Stacey Steers “Night Hunter” @ K.OSS Contemporary Art Gallery

The actress Lillian Gish (1893-1993) was called the “First Lady of American Cinema,” as the earliest prominent female film star from 1912 to the 1920s. In screen performances that defined the role of women in silent cinema, Gish was the image of the archetypal suffering heroine that gained strength through trauma. It was the stuff of pure melodrama.

“Night Hunter”, Installation view at K.OSS Contemporary Art Gallery, All images: K.OSS Contemporary Art Gallery

Artist and filmmaker Stacey Steers resurrects Gish in the animated short film Night Hunter (2011), which was created from 4,000 collages on paper and shot on 35mm film. It can currently be viewed as the centerpiece of the exhibition “Night Hunter” at the K.OSS Contemporary Art Gallery, alongside a selection of the collages used in its making and a reconfiguration of excerpted scenes within two sculptural installations. Steers work in “Night Hunter” evokes the literature of dark fairy tales, gothic horror and doomed Victorian romance as shot through with the intuitive approach to narrative construction found in Surrealist art and cinema. Rich in seemingly-incongruous symbolism, the film and its component parts untether and collect the raw material of the subconscious within a psychologically complex space that turns the psyche inside out. Although Steers evokes the imagery of the past, she also works to actively deconstruct and subvert the meaning of that imagery.

Stacey Steers: Single Collage, 22 x 18 x 1 inches, 2011

The exhibition “Night Hunter” calls forth many slivers of the ornately imagined past, beginning with The Night of the Hunter (1955), directed by Charles Laughton from a screenplay by James Agee. Set in West Virginia in the 1930s, that film stars Robert Mitchum as the misogynistic serial killer and self-appointed preacher Reverend Harry Powell, who attempts to hunt and kill a boy and a girl escaping his clutches along the Ohio River. He is a snake who enters the garden. There are numerous elements in the “Night Hunter” exhibition that converse with Laughton’s film, which is a highly stylized, expressionistic work photographed with the distortions and excessive play of shadows that haunt the dreams of children. The sets of the film appear as dimly lit dollhouses in the void, swallowed up by an ever present gloaming. Its action unfolds in an unreality— a studio lot rendition of night teeming with reminders of the natural, bestial world on the verge of devouring innocence. Lillian Gish even appears in The Night of the Hunter, as an older, wiser, gun-toting woman who keeps the Reverend at bay.

Stacey Steers: Single Collage, 22 x 18 x 1 inches, 2011

Steers’ film Night Hunter has as its setting, a house in the dark woods, where a youthful Lillian Gish, reanimated in footage excised from silent dramas such as Broken Blossoms (1919), True Heart Susie (1919) and Way Down East (1920), all directed by D.W. Griffith, and The Wind (1928) directed by Victor Sjösström. In this last film, the final silent performance of Gish, she plays a heroine who suffers at the hands of male brutality until she commits murder. Steer’s narrative thoroughly resonates with the history of Gish’s screen characters. In her Surrealist fairy tale, we are presented with the trappings of a haunted house rife with phantasmal stirrings. At the start, Gish, alone in the house, is sewing and cooking. Lace curtains part to reveal the starry night outside. Pots boil over. Death‘s-head hawkmoths are flitting about. The moodily detailed score by composer Larry Polansky establishes a space that is at once airy and yet also oppressive, with a mixture of sounds that conjure restless spirits within walls on the verge of talking. This is a scene of the domestic mundane laced with gothic horror. There is a raven clutching a writhing green earthworm within its beak. Oversized eggs bleed, the weeds penetrate up through the floorboards, a storm of moths flutter from the open drawer of a desk. Our heroine is writing a letter: “Strange things happening, mother.”

Stacey Steers: Single Collage, 22 x 18 x 1 inches, 2011

And soon, there is a snake: the intrusion of the phallic in the form of a venomous Copperhead. It is here that Steers relies upon the silent film archetype of the heroine in peril, as the snake threatens and the environment grows increasingly stifled. But there is a reversal, as one form of nature vies for dominance over another. In an echo of Camille Paglia’s feminist reading of Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds (1963), the force of feminine nature emerges as an act of reclamation in the face of the domestic as Lillian Gish flees the house to seek refuge within the dark of the surrounding forest. Night Hunter ends on a note of release.

