Jim Shrosbree @ Paul Kotula Projects

The title of this new exhibition of work by artist Jim Shrosbree, “thinking/still,” is evocative of Irish playwright, poet and novelist Samuel Beckett who in his novel Molloy (1951), wrote “To restore silence is the role of objects.” Indeed, the objects of Jim Shrosbree are imbued with the capacity to distill and render the space they occupy with a thoughtful silence. “thinking/still” also suggests two different states of being, one seemingly active and one inactive, that are both the same. The oblique slanting punctuation mark separating the italicized action of “thinking” and the upright “still,” serves to both divide and join these two states. To be thinking is to be still. Stillness and thought are complimentary to one another, allowing for a new space to emerge.

The twenty six works in the exhibition, consisting of the sculptural, the drawn and the painted, form a thoughtful installation attentively harmonized to the intimate space of Paul Kotula Projects. The scale of Shrosbree’s objects recall the work of Swiss artist Paul Klee (1879-1940) in their seemingly modest presence—in a time when unabashed, leaden spectacle is the go to in art, Shrosbree accomplishes so much more by downshifting the scale of our immediate experience and necessitating a deeper dive into the details for a prolonged experience. The cumulative effect on the gallery environment is that of quieting down the space for subtle equations to unfold, establishing the necessary stillness to patiently enter into the smaller spaces contained within each object. It is an environment that reverberates with possibility where one is gently guided from one situation to another and then back, from slow to quiet to a state of revelation.

Jim Shrosbree, “CAD Y (fluer)”, 2016, ceramic, suede flocking, acrylic, graphite, 8 x 10 x 4 inches

CAD Y (fluer) (2016) is a work hiding in plain sight like some sulfur covered arthropod that has scuttled into position between two windows  just below the ceiling of the gallery. It is anchored into a geometric zone of yellow enameled onto the wall within drawn graphite edges. It is as if the form shed itself onto the wall to reinforce the necessity of its being there.

Many of the objects can be viewed as situational chamber pieces with a set of circumstances that chart a series of relationships. They are small, formal narratives or event mechanisms in which Shrosbree unfolds a circuit of experiences to set off a string of associations. At the root of his practice is the act of drawing as thinking, and this translates into the intuitive path making found in the objects.

Jim Shrosbree,  “My Ship (paradise)”, 2019, acrylic, wood, string, collage, 41 x 38.5 inches

In My Ship (paradise) (2019), a painting is augmented with a string containing a little knot, held in place by a bit of tape and attached to a wooden stick. Things have been happening here as if an industrious child dreamer has constructed a rig with a secret intent. A string dangles humorously and the whole affair appears to be tentatively keeping itself together. Alternately absurd and poetic, the piece invites wonder with a minimum of means.

There is a hint of the absurd throughout Shrosbree’s work, with forms that are simultaneously graceful/clumsy, present/not present, full/empty. Akin to twittering organs rather than machines, the tentative nature of the forms and the situations they occupy, lend them a sense of ridiculousness and incongruity, and yet they also seem to transcend their nature the longer one spends with them. His titles indicate a humorous reconsideration of language through abbreviation, fragmentation, and an emphasis on spoken sounds. There is a play with words that echoes the formal play in the objects, as the texts are succinct yet also vague. With his use of color, Shrosbree tends to keep things simple on the surface of it all: yellow, red, blue, white, black, with forays into an orange or a green, however this serves as a means to softly beckon us into a deeper, more complex set of formal considerations.

