objects, hollow glass balls become binders of air, electronic equipment becomes binder of signals, rubber becomes binder of tension, so on and so forth.

Georgia Dickie
Georgia Dickie

Adjacent is Declaration, a piece by Varadi, consisting of a narrow plinth covered in adhesive vinyl photographs, with a small bottle of crude oil placed on top, enclosed within an overturned pint glass. The photographs adhered to the plinth are snapshots reminiscent of nostalgic point-and-shoot collections. Most notably for me is an image of the word “PIG” with an X through it against a yellow wall. This type of image seems familiar, like I’ve seen this wall before or one like it, which I’m sure there are hundreds. The images seem to capture pauses in daily routine, and contain the motion found in street photography. There is an element of humor specific to the photographer, something that made them pause to chuckle to themselves. I read this as “Moments of Amusement decorate the sides of the structural support to the Eternal Rose of Industry.” Escapist antics are called out simply due to the fact that cars require gasoline to move. To get in your car and just go still requires a trip to Sunoco.

Turning to the wall we see Oasis, a Nevada license plate in a holder with state promotional text “I’d Rather Be Gambling In Las Vegas.” Through the lens of contemporary social media culture, this is a passé bottom-text meme. Again, escapism is on display.

A recurring vibe in both Varadi and Dickie’s work is a sentimental recognition of a fragmented object or place. This is clear in the centrally placed work Today Was a Rare Day (Many Minutes of Fun) by Dickie. Materials include metal birdcage perches, swing, blood, auxiliary cables, photographs, discarded canary feathers, doorknob, resurrection plant, and a disposable coffee cup. I research “resurrection plant” and find it resembles a brittle bird’s nest when dehydrated, but comes to life as a green fern when placed in water. Work that requires research creates an aura of depth both captivating and alienating. It attracts a type of viewer who is eager and has access to resources outside the gallery. The other kind of viewer dismisses the work as difficult or not of their taste.

Keith Varadi
Keith Varadi

After the opening, an artist friend of mine revealed her momentary panic when she thought she had absentmindedly rested her own coffee cup on top of the sculpture. I’m unsure how to appropriately define that sensation, but I believe it’s related to what Kado approaches when he writes, “So we aren’t changing individual identities in different contexts, but those contexts themselves define sets of behaviors and attitudes that are exchanged within, and all of those relationships are trans-individual.” Whose coffee cup is resting on the artwork? Is it the artworks? Does it belong to the artist who made the work? Or does it belong to the artist who left her studio to attend an art opening? Is it the gallerist’s? Did someone leave it there during the install, and it just stuck? Once again, Dickie makes us question possession.


Investigating self-preservation and escapism as motives for making art leads to some tricky conclusions. One idea is that artists preserve their identities post-mortem through work that is attractive enough to be cared for long term, that is, work attractive on multiple dimensions (visually, conceptually, socially, etc.) But being able to escape the normalities of daily routine enough to feel inspired involves an element of risk taking, which is contrary to self-preservation. Is it possible for an artist to create work that does not require an ounce of risk-taking, although the creation of art in itself is a risk?

Encoach is a great show for a viewer who likes to dig. The work can speak for itself, but it speaks tangentially. It lingers and leaves you asking questions with no discernible answers. One question I can’t seem to shake is “What happened to the canary?”

Encoach ran from September 10 through October 8, 2016 at Springsteen Gallery, 502 W. Franklin Street, Baltimore, MD. Images courtesy of Springsteen.

Pinpointing Metaphor: The Squinter’s Watch @ Springsteen Gallery

Bailey Sheehan

To point is to leap from one thing to an unrelated other.

In Modern Athens, the vehicles of mass transportation are called metaphorai. To go to work or come home, one takes a “metaphor”— a bus or a train.

The gesture of “pointing,” similar to the metaphor, is manipulative; a tool used most by memesters who post captioned/captionless imagery (that I am supposed to ‘get’). The highlighting of the rift between thing and expectation is, for some, a method to be utilized for subversion—a simultaneous appeal to and embarrassing of a mass-subjectivity we often confuse as ‘the personal’. The contemporary artist points in a similar way. Or, in the exact same way (Puppies Puppies, Scariest Bug Ever, Goth Shakira).

Colin Foster presents a body of work at Springsteen Gallery on West Franklin Street; the exhibition attempts to point toward some thing as well. The objects, however, exhibit surreality because of the ignorance they express toward their own trajectories as affect-producing things. With this, while the work exhibits interesting manipulation of materials and showcases Foster’s mastery as a maker, I am going to focus on the conceptual backing of the exhibition and some of its possible shortcomings.

The “point” is a formula for art showing where its efficacy is evident, though still holed—work that is supposedly visceral, or based in the presence of a conceptual spectre that is somehow inarticulable though is cogent enough to be modularly not only understood but praised by a group of likeminded people. Take for example, a piece entitled “The Self-Aware Slug” consisting of a linux computer, custom software (a computer repeatedly beating solitaire), and vinyl: there I experience a rift between what has been denoted as “the idea” and what the object is actually doing (or the acknowledged awareness that the object will do something). Here the artwork is first a conceptual poem, and second an object.


The “point” becomes worrisome when, within the rift between the expected and the actual, a recognition of something that would otherwise compromise the idea is displaced by that same idea. Perhaps it is a matter of not being given enough information, however, when I say that this exhibition is about a ‘thing,’ it is because, for me to go ahead and then guess or assume what this thing may be would further regulate that which I am suggesting this exhibition is abusing. And that is something a viewer may need to question more, to which role am I fulfilling? Am I a decider or a regulator?

Adrian Piper in “The Logic of Modernism” wrote about the malleability of the “aberration” that was Greenbergian formalism similarly.

Relative to these lines of continuity, the peculiarly American variety of modernism known as Greenbergian formalism is an aberration. Characterized by its repudiation of content in general and explicitly political subject matter in particular, Greenbergian formalism gained currency as an opportunistic ideological evasion of the threat of cold war McCarthyite censorship and red-baiting in the fifties.

