VISUAL ARTIST AWARDS EXHIBITION
NOVEMBER 22, 2013 - FEBRUARY 1, 2014
DOING THINGS WRONG:
MIKE ERICKSON, ERIKA LYNNE HANSON, PAUL ANTHONY SMITH
Producing artwork during a time when the concern over genre-specific modes
of making have largely been abandoned by artists seeking to render uncommon
visions of global life, the three artists included within 2013’s Charlotte Street Foundation Visual Artist Awards Exhibition participate in the grand tradition of visionary artists, put quite simply, doing things wrong. By “wrong” I mean to imply the perpetual need, felt by many artists, to buck traditional wisdom in order to push their mediums further than ever before: hybridizing their primary medium with other ways of making, allowing the influences of time and historical perspective to infiltrate the present, and quite literally destroying the surface of material work to reveal a glimpse of something new. Mike Erickson, Erika Lynne Hanson, and Paul Anthony Smith respectively do so, producing artwork simultaneously able to speak to the concerns and sensibilities of the ever-unfolding “now” while complicating many of the genre conventions they’ve inherited.
This is to say that all artwork is time-based, or that time is an ever present factor
in the myriad ways by which artwork is produced, viewed and written about. Yet,
lucky for us, we’re able to tell time not simply by the tick-tock of a clock or the
rising and setting of a sun, but by how we spend it. More specifically, we can tell
time by how we interface with the materials we encounter, invent, and transform
during the constant passing of time.
Within all of our individual expenditures of time are choices made, and it is
my belief that these three exceptional artists are choosing to spend their time
strangely. In fact, most artists do spend time strangely. Most artists break with
the rhythm of daily life, of the sleep-work-sleep-again organization of time
we’ve all inherited, to observe, experiment, wander, and wonder about what
other usages of time are possible.
At some point in time, Mike Erickson felt it necessary to travel beyond
the confines of his own painting studio to that of the Ceramic Cafe,
a commercial paint-your-own-pottery studio in Leawood, Ks, where he
produced Urns for the Remnants and Remembrance of Decisions Made and the
Individual that Made Them, Green and Orange (2013). Two pre-made, generic
ceramic jars the artist purchased and then personalized, Erickson’s resulting
urns, yes, contain material things. Yet, as his title helps make obvious, the
urns are equally a container for the immaterial memory of choices. Urns
may just be the perfect entryway into Erickson’s practice more broadly, which
situates itself in knowing, self-conscious relationship to art history and the
institutionalization, organization, and categorization of art practices
via museums. Like Erickson’s urns, museums contain memories and choices
made over time. It is as indisputably simple, and clever, as that.
Erickson is an art lover. He loves art. He recreates around art. He re-creates
art. He might think about art all the time. He probably thinks about art too
much. He currently operates an art gallery out of his hybrid home and art
studio in Kansas City, Mo. He calls his art gallery 1522 Saint Louis. He gave
his gallery that title because it is also his address. He wants you to come over.
This love of art could explain why the security bars over a skylight inspiring
Erickson’s acrylic on canvas painting A Beautiful Thing to Stare Through While Weighing
Heavy Thoughts. Rise Up Rise Up. I Want My Own Tarot Deck. This Is Hard Work. (2012) appear
to almost, but not quite, resemble flat and abstract minimalist canvases from
the ‘40s and ‘50s by the likes of Barnett Newman and Frank Stella. Domestic,
everyday window treatments filtered through Erickson’s art-obsessed mind
come to resemble something almost elevated, while remaining entirely and
Erickson’s relationship to art is not solely based upon his study of the things we
call art, but is instead inflected by his experiences as a laborer within the broader
industry of art. As a preparator, archivist, and a steward of high-end artist print
reproduction services, Erickson has worked multiple jobs relating to how we as
a society have situated, prized, and even disregarded certain art within museum
collections and private collections. This suggests that, perhaps, Erickson’s series
of paintings that seem to freely draw from epochal and stylistic influences at
random, may not be random at all. Instead, they may be informed by how and
where most physical artwork in the world actually resides: deep storage.
At first glance, the vessel at the center of Erickson’s acrylic on canvas painting–
take a deep breath–A 5th Century Greek Vase with a Depiction of a Visit I Made,
to Consult the Oracle at Delphi, About My Nagging Doubts Regarding the Official
Story Behind the Boston Marathon Bombing, This Is An Ongoing Issue In My Lives
(2013), seems to appear out-of-time. It suggests strange temporality. The
vase he depicts, just passable enough to be considered fifth century, is posited
in his title as potentially having some metaphysical or guiding ability upon
Erickson’s own anxiety regarding the bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon.
How could an ancient archeological site a continent away offer any guidance
for coping with the violent tragedy that occurred in Boston just this past year?
It can’t, and it won’t. What it might do, however, is offer a psychic destination
for this strange thought experiment of Erickson’s. A thought experiment, a
wandering and a wondering, as though through a museum, into the murky terrain we call “the past”—both recent and ancient.
The recent government shutdown starkly highlighted how every inch
of our National Parks is subject to sharp administrative control.
Despite the ultimate inability of man to assert complete authority over
nature and wildlife, what man is capable of producing are carceral
situations of surveillance and containment. Erika Lynne Hanson
recently encountered the state’s total administrative force over our
supposedly public parks when attempting to virtually visit such places
via internet-accessible webcams surveilling these parks established and
maintained by the U.S. National Park Service. She has been “going” to
these parks virtually for quite some time. Yes, Hanson virtually wanders
these parks. No, she does not move. Her wandering is immobile. Her
wandering is, instead, stationary and durational.