Jim shrosbree, “RO (coco)”, 2019, ceramic, nylon, enamel, wire, graphite, 7.25 x 19 x 5.75 inches

With  RO (coco)  (2019), Shrosbree breathes complex life into what at first read is a misshapen pouch or bag in an unlikely union with the wall behind it. A large expanse of white space surrounds the piece, beckoning the viewer to move in closer for a proper examination. The irony of the title lay in its reference to the elaborately ornamental, which in this case is comprised of the smallest shifts and gestures that guide our investigation of its construction. The piece appears beneath a yellow shell which in fact is not a shell. It’s skin appears soft, pliable, stretched, yet passages are hardened with enamel. A limp nylon tail trails beneath with a small wire emerging from it. Follow the wire and it disappears with an absurdist flourish into a tiny hole bored into the wall. Beneath this hole, another hole. Perhaps a first attempt at wire insertion. From this second hole, a graphite line is drawn horizontally to a vertical line that eventually forms a frame around the piece with a ground of yellow enamel applied within it to merge the form to the wall. Figure/ground as one. On even closer inspection, at the forensic level, little bits of pink eraser droppings dust the baseboard beneath the piece—evidence of Shrosbree’s process of working the graphite lines further.

Jim Shrosbree, “UB (leng)”, 2017, ceramic, nylon, hair, wool, cloth, paint, ink, wood shelf, 6.5 x 23 x 7 inches (with shelf)

Likewise, a detailed examination of UB (leng) (2017), reveals a small mess of dog hairs gathered on a wool “muzzle” capping one end of a blue ceramic truncheon, resting on a rag stained with blue ink and lashed to a hunk of lumber. Unlike the work of artist Richard Tuttle, who employs a play between wall and form, drawing and the minimal manipulation of modest materials, Shrosbree’s work does not exist in a state of fragility. Despite its tentative nature, there is a kind of guileless presence that nevertheless insists on being there.

Jim Shrosbree “UB (VLoon)”, 2019, ceramic, fabric, string, cloth, tack, enamel, ink, acrylic, 14 x 16.5 x 3.5 inches

Jim Shrosbree, “Uno yuno”, 2019, ceramic, steel, paint, 49 x 15 x 16.5 inches

 

UB (VLoon) (2019) further elucidates Shrosbree’s interest in dichotomies: emptiness and fullness, the animate and the inanimate, the interior and the exterior. The flaccid and drooping painted nylon sack of the piece appears spent, yet it is attached to a form that appears ripe and full. Uno yuno (2019) is elegantly displayed on a steel plinth supported by a slender rod. Such refined stability is offset by the primary form: a seed-like entity suggesting an organic pouch plump with activity as sluggish tendrils emerge from either end. However on closer inspection, there is only the illusion of fullness within the cavity of the body. Its inflation has been implied.

Jim Shrosbree, “SAN (bdroop)”, 2019, ceramic, cloth, ink, acrylic, 15 x 12 x 4.25 inches

This embrace of illusion, of what is implied rather than shown, is central to the experience of Shrosbree’s work. In SAN (bdroop)(2019), a suspended ceramic cloth recalls the time-honored stage magic act of horizontally levitating a body beneath a sheet that conceals a platform or hidden wires. New Way (home) (2012) is a small painted relief with a wood flap seemingly supported by string, concealing the origin of a single humorous drip that emerges from under it.

In what is arguably one of the more consistently unique rooms in Paul Kotula Projects, a small chamber at the left of the hallway one enters from, there is, nestled in a corner, a piece titled Tandroop (2019). It consists of three stacked ceramic forms, each resembling sausages or baguettes or extrusions—take your pick, but it may be best to simply ignore the impulse to impose such obvious comparisons—atop a rectangular patch of folded cloth, all of which is held aloft on a painted red plinth and support shaft. The top form has been stuffed into a nylon stocking, it’s open end drooping down like some distended, tired mouth. And then there is the absurd grace note: a length of black string resembling a shoelace, perhaps four inches long, has been carefully laid atop the nylon encased form. To examine all of this closely, the viewer must crowd closer into the corner of the small room, perhaps even positioning oneself atop the low platform beside it. The very act of adjusting one’s body in proximity to this piece, lends the work a vaguely carnal presence. It is passive and yet unavoidable all the same. Humorous and yet sad. A lonely figure in a small room conjuring a whisper to come closer.