This work is manipulative and can be manipulated because it is evading the responsibility of being a producer and is instead reliant on a conceptual spectre of sorts. It is evasive in its withholding of information that would otherwise allow a viewer to discern if the work is engaging in responsible production. Responsible production is a method of art showing or viewing that is aware, though not in full knowing, of an object’s trajectory as a producer. As the object is shown and seen it is multiplied and reproduced the same as a meme, each time altered, each recreation with its own condition of existence. The responsibly produced artwork does not have to be explicitly based in and around political subject matter, rather, there is a certain political action that accompanies this responsibility taken by both artist and viewer.

The sensual object and I cannot meet inside of me. Instead, our encounter occurs on the interior of the relation between me and the real tree (which must be indirect, but there is no need to complicate things here). When the tree and I somehow form a link, we become a new object; every relation forms a new real object. (Graham Harman)

With the initial object’s relational reproduction alongside a conversation being had by Graham Harman or even Tristan Garcia, it would not be so bizarre to talk about these sculptures similar to the way someone like Hito Steyerl or Steven Shaviro would discuss media or film. Film and music videos, like other media works, are also machines for generating affect, and for capitalising upon, or extracting value from, this affect. Would it follow if we take a text such as Steyerl’s In Defense of the Poor Image and switch out “poor image” with “sculpture featured on art viewer?”

The sculpture featured on art viewer is no longer about the real thing—the originary original. Instead, it is about its own real conditions of existence: about swarm circulation, digital dispersion, fractured and flexible temporalities. It is about defiance and appropriation just as it is about conformism and exploitation.

I bring this all up, because at The Squinter’s Watch, it is clear that the work is about this one thing, a notion that is ideally inarticulable, though still maintains a modular registration transpersonally, defended only by a few encapsulating words I wish not name but will (hiking, gaming, solemnity). The work may in actuality be evasive; the work may in fact be displacing some other thing behind a screen of familiarities, (modular hanging of wall-based works, an interesting manipulation of material, depictions of a feeling or lifestyle). This is most likely not an intention of the work, however, it evidences the fragility, or weak integrity of a bridge (or “point”). A lack of any supplemental artist statement and or formal press release only helps to create a conceptual shroud. The work may then be mutated somewhere in the process of reproduction and dissemination (being featured on art viewer, being posted to instagram, a promotion on facebook, a rearticulation of the exhibition with a friend over coffee, maybe possibly even seeing the work in situ), which in turn would, in a worst case scenario allow, the possible continued fetishization of blue-collar aesthetics or, say a weird strain of heteronormativity at the fault of the originary original. Even though the work may not be necessarily about that, that same fetishization then is further co-opted into a contemporary arts canon.

Daniel Penny in a New Inquiry essay entitled The Irrelevant and the Contemporary: Why is Poetry #Trending in Contemporary Art penned: To go the way of the Bernadette Corporation and attempt to make poetry more commodified, more in line with contemporary art’s market logic and formalist preoccupations is a mistake. Poetry’s slowness, difficulty, irrelevance — these qualities must be made into virtues. If we circle back to Agamben, poets who are out of step with the time are the most contemporary of all.

I feel almost as though Penny’s accusation and rightful assertion that the Bernadette Corporation’s poetry is “more in line with contemporary art’s market logic,” is somehow skewed by the same idealism that conceptually sponsors this show. The dichotomization between the work and that which may compromise it is clear in art that decides it would rather discuss things supposedly beyond the cusp of any articulation (viscerality, the spectre, etc), or beyond the commensurability of an economic sphere. Although ‘‘the essence of culture is discrimination,’’ as Igor Kopytoff has put it, the market turns art into a homogeneous commodity whose value is in no sense unique. (Olav Velthuis “The Symbolic Meaning of Prices Constructing the Value of Contemporary Art in Amsterdam and New York Galleries”.) The work in this show seems to be instituting this same dichotomization, or at the very least it is trying to sweep some of the contextual parameters that may compromise the work, under the rug. The term post-object (seemingly endorsed by Penny) here only sounds to me as an evasive maneuver as to avoid responsibility for any ‘negative production’ of the sculpture as object. Or, it is to convince me that that aspect of the work simply does not matter.

Maybe the work needs to be contaminated in order to allow for the safer dispersing and fracturing of the art. The Bernadette Corporation, Christopher Ho, Nandi Loaf, or even Puppies Puppies are all great examples of artists who allow the contamination of their own work. Further, if the work allows itself to be contaminated or compromised, it will also gift a viewer with the ability to place more trust in the hands of the artist himself. With this in mind, if, while the work is dispersing (not only digitally, but through the subsequent reproduction of relation), the work is manipulated to be a propagator of something bad, it is not the responsibility of the author himself.

Images courtesy of Springsteen Gallery. The Squinter’s Watch is on view from July 9 through August 13, 2016.


Persona As Readymade, Self As Religious Artifact: The Group Show @ Rope

Colin Alexander

The Group Show features new paintings by Sarah Hai Edwards operating under the guise of three personas, each with their own respective studio practice. The work is displayed mostly on the floor and other surfaces of Rope, leaned against an arrangement of chairs with varying amounts of room for viewing. The arrangement is casual and awkward. I imagine a Free School setting up for a workshop with a similar level of care.

Edwards’ personas cover three semi-distinct fields of work: Nooks Sez operates in the language of traditionalist abstract-expressionist mark making, Sarah Edwards works in a casual “Sunday painter” observational landscape style, and Sarah Hai mainly works in anime-style cartooning. This information was received verbally in a friendly setting — at the opening, the gallery directors maintained a continuous conversation over casual air, according to co-director Seán Boylan, “speaking about the show and Edwards’ work to people who attended and wanted to engage in discussion.” According to Boylan, the gallery originally received submission from one of Edwards’ personas, and later discovered another persona independently. After connecting all three projects, the directors proposed the opportunity of showing each body of work together in one show.