As a mediator of digital information, Hanson mitigates the distance
separating her and the parks she surveils through the translative process of
craft-making. Weaving and beading, for Hanson, have offered the most
parallel of means by which to render the natural beauty, colors, and textures
of our National Parks over the course of the day within the confines of
discrete, pixel-by-pixel, bit-by-bit, image production. This is to say that
it is not solely the landscape itself that inspires her work, since her process
is equally informed by the virtual flow of one piece of digital information
after another, of one bead after another, of one interlaced unit of woven
fabric after another.
Weaving and beading take a damn long time. They require of Hanson the same
stationary and durational obedience of the webcam itself. Sure, a rhythm may
emerge within the process of weaving and beading that mysteriously passes
the time quickly, but there is no way around it: Hanson spends an enormous
amount of time staring at surveillance webcams and recording that time via
fiber practice. Lucky for her, and for us, the results are gorgeous.
Recalling the Modernist, geometric textiles of Anni Albers, much of the
artwork Hanson produces makes obvious certain proximities textile design
has always had to developments in technology, perception, and image
production. After all, Albers herself was a Bauhaus trained German expat
that would later come to teach at the revolutionary Black Mountain College
in North Carolina throughout the transformative ‘40s. Only open for
24 years and situated within the exact kind of lush mountain scenery that
fascinates Hanson, Black Mountain College employed Albers alongside such
enduring experimental artists and thinkers as Buckminster Fuller, Merce
Cunningham and John Cage, and hosted the likes of Robert Rauschenberg,
Allen Kaprow, and Elaine de Kooning, to name a few.
I can’t help but wonder if this is what Hanson is actually searching for in her
own craft-oriented conceptual art practice: an intellectual and experimental
paradise lost, an art world that does not segregate, classify, or contain the
discipline of one artist from that of another. In the assembling of her own
artificial and makeshift landscapes, which she then digitally photographs or
records, Hanson’s desire to invent an alternative world can be observed, and felt.
Sitting within an uncertain space between the artificial and the natural,
Hanson does not only record traces of the natural-ish. She instead broadens
her concerns to include how nature outsmarts us and undoes the pristine
cleanliness of the photographic apparatuses by which we attempt to record it.
In video works, the wavelike sounds of microphone feedback are important,
and the glitchy low-resolution of digital imagery is indicative of our failures to
capture nature completely or effectively. Nature may just require something
much more of us than that, something much more experimental. The
apparatuses of image production, as Hanson’s work suggests, are no better at
translating some distant place for us than the sustained interpretive labor of
someone stationary, watching and weaving, over a duration all her own.
Paul Anthony Smith bases much of his artistic activity in the world around the
concentrated and purposeful practice of watching. Smith sees the world his
way and wants to share those visions with us. Including painting, video, and
documentary photography transformed into what Smith has termed picotage,
much of his artwork represents exercises in anonymity and (ex)change.
Photographs of pedestrians are all too readily labeled as having to do with
“everyday life” in some polite, often patronizing, and precious sense of the
phrase. We like to pretend we know what everyday life entails. We like to pretend
that everyday life can be contained like a darling pet. We often apply some kind
of vague authenticity to the simple actions of those we see circulating about
town in street photography, as though the lives of the most innocuous-seeming
individuals couldn’t also be filled with intrigue, mystery, and danger. We want
to consider ourselves at a remove from the fishbowl lives of these commoners,
who ignorantly dwell in a world much less complicated than our own fast-paced
and cosmopolitan lives. Focusing his lens on the people of his native Jamaica,
Smith certainly knows better and seems to generously suggest that perhaps
something much richer than the ordinary is almost always already going on.
Drama can be quiet. Negotiations of danger happen everyday. Training his video camera on a single-lane commuter bridge in front of the house where he
grew up in Port Antonio, Jamaica, Smith simply captures a day in the life of use
of that bridge. Simple enough. Yet, this is no serene Claude Monet of a bridge
over an impressionistic moat of cutesy waterlillies: this is a bridge people need to
use often and expediently. This is an unmonitored single-lane bridge without
traffic lights to warn you of oncoming cars. This is a bridge that connects locals
to and from the airport and work, and the rest is probably none of our business.
Framing the video as he does, disallowing the viewer any sense of when cars
could be coming from behind or when a car may appear from beyond the
far side of the bridge, Smith relays the ever-present possibility of catastrophe
and how we, as humans, rely on one another in our attempts to avoid just
that. The same vigilant style of driving the bridge requires of its users, Smith
requires from us as watchers. The video is thrilling, still, and mundane, often
boring and punctuated by moments of local children randomly setting off
fireworks in the road—the suddenness of their bursts enough to remind us
that rupture is possible at any and all times.
The disrupted body, the body undone. These are just two of the many
ways by which we could describe what Smith is doing to the figures of those
pictured in his picotage works. Personally, I consider them to be exercises in
decorative decay. Simultaneously destroying the image and rendering it mor
luscious, Smith’s technique speaks to traditions of scarification and other
forms of body modification practiced by distinct cultures the world over.
Therefore, it would seem inconsistent to suggest that Smith’s interest is in
voiding out detail or rendering the everyday people at the center of these
picotage works as more anonymous. Instead, it seems much more the case that
Smith’s desire is to render them more porous, penetrable, vulnerable, and
knowable. After all, it is Smith with his ceramic pick-tool in hand, laboring
over the image, picking it apart, rupturing the body, producing the detail,
and spending the time. Strangely.
Charlotte Street Foundation
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