Jim “Tandroop”, 2019, ceramic, nylon, cloth, gesso, enamel, steel, 46 x 15 x 7 inches

Within the tiny universe Shrosbree has constructed in the gallery, he allows us to gaze into little models of the shifting, liminal nature of consciousness. The French philosopher Georges Bataille (1897-1962) in positing his notion of form/formless, wrote in his essay “L’inform” (“Formless”, 1929): “A dictionary begins when it no longer gives the meaning of words, but their tasks. Thus formless is not only an adjective having a given meaning, but a term that serves to bring things down in the world, generally requiring that each thing have its form. What it designates has no rights in any sense and gets itself squashed everywhere, like a spider or an earthworm. In fact, for academic men to be happy, the universe would have to take shape. All of philosophy has no other goal: it is a matter of giving a frock coat to what is. A mathematical frock coat. On the other hand, affirming that the universe resembles nothing and is only formless amounts to saying that the universe is something like a spider or spit.”

Shrosbree allows for the formless to unfold as it will. Utilizing intuition as process, guided by a sharpened awareness, he places the viewer into a state of learning in which the formlessness of universal consciousness has within it connections, pathways, threads, associations. He constructs open, circumstantial spaces that provide meditative attunement; microcosmic narratives that gently unfold in multiple iterations depending upon how we, as investigators, follow the evidence and gather our experience together in pursuit of clarity. That he achieves this without a hint of overplaying his hand and allowing us the freedom to discover our own truths, is no small feat.

thinking/still is on view at Paul Kotula Projects through October 19, 2019

BBAC opens Fall Exhibitions with Fanfare

The Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center has three new exhibitions that are complementary

Iris Eichenberg, Alberte Tranberg, Shelly McMahon, Emergence Property, Installation courtesy of DAR

Having just returned from New York City and viewed the OPEN CALL exhibition at the new museum in Hudson Yards, The Shed, where it afforded me the opportunity to experience 22 art installations that were juried and funded for a group of New York Artists. Now back in Detroit, it has given me some context to view and experience the new art installation at the BBAC, Emergence Property, largely conceived by the artist Iris Eichenberg.  This nearly all steel structure takes up the entire floor space in the Robinson Gallery, leaving only a 30″– 46″- 26″ path around the perimeter only to stop before it meets the first leg of the rectangle.

The installation is a collaboration of three artists, Iris Eichenberg, Shelly McMahon, and Alberte Tranberg whose work consumes the floor of the gallery, with one end of the space housing a pool of light, while the other end gradually ascends to a platform with delicate charcoal sculptures reaching upward, accompanied by a variety of flat rectangular screens of smoked glass varying in size.  In addition, and not to be understated, the regular 2 x 4 ceiling tiles have been removed so as to reflect a grid that conforms to the layout of these steel weathered steel plates on the floor.  There are several light bulbs hanging down from the ceiling in what appears to be random locations.

Iris Eichenberg, Alberte Tranberg, Shelly McMahon, Emergence Property, Installation image courtesy of DAR

This is not a group show, but a collaboration and they say in their statement that Emergence Property represents “the phenomena of collective behaviors by bodies larger than oneself. It is most commonly associated with flocks of birds whose movements in unison are executed unrehearsed and close proximity. Often these are evasive maneuvers which are transferred among the flock.  This collective property begins with one, whose slight adjustment results in a rippling effect, shifting behavior on a large scale.”

I assume the artists refer to what is called murmuration, (large groups of birds flying in exact formation) and because that analogy was not clear to me, I asked Eichenberg to elaborate on the art installation.

Ron Scott   What was your inspiration for the art installation and is it your first?

Iris Eichenberg    It’s not my first. I would not call it inspiration but a shared interest in space , process and materiality to start with. We took on the grid of the ceiling as an external architectural and physical obstacle and rather than ignore it, we embraced it.  We took the grid as a given as you can see on the floor. The patina of the floor might be a sky or the sea. As our conversation about emergence properties included the murmer of birds ….a simplification of what you see is the collapsing murmur of birds in the sky. But then again there is so much more going on which emerged through the interdependent process. I find space in limitations. That ceiling was restrictive, dominant and limiting. We turned the room upside down and then moved in.