There are two aspects of this show I want to address specifically because of those aspects’ failure to reconcile with each other: the show’s efforts as an exhibition of deskilled painting and the show’s efforts to showcase a conceptual curatorial project.

In the former, the topic of deskilled art practice has been worked to death. When reading about the aspect of Manet and Courbet being “castigated for what was taken to be their formal inchoateness, and lack of technique or facilite,” there’s a haunted aura in the air; we all know where these histories take us, who is remembered, etc. 1 The topic in contemporary art 1970—> has primarily covered post-studio, hands-off practices (despite an excited lurch on Summer 2009 hands-on provisionality in abstract painting), but the conversations of primitivism and insider/outsider feel outdated and problematic.

I bring the topic up because the paintings are bad and are similar to work I see produced in high school art programs: frantic, ambitious, direct, angsty. Deskilled in every sense, though not so much in the way I identify other hands-on provisionalist, primitivist, folk, or outsider practices, where value might be found in material integrity, rawness of form, discipline of labor/conviction, or innovative use of obvious/accessible materials. Studio work that might be considered more elegantly handled in comparison brings to mind Judith Bernstein, Trevor Shimizu, Quintessa Matranga [who has contributed to this journal], and Rafael Delacruz — explicitly non-virtuosic line work but, rather, hard-headed practices that manage to evoke a sense of resolution.

Historically, a push towards deskilling (and valuing the deskilled) often came with political implications. It pushed the artist’s identification with the laborer by demoting the perceived agency and by including the laborer in the artist’s methods. 2 This is worth noting at a time when the field seems to have twisted that ideal of deskilling by developing a combination of hands-off deskilled practice, outsourced (skilled) labor, and, somehow, the promoted agency of the artist. In the field of practices of the above mentioned artists, both canonized and contemporary work might find potency in the development of the non-professionalized object, something that seems integral at time when deskilling seems to have lost much of its embedded politics. I do, however, want to acknowledge that those mentioned hard-headed practices appear to contain complexities within them that are absent in Sarah Edwards’ practice. The line between deskilled practice and amateur practice is almost too blurry to mention, but it seems to play a role here.

The impulse to make medium-specific pieces with heavy hand, with clumsy representation is at odds with the solutions some post-studio or post-net practices settle on: the hands-off fabrication of fetishized value object. 3 This method seems to be employed at times in order to subsidize a much more complex, immaterial practice. At other times, it appears to be for the sake of trend research and procuring various forms of capital. And while a hands-on deskilling impulse might combat issues that arise in both of those production schemes, it could reveal something else entirely: who is able to leverage a half-assed practice into gallery space, critical coverage, and audience? Perhaps the practice becomes the hustle and the social circle in that scenario. I’m reminded of one myth for the name origins of “Dada:” a simple Romanian translation from “yes, yes.” That would be reciprocal positive feedback within an avant garde social circle, but I’m curious who is saying “yes, yes” now. This brings us back to that question of deskilled vs. amateur practice: deskilled artists have the agency to choose whereas amateur artists have to rely on the grace of curatorial interest.

The quality of work in the paintings is an important starting point before discussing the curatorial aspect simply because of its nature as a foundation to the show. Within the curation, the audience is presented a group show between three constructed personas, which umbrella each body of work. This functions so that the audience is presented with a balance between bad, sincere painting and a conceptual curatorial project about split identities. The solution of displaying work and chairs in the gallery feels satisfying, but the agendas conflict, each operating at odds with the other in a way that denies coexistence.

Placing the malleability of identity at the forefront of a practice has a long history — Duchamp as Rrose Selavy, Stephen Kaltenbach as Clyde Dillon, Adrian Piper as Mythic Being, Amalia Ulman as Amalia Ulman — and it’s important to not understate the potential of such projects. Here it feels forced and partially flattened through the immediate display of such personas as pinned down butterflies to observe. The curators place the burden of that content onto an artist who is, possibly, using the personas as trial and error to unearth a practice she can believe in. That weight hedges the bets placed on both ideas; the paintings feel like placeholders for ideas, and the curation feels like an afterthought.

This may partially be due to the utilitarian function of the split identity and the relationship between the curators and those personas (or selves) being displayed as “art objects.” In Boris Groys’ “Curator as Iconoclast,” he explains the historical relationship between curators and religious artifacts in early museums at the turn of the 19th century, “All kinds of ‘beautiful’ functional objects, which had previously been employed for various religious rituals, dressing the rooms of power, or manifesting private wealth were collected and put on display as works of art—that is, as defunctionalized, autonomous objects of pure contemplation. The curators administering these museums ‘created’ art through iconoclastic acts directed against traditional icons of religion or power, by reducing these icons to mere artworks. Art was originally ‘just’ art.” 4

Groys goes on to claim that the difference between the artist and the curator is that the artist doesn’t devalue sacred objects as the curator might, but rather promotes mass-produced objects. “Sacred objects were once devalued [by curators] to produce art; today, in contrast, profane objects are valorized [by artists] to become art.” 5

How do Edwards’ split personas operate within this proposal? Or, are the practices reflecting self or persona here? As identities, they might function similarly to sacred religious objects (that is, tools once intended for personal, private communion turned defunctionalized for contemplation), or rather as profane objects for consumption, perhaps within the tradition of contemporary identity branding, promoted to the level of “art.” But, I don’t want to walk too far with these proposed parallels: there are too many conflicting variables within this metaphor. That said, these relationships maintain some use-value when trying to round up what Rope’s curators are actually doing. By presenting the personas as identity brands, they might be promoting the profane to the level of “art” and, in turn, playing the role of the artist. On the other hand, if the personas act for Edwards as personal tools for self-realization (or, operating in religious terms, “communion” with self), the curators perform the iconoclastic act of demoting the once-charged object. There is conflict in both scenarios.

