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 SELF AWARE SLUG, COLIN FOSTER

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.

 

Into the Blue @ Terrault Contemporary (Travis Levasseur)

 

Bailey Sheehan

PianoSconce_IntoTheBlue

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.)

Chandelier02_IntoTheBlue

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

 

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.

image

 

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.

image

 

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