RS   Is this art installation a collaboration of ideas by three artists or were the other two artists on board for their expertise?

IE   It is a collaboration of kindred minds who found their voice together. I cannot answer for them, but to me they were on board for the different sounds we make, for the mind which is not my own and foreign to me but getting sometimes closer to my intent than I might be able to by myself. The working process was one of trust and ego management. An ongoing unfolding of adding, deleting and change of course. The work for sure is the result of a collaboration on various levels, taking each other’s material to a different place, opening space for each other but also ending each other’s sentences.

RS   Could you explain the idea of limited space around the perimeter for the viewer to walk or stand?

IE  Exclusion is an effective tool to raise attention to those who assume to be included. The space is dark yet beautiful. The push and pull of seduction and exclusion complicates the relationship. Being pushed to the margins of the work, reduced to voyeurism, the viewer is not part of but outside and alone. That loneliness of the observer plays into the worldview of the piece. The awkwardness made people stay rather than leave.

RS  In your statement, you refer to the phenomena of collective behaviors by bodies larger than oneself, so how does that relate to these metal plates and structures on the floor?

IE  The work  or the material is not an illustration of that thought but the process of picking up on one’s energy, enabling each other. Appropriating the potential of the other allowed for decisions none of us would have made. That is the phenomena we are talking about in the text. The metal plates are the vernacular of one of us. What they become in combination with the other elements is a dynamic energy and ultimately a force beyond the individual participation.

RS  What was your thinking about the need to remove ceiling tiles?

IE  We did not remove them. We found the voided ceiling, the void is what we embraced in shape, material and matter. It was the restriction we took on the unavoidable we accepted as a basic condition and, rather than ignoring it, we allowed it to define the mirrored ground space. In more than the grid we reversed ceiling and floor. The mirrors even fuse/confuse the identical grid.

Iris Eichenberg, Alberte Tranberg, Shelly McMahon, Emergence Property, Installation detail. Image courtesy of BBAC

I did learn more about this installation of art from this interview with Eichenberg and, as a result, I perceive it more deeply. Let’s step back and realize that art installation is a relatively new genre of contemporary art and is temporary by nature. The ideas presented tend to be more important than the quality of its medium and largely are site specific, designed to transform the perception of space.  By using the metaphor of a murmur of birds, I was not sure she was referring to the art or the relationship of the artists. Perhaps both. It has not been my own personal experience to be limited, even one might say captive, while viewing art, so with regard to the small and restrictive pathway around the work, this juror is still out.

When I think back to Étant donnés by Marcel Duchamp, or I Like America and America Likes Me by Joseph Beuys, I can easily support the concept of art installation as an important genre, and in the case of Emergence Property, it will likely transform the Metro Detroit area by surprising audiences and engaging viewers in new ways.

Iris Eichenberg earned her university credentials from Gerrit Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam, NL and is the recipient of numerous awards and grants. Alberte Tranbert earned his MFA from Cranbrook Academy in 2018, and Shelly McMahon earned her BFA from the University of Oregon, and her MFA from Cranbrook Academy in 2018.

Gregory Thielker: The Wall

Gregory Thielker, installation, color photographs & objects

It should not surprise anyone that artists are drawn to issues of social justice.  Just look at the headlines from the Whitney Biennial 2019 culminating in the forced resignation of board member Warren B. Kanders, or the uproar over Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family. In the current center gallery at the BBAC is a visual portrait of the border territory between the U.S. and Mexico where the visual artist Gregory Thielker has an exhibition of both black & white, and  color watercolors (and color photos) that depict various views of the border wall, from tall steel barricades to sheet metal fences without containing humans, just the landscape.