A malleable/split identity practice holds water, perhaps paradoxically, when it is still functioning and still maintains ambiguity. By placing the works into a single show that relies on “the reveal,” the project is flattened just in time for the audience to see it. Because of this situation, the question of whether or not the paintings are “good” seems besides the point; they might operate within a history of avant-garde deskilling or within a history of “selected” amateur work. Either way, they are placed in a situation where they can’t fully vie for either position.


Not Now @ Gallery 4 (Hermonie Only Williams)

Molly Young

In her current show at Gallery Four entitled “Not Now,” Hermonie Williams uses an interplay of minimalistic sculpture, graphite drawings, and shadows to explore facets of mental health as anxiety and depression. At first glance, her pieces feel understated, but within the dimmed lighting of the gallery, they succeed in carrying an introverted weight that stems directly from Williams’s simple, piercing manipulations of detail.

Near the entrance, a sculpture comprised of two twisted cylinders made of charred wooden spikes, sits on a pair of white tables in the first room of the gallery. Its title, “Suttee, ” refers to the obsolete Hindu ritual that required a widow to throw herself onto her husband’s funeral pyre or suicide via other methods soon after his death. The piece evokes the look of a pyre with its pointed, bunched wood, but its curvature adds a bodily element to it. That implied presence not only alludes to the human suffering its name signals, but also relates to the larger themes Williams grapples with in her text: the weight of internal anguish and finding a means to express it. In this and similar works, Williams uses fresh methods to challenge the materiality of the wood. Usually far from malleable, the wood appears able to twist and move in ways that it ultimately cannot. The sharpened, charred clusters sit spotlighted on an altar of sorts, like relics of suffering ingrained in memory through their preservation.


Williams’s polycarbonate sculptures are scattered throughout the second room of the gallery, which uses less theatrical lighting than the first. There is a subtle shift from the heaviest weight of the previous work towards something more delicately fragmented, even introverted, in nature. Curved polycarbonate beams protrude from the sparsely arranged wall and floor like distinct tendrils of anxiety quietly making their presence known and felt. One of them seems to emerge downwards from some unknown source within the wall itself. It comes to a fine point, hanging just far enough from the surface to cast a shadow.

Another piece arcs directly from the wall into the ground, echoed several feet away by a small arch rooted in the hardwood floor, entitled “After and Before.” Elsewhere, a beam hanging horizontally across two adjacent walls to create a zig-zag shaped shadow that emphasizes the absence of structure, of something more tangible and even pliable. When taken together, these works feel like manifestations of mental affliction in real time. The darkness and visual weight of the medium in conjunction with its simple, smooth forms moves the viewer to their own state of disquiet in such measured divisions of negative space.

Whatever dark levels of meditation and medium pervade the first two rooms give way to a naturally lit sort of acceptance in the third. The shades are open in both windows at the farthest end of the gallery, washing the minimal overhead spotlighting with pale sunlight. Four graphite drawings hang from the walls, and the only sculptures in the room sit comfortably on pedestals and on the ground. These pieces read as whole expressions of self, rather than pained fragments.

While another set of dark, minimalistic sculptures might have felt tired and out of place at this point in the show, Williams shows sensitivity in the dynamic range of work completed in this last room. Fifteen small, sharp pyramids are organized tightly into a rectangle on the ground, menacing in nature but pushed against the wall, quietly prevented from causing real harm. Its repeated pattern and firm attachment to the ground embodies an inner threat that is ever-present and, as the title “Might As Well Get Used To It” suggests, demands adaptation rather than avoidance. The fullness of a polished enamel square disc with a slightly convex surface, brings closure.


The crux of the show lies in this ability to depict a multiplicity of selves — both the deconstructed mind and the meditative whole — in a cohesive manner. Something new emerges in viewing pieces that are more complete, that rest between resignation and closure: a nuanced coexistence with internal struggle that has been accepted into the overarching being, but not wholly surrendered to. Such maintenance of depth is lost only in the graphite drawings, some of which almost fill the frame with swimming chaos while others are small, gridded confines with wide margins. These works feel too much like patterned representations of a disturbed mind — either “wild” and unrestrained or restricted to the point of near-emptiness — to be as impactful and varied as their sculptural counterparts.

Williams’s pieces have a dark, industrial materiality. Their curved, smooth forms are distinctly feminine, and call to mind Zachary Rawe’s description of Leslie Hewitt’s sculptural works: “Although the pieces are thin, somewhat fragile in appearance, they also occupy and control the environment through the creation of negative space.” By forcing the viewer to reconcile such pieces with their blank, expansive environments, Williams joins Hewitt in the representation of black femininity in Minimalist art as something with equal parts visual strength and structural delicacy, a sharp infusion of dark configurations into an oppressive excess of whiteness. She effectively portrays a mind seeking to be at peace with its many selves, all of which are housed within the black female body as it exists in a constant flux of contentiously white spaces. Moreover, her pieces give an authentic form to each facet of self in a manner that feels balanced; no one room or combination of works fully upstages another. Rather, the pieces gradually build off of one another to account for these emotional nuances, and their latent interconnectedness. In this way, Williams’s work embodies a psychological spectrum with compelling meditations on acute fragments of internal complexity and vulnerability.

Into the Blue @ Terrault Contemporary (Travis Levasseur)


Bailey Sheehan


The characteristically surreal is off-putting, that is, we already inhabit a certain amount of surreality in what we would posit as the building blocks of our day-to-days. I have my cup of coffee and that coffee is too hot, but maybe that coffee is only hot because, you know, I got my coffee yesterday and it was fine. Maybe it has more to do with the coldness of the air, that is possibly felt the most the moment I leave my home. That same coffee lights my hallway and I buy what I buy. Self-stranding. There is a landscape that I burn through, and that is all part of a larger picture I know. And that larger picture is shuffling, still I never change.

Into the Blue is a stranded show. It’s an effective embarrassment, and a big ‘Fuck You’ to and from everyone left behind. A party, gassed by what was left behind, ensues as we are stranded, as we ourselves say we are better off without this pop machine. We then turn to our babe I Love You I Do–and my “what I want” is “what I want.” Sia sounds more like poetry with piano accompaniment, without a present voice to form, some character. What I find empowering is that this set of work never leans one way.

Installation photo of Travis Levasseur's Into the Blue show at Terrault Contemporary in Baltimore, MD.

A miniature set on the floor in front of a baby grand, with a familiar landscape. A candle burns a line and a black tar-type substance puddles around it. Not too far away, some of the wine I drank last week; it isn’t in me (I don’t have it) and it powers my fan–it keeps me here. And with language there is a precondition of separation–its subsequent doubling through pop proves too fast to follow. I just came to watch / I don’t know all that much. I lay dispersed humming a song that I don’t remember ever liking.

I get a sense that there is something missing or that the main act has yet to arrive. There does, however, seem to be a consistent reassurance that it was somewhere. (Maybe in the ocean (a piano playing the greatest hits of our generation), it sinking just as I am though a lot faster, I would assume.)


Further, some of the moves in this exhibition are telling me that this machine remains better off sunken or stranded. It builds a pottery barn chandelier, it operates in private despite our handling of it as if it does not. And what are we celebrating? 

This is an ironic turn the work takes, as if the individual could ever enact a divorce from their idealized consumerist selves… and that that divorce would include piano accompaniment from Evanescence, Sia, etc. Though even if I find the song Wake Me Up Inside rather trite, I still know all the words. The consumer may be the missing figure that this show is circling.

Travis Levasseur

By incorporating an understanding that the consumer and the individual were never/could never be one and the same, a presence could be felt, as if the exhibition is attempting to summon the consumer and their dogmatic purchasing. As if when the pop machine is stranded, this encompassing figure will be as well.

And in the inconsequential nature of the work’s physical manifestation, there lies an indifference to whether the work was purchased or fabricated. Through that indifference, I am able to enact a reduction that, as a supposed consumer, I am familiar with. This reduction is a .jpg compression that shares an idea in spite of how much is lost through the quickness of its load. A supposed universality, and an overdue goodbye.

Images courtesy of Terrault Contemporary. Photo credit: Duncan M. Hill. Travis Levasseur‘s project Into the Blue is on view through March 26, 2016 at 1515 Guilford Ave., Baltimore, MD


Half Past, Two Rocks Back @ Open Space (Haines/Maher-Tatar)

Matt DeLong


In Open Space, work populates the wall and the floor. Lucia Maher-Tatar and Christina Haines use language of simplistic measure in the recent show Half Past, Two Rocks Back, denoting time through the physical and, in this case, the rudimentary and sometimes the rudimentary domestic.

Lucia Maher-Tatar’s piece A Rook, A Rock, A Crooked Café is hung on the wall from a rod. It talks like a curtain, but acts more like a tapestry. A conspicuous but complex composition creates a space where time is imprinted into symbolic anecdotes, spilled out, nonlinear and landscape-like. What lay obstructive were moments where the craftsmanship felt filled in, such as a shimmery swatch of black hastily stitched rather than carefully placed, leaving disjunction from the beautiful and the strange— little waves puckering in a brown rectangle, like they would delicately make the sound of a mouth rising out of the water.  


A ladle made of links/a scythe?
Forceps near a vessel.
Stitches to the left, some careful, some not. Leaving some strips vacant, for rear access, or for economy.
Grommets large and in numbers, that allow dedicated access to the inside of the piece.
Just a big pocket.

The cutting, stitching, and displaying of personal symbols allows the artist’s mind to come through their hand. The work combines the liminal as object and as function. The same could be said about the other Maher-Tatar piece, Untitled, involving brown patchwork terrycloth on the floor of the windowed display areas.


Christina Haines’ work includes six rectangular pieces on the wall all titled Burnout 1 through Burnout 6 and a glazed ceramic and rock assemblage titled A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud. The Burnout pieces have a luring quality; for me, it could be an attraction to the texture of destruction. These pieces are cracking and reveal sediment, washed over and dried, showing the waistline of a pair of jeans or sweatpants—starting and stopping at the edges of the rectangle, as if I were looking at a thumbnail of a body, buried in the river.

They became landscapes.
Belt loop is a bridge.
A cracked, then peeled opening (the only one) leads to an underbelly. Some pieces have little green dots. A man has a small green tattoo behind his right ear. The pieces themselves have goose bumps.


I found them almost too laconic. The nature of the material blocked off into rectangular shapes was very tidy. Without matching directness in the imagery, they almost meander into dullness.

In the piece A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud., the ceramics look like polished stones, perfect objects, revealing layers from formation but with sensually smooth and unassailing surfaces. These ceramics felt texturally uncomfortable stacked, sandwiched between their pre-manicured cousins, as if they might scratch. I have to remind myself I am talking about ceramics and not actual polished stone.


The artists as a coupling: Haines let the material speak unhindered, and Maher-Tatar intrudes on the fabric’s material quality, neither insincere, and both intelligent observers of their respective material.    

A friend says, “I keep looking for the rest of the stuff.” and I must agree. There is a craving for more to grasp onto. And I think it has less to do with “stuff” and more to do with striking the senses of the viewer. Give me something to grab, or put me in your place. The style is LARPing, conspicuously mimetic, though there should be a push towards an embedding, which I know they are capable of. My hope is for them to wield their sensibility with a stronger conviction.

Half Past, Two Rocks Back is open on Saturdays through March 26, 2016 at 512 W. Franklin Street, Baltimore, MD 21201.

Jeremy Cimafonte @ First Continent

Colin Alexander


With McLuhan as the de facto point of reference when talking about the current shift in dominant medium, it is easy to forget that much of his work specifically hinges on analyses of print, rather than film and television. His book The Gutenberg Galaxy was the 1962 goldmine of technological determinism and medium dissection that framed modern society as a product of the cold objectivity and linear qualities of the printed word.