He says in his statement, “This is a visual portrait of the border territory between the U.S. and Mexico.  I traveled to different sections of the border region, crisscrossing back and forth, interviewing local community members and documenting the diverse terrain.  The result is a series of black and white watercolor paintings ranging from small, intimate views to a large mural.”

Gregory Thielker, The Wall, watercolor on paper, 96 x 225″

At first glance, you might think you are experiencing photo images, but on closer examination, some of these photo-based paintings are watercolors.  Just the scale of this painting is impressive, divided into five sections and measuring 96 x 225”, the photo realistic watercolor dominates the gallery space. There is a feeling of border patrol presence, just from the number 12 and the structure in the upper right-hand corner. This exhibition evokes the headlines in our daily news where images of people from the southern part of North America are fleeing violence and oppression to seek asylum in the United States.  The collective of these paintings rings in our heads the sonnet by Emma Lazarus, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Gregory Thielker earned his BFA from Williams College, and his MFA from Washington University in St. Louis Missouri, in painting.

Animal Pleasures – Small Etchings by Alan Larkin

Alan Larkin, A Marionette, Etching & Aquatint

I have seen Alan Larkin’s work in the BBAC Fine Art Competition exhibition and was delighted to see more of his printmaking in his small, intimate show in the Ramp Gallery. These etchings bring to mind a neoclassical feel, both in subject and execution.  Larkin, an associate professor at Indiana University for thirty years, taught drawing and printmaking.  In this Etching and Aquatint, “The Marionette,” Larkin provides the viewer with a lush and coherent three dimensional image grounded in composition , subtle  primary colors and engaging design elements.

Larkin says in his statement, “Art should engage people’s interest both immediately and over time. When we stand in front of something it is often because it calls to us from across the room, but when we return to it we should discover something new. Objects that can have this power are not accidents. They are made by thinking people who learn how to connect their intellect with their emotions.”

Alan Larkin, Oberon, Etching

The etchings are small and are executed with 000 needles, often under a microscope, drawn on copper plates and submerged in a Ferric Chloride bath and often go through multiple baths. I submit there is room for this oeuvre in our collecting, much like classical music, literature and photography.  “It can be discussed and understood in a number of different ways: as a design in terms of its color, balance and movement, as a craft, in terms of its mastery, or even as a story, in terms of its emotional impact or its capacity to give us insight.”  Larkin earned his BA in art from Carleton College in Northfield Minnesota in 1975 and his MFA in printmaking from Pennsylvania State University in 1977.

This collection of three exhibitions are complementary and demonstrate how the curation at the BBAC is not about sales, but more about providing the public with thought-provoking aesthetic experiences.

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center –  The Four Exhibitions will run through October, 10, 2019.

 

 

Dissident Art Under Repressive Regimes @ the Broad

The Edge of Things: Dissident Art under Repressive Regimes, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2019. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography

Between 1964 and 1985, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil were variously ruled under dictatorships and military juntas, all of which received tacit support from the United States.  Truth is murky under repressive regimes, as evidenced by the difficulty in pinpointing the actual number of people that were killed or “disappeared” (a sinister verb that acquired notoriety under Argentina’s General Jorge Videla who famously applied the word to describe dissidents “neither dead or alive”), though estimates are that in Argentina alone, approximately 30,000 people were killed in state-sponsored violence.  In South America, the Cold War was always raging hot. Until January, the Broad Art Museum highlights the experimental art produced by South American dissident artists who, at great personal risk, harnessed the visual arts to speak truth to power.

The Edge of Things: Dissident Art Under Repressive Regimes comprises a diverse array of multimedia work by sixteen South American artists (and two artist collectives) who “lived on the margins,” all united in their use of art as self-assertion and resistance.  Given the censorious nature of the regimes in which these artists lived and worked, most of the art on view necessarily approaches the subject matter metaphorically and indirectly, though the human body, intact or broken, recurs both as subject and, in some wince-inducing instances, the medium.