Even at the time of writing, the rise of more participatory media signaled a shift from that once central form – so how is it that 50 years on even the worst forms of puff-periodical still manage to hold on? Despite a stumbling gallery text, Jeremy Cimafonte’s current installation at First Continent manages to point towards a frustration with this long announced “death of print.”

“Print is a dead man walking, perpetually revived by the institutions in need of it most. Pragmatic and necessary at its advent, the path towards its irrelevance would not be seen without the extensive development of entire industries around itself.”

First Continent’s mirrored, fluorescent and gold space reflects four aluminum mounted prints, “slightly larger than life” reproductions of magazine periodical spreads. Each employs a casual use of magnets and paper clips to attach small, digitally rendered prints of empty (though not barren) landscapes to its surface. Adjacent to the gallery’s central mirror column stands a steadily spinning, tripod-mounted mechanism introduced as LIDAR (simple enough: “light radar”).


The LIDAR functions to gather an array of simple data points; the machine measures the distance of its laser from the first object its light hits, so while the laser spins and makes dozens of measurements per second, a monitor is able to display a primitive visualization of the space that it is in. Sort of a wobbly 2D drawing of a room.

My experience with interactive objects in galleries is pretty consistent; their attempts to grab my attention usually backfire – it is the passive objects that end up pulling me in. That said, the very presence of the machine goes beyond the role of gallery plaything by referencing a tradition of work by Harun Farocki (arguably the most important politically driven artist/filmmaker leading into the 21st century), Hito Steyerl (in her work such as How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File), and the high stakes conversation surrounding non-human observation.


That work reliably orbits the real questions in ethics of the military industrial complex. Here, there’s something perhaps less sincerely concerned, i.e. less a sense that the subject has something at stake. The LIDAR’s presence gestures towards a self-proliferating industry, one that doesn’t actually require the support, the gaze, or even the presence of a human audience. Perhaps the only sensitive reading of this arrangement is the LIDAR’s placement next to a mirror, revealing its inability to properly “see” itself in reflective objects. That said, this reading seems anthropocentrically defensive – a position that I’m not sure Cimafonte believes in.

The magazine spreads depict the most exploitative and manipulative methods of image production in advertisement, so it is easy there to follow his critique. An ad for Skecher’s shoes announces its new moisture wicking technology by cutely proclaiming “CLIMATE CHANGE” while a GMC ad shows military jet planes frozen in the midst of a flashy flight maneuver with the text “PRECISION MATTERS,” playfully sidestepping the destructive purposes for these machines. However, perhaps the real depth to Cimafonte’s arrangement of reproduced objects is that the formal language of these images is uniform. Any difference between the image selling jets (“advertisement”) and the image of a single man hiking through the woods akin to Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer (“content”) is purely situational.


The cover of nihilism that shrouds this work is similar to an attitude of apathetic critique that is easily recognizable these days, one that seems to stem from a feeling of disillusioned disempowerment. Because of that, any simple satisfaction from this display mimics the feeling of opening a new, untouched product: sweet but short-lived. Ultimately, the presence of the LIDAR is what brings this work into value by opening a conversation around complicity and finally brings up the question, “What actually perpetuates such a zombie industry?” – before (hopefully) recognizing the patterns and paradigms that obviously don’t end on the printed page.

Jeremy Cimafonte is currently on view at First Continent in Baltimore until February 20, 2016. Images courtesy of First Continent.

Summer Paintings @ Terrault Contemporary (Ryan Nord Kitchen)

Allie Linn

My memory of “The Serial Garden,” a short story I read when I was ten or eleven years old, is foggy, but the plot revolves around a boy who assembles a paper model garden from the back of a tasteless cereal called Brekkfast Brikks. After discovering that singing the Brekkfast Brikks ode written on the box allows him to enter the garden, the boy begins to withdraw more and more into the partially real, partially fabricated landscape that he has constructed both physically and, possibly, mentally. Inside of the model garden, large portions of the idyllic flora and fauna fade into a dreamy fog where the neighboring models have not yet been attached. Until the adjacent models are linked, the garden exists as an unfinished world.


August Moonlight. Oil on linen. 2015.

I was reminded of “The Serial Garden” for the first time in many years, while viewing the simultaneous flatness and hazy depth of the mostly blue and lilac August Moonlight, one of ten paintings by Ryan Nord Kitchen recently on view in “Summer Paintings” at Terrault Contemporary. The reliance on signifiers of the landscape (moon, tree, cloud) hinders August Moonlight from falling into total abstraction, but the ample use of blue and exposed linen accentuate the painting’s surface. Loose outlines of clouds and bushes in the foreground trail off into a collapsed, blurry backdrop in the center, drawing on traditional elements of perspective to create a deep space while concurrently acting as a wall, obstructing the landscape behind. The distortion of the dryly applied brush marks does somehow translate into a muggy and heat-shimmered atmosphere, and there is something inherently magical about a garden bathed in blue when the familiar urban landscape so frequently glows a noxious orange.

The palette for most of Kitchen’s paintings relies on one dominant color straight from the tube, interspersed with other primaries. The childlike color and mark making is most effective in works like Ponds 2, a field of green speckled with an archetypal corner sun, a puffy cloud with a perfect drop shadow, and a series of red tick marks making up a bridge or jungle gym. The pure yellow of Summer Painting, too, functions as a warm ground for a landscape of bushes and clouds, emanating heat and feelings of mirage and distortion. In some cases, the deliberate wiggle of a line even closely resembles a word, almost spelling out “wind” or “pond,” but ultimately these lines dissolve into indecipherable loops.


Ponds 2. Oil on linen. 2015.

Some of Kitchen’s compositions seem to borrow elements from Chinese shan shui (aptly, “mountain water”) scroll painting, stacking mountains and skies and suns from multiple points of view, especially in the more graceful linework of Garden and Fountain. Fittingly, many of these Chinese landscapes, primarily from the Tang, Song, and Yuan dynasties, depict nature as a place of retreat or sanctuary in times of political instability. Perhaps Kitchen’s paintings do the same, relying on the garden as a space for escape and blissful daydreaming amidst a grim political climate. The only accompanying text for the show, “Some are cloudy days and others are sunny days,” mimics the childlike mark making of these paintings. What does it mean to equate the unending atrocities of recent current events (a texas grand jury declined to indict anyone in the death of sandra bland, boko haram, now ranked as the world’s deadliest terror group, continues terrorizing nigeriarecent mass attacks by isis in beirut and paris) with cloudy days? The depicted gardens here provide, as so many before have in the canon of landscape painting, a temporary retreat to a saturated wonderland that feels very pleasant, if slightly naive.


Summer Painting. Oil on linen. 2015.

Even after all of the Brekkfast Brikks models have been assembled in “The Serial Garden” to form a complete garden, the boy returns home one afternoon only to find that in the midst of spring cleaning, his mother has burned the paper model in the furnace. There is no trace of any other Brekkfast Brikks boxes or means of returning to the utopian garden again. Maybe it is a reminder that these moments of escape can only be short-lived. Kitchen’s depictions of perfect, summer days likewise can only momentarily provide a distraction, but for that moment, they do emanate a certain tangible warmth.

Photos courtesy of Ryan Nord Kitchen

Six @ Six (Curated by Miguel Mendías)

Bailey Sheehan

I especially appreciate when an idea is courageous enough to venture into the “real world,” its “real problems” and “real communities” exponentially more apparent than in the temporally frozen space of an institution.

Six @ Six was held in the Unpretentious Motor Inn with free Wi-Fi that is Motel 6. The rooms that were rented/parceled out were the six rooms closest to the entrance of the Motel itself. The show spaces were ground floor and all in succession to one another. I did not find much to engage with in a large percentage of the work exhibited in this show, which is not to be considered a demerit to the work itself. I believe regardless of what the work may have been about, I found myself put at an incredible distance from any of that prospective meaning by the mechanics of the works’ handling of the site.

Some of the inconsistencies I find with the show become more apparent when it is compared to a haunted house (which the show could have been easily mistaken for). People were led in groups into highly thematized spaces where we witnessed various amounts of acting/performing. There was lots of laughter and an undeniable giddiness in the air. This is not successful in that most people go to haunted houses so that they may be entertained by being scared. In an endeavour to be entertained, most people pay for a modular experience and, with that awareness, the experience turns from one of being scared, saddened, or surprised to one of being entertained, which might be analogous to the modularity experienced when viewing art.



It may have been this expected modularity that caused the motel rooms to feel more like sets rather than real spaces being responded to. If it was too scary, one could, at any moment, stop or remind themselves of the simulation’s presence. It is a form of spectacle that is especially apparent within performance; it either works or it doesn’t (it seems).

What I found to be especially frightening was the light emanating from the second floor rooms atop the exhibition. It was suggestive of another presence outside of the work/the group of mostly young people. It would be wrong to assume that whoever was in those rooms was using them for the motel’s intended purpose; it may have in fact been for equally bizarre reasons as the show (though those reasons were hidden from the public eye). I believe the foreignness of the work being presented at the ground level led me to feel as though everything else was just: everything else. This is an imposition that I don’t think the show was interested in enacting. The art becomes the art and its spectacular showing is so loud that it groups everything else together as “other.” Motel goers become thematized into being exactly what we think of “them” to be.



Despite some of those shortcomings, I found the sixth room of the show to be incredibly successful. The room, directed by Marcelline Mandeng, Keenon Brice and Emilia Pennanen was most striking in its avoidance of giving the viewer anything they would immediately expect or want, things they probably received in the rooms preceding. Viewers were denied the assumption that they, too, would have the same metaphysical implication of modularity, or distance, that we usually expect to have while looking at an artwork.

The door was locked shut (though this was not the only room to do so) and the viewer waited to be allowed in. All three performers were wearing masks and rarely spoke. The door would fly open and Marcelline would quickly pull out a gun and hold it to viewers who were otherwise expecting to be allowed in (they were not). If they were lucky enough to be let in, they would be pushed to do things that some believed were pushing the boundaries of their own personal limitations. A woman was made to leave the room after having her hand dunked in what appeared to be a lube-like substance. A friend of mine was escorted out after having a pomegranate smooshed against his face and shirt while being told to call his mother and count to one hundred. Another friend of mine never got the opportunity to go inside the room because they never let her in. I even heard that someone was thrown in the shower and soaked.

People want equity, people don’t want to get their clothes dirtied or to be treated in a way that might discomfort them in a nonconsensual way. That said, what could have been a better embodiment of the atmosphere exuding from Motel 6 for the two hours that the show took place? Emilia’s, Kenan’s, and Marcelline’s room remained in avoidance of becoming a spectacle because it remained true to the individual’s experience rather than focusing on the politics of curation or performance, politics that don’t register with importance given the site’s context.

Six @ Six was a one night only group show at the Motel 6 on North Avenue, featuring six site-specific installations and performances. Work by: Forced Into Femininity, Julie Libersat, Sashenka López & Miguel Mendías, Marcelline Mandeng & Keenon Brice & Emilia Pennanen, Adam Void, and Laura Weiner. Curated by Miguel Mendías.

The Motel 6, 110 W. North Ave, Baltimore, MD 21201 (November 6, 2015)

photos by Tommy Bruce

Horseshoecrabs Horseshoecrabs @ Freddy Gallery (Puppies Puppies)

Bailey Sheehan




The fate of the horseshoe crab seems to be dismal and worth the attention of an experienced artist’s touch, one that many would believe New Mexico artist Puppies Puppies to have. One might catch themselves thinking: this seems like an important project, I’m surprised more people do not know about this, as they leave the Freddy Gallery on West Franklin. But are we to believe that Puppies Puppies solely purposed this show to raise awareness of a ‘forgettable sea creature with a hidden chemical superpower?’ I feel there is more to discuss here.