Much of this art is performance documented through photography or video, the transient nature of performance being perhaps a suitably discrete way to make a resonant statement in a climate of censorship.  A triptych of photographs documents Chilean performance artist Lotty Rosenfeld’s artistic intervention for which she altered the partition lines on a mile of road with white tape, transforming each straight line into a cross, or, alternatively, each “minus” into a “plus.”  For Rosenfeld, disrupting traffic law was a metaphorical act intended to subtly undermine law in a more general sense under Augusto Pinochet.

Another series of photographs documents performance artist Elias Adasme, who posed in various urban settings alongside a map of Chile (in some instances, a map is painted or projected directly onto his body).  In one performance, the artist’s seemingly lifeless body suspends upside-down from a road sign, Adasme’s pose bringing to mind a battered body in a torture cell. As a sort of coda to his performances, Adasme installed photographs of his performances in public spaces and documented the length of time they remained on view before police confiscated them.  Depending on where they were placed, this could range from as little as 30 minutes or as long as a month.

The Edge of Things: Dissident Art under Repressive Regimes, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2019. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography

Silhouettes often recur in the show as a symbol for the “disappeared,” and a confrontationally large photograph by Edwardo Gil fills an entire gallery wall, showing Argentinian police arriving on the scene of a public artistic intervention for which artists collaborated with the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (the “Mothers of the Disappeared”) and pasted silhouettes on the exteriors of government buildings throughout in Buenos Aires.  The featureless figures stand as surrogates memorializing just a few of the 30,000 people who disappeared under the Videla regime.  Similarly, Argentine artist Fernando Bedoya also applies the silhouette in his drawings, for which he builds human-like figures using letters which spell out the names of various individuals who were abducted or imprisoned.

The Edge of Things: Dissident Art under Repressive Regimes, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2019. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography

A commanding series of seven expressionistic paintings by Brazilian artist Victor Gerhard portrays specific incidents of violence that occurred in Brazil under the country’s veritable litany of Military dictators; Gerhard’s combination of paint with newspaper collage and text recalls some of the politically-charged works of Robert Rauschenberg, who also mined newspapers for content.  A second work by Gerhard also addresses news (specifically, state-sponsored propaganda); a one-channel video in stop-motion animation shows a picture of a woman being force-fed images culled from various newspapers.  The work was the artist’s response to a series of laws which authorized the censorship of the press, and serves as a metaphor for the public’s involuntary consumption of state media with which the Brazilian government force-fed the population.

The Edge of Things: Dissident Art under Repressive Regimes, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2019. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography

Any discussion about the Cold War in South America must invariably include the United States, and one gallery wall is filled with a timeline briefly summarizing the rise of each respective dictatorship and the political entanglements which led the United States (largely through the actions of the Central Intelligence Agency) to support these regimes, which, as violent as they were, nonetheless were viewed by Washington as preferable to their leftist and Communist opposition counterparts.  The wall-text also explains Operation Condor, the sordid American-backed alliance between a half-dozen South American regimes which collaborated across borders and shared information and recources to eliminate any opposition.  Actions under Operation Condor included the notorious Argentine “Death Flights” and the assassination of exiled Chilean opposition leader Orlando Letelier by a car bomb on American soil in Washington D.C., very possibly with the approval of the CIA.

The Edge of Things: Dissident Art under Repressive Regimes, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2019. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography

Given the weighty subject matter of The Edge of Things: Dissident Art Under Repressive Regimes, one might think that this exhibition would be drearily depressing. But the tone of the show, to me at least, seemed ultimately optimistic, showcasing the inventive ways artists continued to create art despite the censorious and restrictive conditions in which they worked, and demonstrating that dictators and death squads ultimately couldn’t crush the triumphant spirit of resistance.

THE EDGE OF THINGS: DISSIDENT ART UNDER REPRESSIVE REGIMES   THE BROAD  JUNE 1, 2019 – JAN. 5, 2020