The most recent exhibition at Freddy Gallery features painted horseshoe crabs and vinyl works in addition to a live performance. The work is seemingly focused on giving a visual explanation of the LAL test, which involves the use of a chemical found only in the amoebocytes of the horseshoe crab’s blood cells. “Pharmaceutical companies burst the cells that contain the chemical, called coagulogen. Then, they can use the coagulogen to detect contamination in any solution that might come into contact with blood. If there are dangerous bacterial endotoxins in the liquid- even at a concentration of one part per trillion- the horseshoe crab blood extract will go to work”- by turning the solution into a ‘gel’ substance. Nonetheless, to paraphrase the press release, virtually every American who has ever received an injection has been protected because we harvest the blood of the horseshoe crab.

I believe the most critical part of the exhibition lies on the back of the press release itself.

Hi this is Puppies speaking on behalf of HorseshoeCrabs:

The horseshoe crab… It has evolved onnnnly so much as to further its existence & existence it has achieveddd…. 445 million years worth….. horseshoe crabs and paintings seem to relate in my mind. They are expressions that have survived the test of time. By linking the two I’m expressing my need as an artist (not by me being the actual artist that painted the paintings) but my need to present the paintings in this context. Maybe these expressions are addressing my need to survive and to hide under many layers in order to do so. To understand my fleeting existence but know that humans like me will continue to paint. To breed on the shoreline in shallow water only to propel the existence of my expressions and the expressions to come later on, I feel very deeply for these creatures.

It is very tempting to digest this direct statement from Puppies in a binary sense (them commenting on a relationship between a human and external [natural] world). This would be a very stale modern take on an issue that, for the most part, a large percentage of us have gone our whole lives not caring about. Though Puppies only mentions man and horseshoe crab, I believe him/her to be outlining a more overarching network of thoughts. I believe it would also be very tempting to spout a thematic ecological discussion that would leave us all feeling very sorry for these poor, poor creatures. If we do choose to take thatroute, how are we then supposed to feel about painting? How are we then supposed to feel about our own reproductions through the everyday (facebook, snapchat, everyday performative gestures, etc.).



Puppies speaks about the need, obligation and instinct to procreate in both the production of paintings and within the horseshoe crab population itself. The relationship that Puppies finds between the two owes itself to many more things than just the initial similarities one may find. I begin to think of all the other happenings required for the two processes of production discussed earlier to take place. I do not want to view this relationship being described as one that temporarily floats above the mechanics of the everyday. I think of the full moons and high tides necessary for a typical horseshoe crab mating season, or even the worms and clams that form the horseshoe crab’s regular diet.

The average contemporary painter steps outside their mating process as they journey to the local art store to pick up the necessary paints, stretchers and canvas. As one starts to form a list of every thing related to the process of duplication, mating or ‘creating’ (as the romantic painter would believe) and then a respective list of all the things related to that long list of things first handedly related to the original act, it changes the way we speak about things commonly idealized as being autonomous such as painting or horseshoe crab mating. I think now we are drifting towards a more Latourian approach to dissecting just what this show is trying to dance around. If we take, for instance, French Sociologist Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory (which treatsobjects as part of social networks) not only does it do the job of removing humans from a metaphysical top-tier in any analysis we try to mount, it also mobilizes horseshoe crabs as a driving force in that same relationship (able to act or participate in that same list of networks). If we instill within the horseshoe crab, an ability to act or participate actively in a system of networks (not through animism or our imagination, but rather through a pseudo flattened ontological mindset) we begin to tred into a conversation that is more entertaining and definitely a lot less lonely. We become less lonely in a sense that we may begin to realize we share the stage (as both humans and artists) with a lot more actors who have just as much if not more experience as us, that population no longer swept to stage left and labeled as other, everything else, or even people(as some ecological discussions tend to drift towards). To be perfectly honest, a hyperobject such as a horseshoe crab is a great stage partner to have.



The instinct to reproduce (whether painting or horseshoecrab mating) may not be one that is mythical or something that we humans or artists should find unbelievable and/or beautiful. The horseshoe crab may in fact be acting within its networks and among its set of alliances (which give justification for its existence not in a sense of purpose but in a pure empirical sense). As the horseshoe crab continues to breed on the shoreline in shallow water only to propel its constant ability to act, to change and grow (not so that on one far off day it may be free to live peacefully on its own, but rather for the sole purpose of expression, of acting), painting continues along a parallel trajectory. Painting can so often be a dreamy, mystical process of magic that happens when an artist is in their studio. Here, Puppies suggests that the initiative to paint is the same as a horseshoe crab’s performative act of reproduction. The fewer alliances an actor forms or has, the weaker their grip becomes on existence, therefore, painting (and, to a greater extent, art) survives (and is beautiful) through its alliances with other networks and its opaque malleability.

I feel that both the painter and the painting should not colonize their way through the everyday. It may be because of this notion that makes it a perfectly appropriate move for Puppies to have not painted or even fabricated any of the visual components of the show. The fabulous myth of the painter lives on. Their ‘shared stage’ allows the perpetual act of recreation and duplication of painting to continue unfettered (even more so than the typical show we have become used to seeing). Puppies truly connects to this sea creature not in an animistic-type sense but in a sense that they are comfortable enough to share the stage. To say (in this instance) that it does not in any way really matter who painted or fabricated each piece (be it a professional artist or a more visionary-type painter), that would not be so bizarre would it?

Perhaps in remembering the artist’s various trips to the art store, high tides and pb&j’s we may begin to derail the magic of the artist and of ‘nature’ and understand our own initiatives as well as those around us as we begin to share Puppies’ feelings towards this forgettable sea creature.

HorseshoecrabsHorseshoecrabs is on view through September 26 at 510 W. Franklin Street, Baltimore, MD. All images courtesy Freddy Gallery.

Joint published with Temporary Art Review. Find this review in short form at their site.