The film harkens back to Surrealist works in its construction. The resuscitation of silent film footage incorporated into a new narrative recalls the film work of assemblage artist Joseph Cornell (1903-1972), whose experimental “found film” Rose Hobart (1936) was constructed from shuffled and reworked scenes from the 1931 “B” movie East of Borneo. Cornell would fixate upon repeated gestures and expressions of the actress Rose Hobart throughout the film in a manner that traps the actress under the male gaze. Alternately, Steers liberates the image of Gish as an active participant in her narrative.

Stacey Steers: Single Collage, 22 x 18 x 1 inches, 2011

Steer’s Night Hunteralso gestures toward Max Ernst’s 1934 collage novel/comic book Une Semaine de Bonté  (A Week of Kindness), in which the Surrealist artist set about cutting up and reorganizing a plethora of print images culled from Victorian novels, encyclopedias and natural science journals. For Ernst and many other Surrealists, this intuitive act of arriving at new meanings through the intuitive suturing of inert images rescued from the cultural dustbin was an act of liberating that which had been previously repressed in source material. Steer’s work is similarly concerned with the use of collage and montage as an act of deconstruction and reconstitution. The exhibition itself is conceived to reflect this process as the viewing of the complete 16-minute film of Night Hunter is supplemented by twenty of the collages used in its production. But rather than ossifying the experience of the film, the collages enlarge upon the space of the narrative. The film itself is manufactured from material that is fragmented and then reassembled. To then take the film and break it down into moments framed  and placed behind glass, sometimes in shadow boxes with mixed media adornments, is to create auxiliary incidents that reshuffle the memory of what has just been seen.

When viewing these individual, static collage works, plucked from the moving continuum, one can appreciate the skill with which Steers approaches the visual texture of her film. When the celluloid images advance, there is that poetic, jostling motion of handmade animation, the meaningful delays and lapses that reinforce the simultaneous decay and reanimation of time. In a frozen state, each image yields the detail of their source material: the engraved, etched, and half-toned language of print alongside the grain of silent film stock with hand-colored additions.

Stacey Steers: Shadow Box, mixed media, 11 x 13 x 3 inches, 2011

The very notion of reshuffling time, abandoning the linearity of the narrative, allows for a different sort of immersion in the world Steers has created. Here too, one can glance back at a Surrealist predecessor: Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s silent film experiment in non-linear cinematic narration Un Chien Andalou(An Andalousian Dog(1927) with its shocking eyeball sliced open by a straight razor serving as a powerful symbol for the Surrealist intent in slicing open the image. But whereas Buñuel and Dalí leaned heavily on Freudian theory and the repeated victimization of their heroine in the film, Steers empowers her heroine. And that she does so after swallowing the same death’s-head hawkmoth glimpsed in Un Chien Andalou, should not be overlooked.

Stacey Steers: Night Hunter House, wood, Nixplay screens and mixed media, 60 x 36 x 36 inches, 2011

Included in the exhibition are two sculptures, Night Hunter House and Cottage that go further to represent the central film project in an alternative light. The house is a Victorian model measuring 60 x 36 x 36 inches, painted entirely in matte black, with windows that reward the viewer access to the interiors of ten rooms, each with a small video screen playing loops of selected scenes from the film, each with furnishings that echo the animated narrative. The dim lighting of the rooms and the scale of each video loop, fortifies the intimate domestic space viewed on the larger screen. It also reshuffles the narrative once again, as the observer glances from window to window catching a fragment here and there, the gaze drifting to the miniature objects found within. We make ourselves small and burrow back into this house, whose very architecture is the symbol for so many stories relating to the ghostly, the horrific and the romantic.

Stacey Steers: Cottage, wood, Nixplay screens and mixed media, 19 x 13 x 11 inches, 2011

With Cottage, a 19 x 13 x 11 inch construction similarly painted matte black and presenting a single screen video loop within, and with “House,” Steers revels in the relationship between narrative and architecture. In these miniature, darkened spaces, she has fashioned pitch black galleries within the larger white cube. They are temporal dream spaces for us to project ourselves into, collecting her flickering images to take back into the light of day as fragmented memories that will later rejoin into an altogether different narrative upon reflection.

The exhibition “Night Hunter” by Stacey Steers is on view at K.OSS Contemporary Art from May 24th through July 13th, 2019.

 

Scott Hocking, Maritza Caneca, Jack Henry @ Wasserman Projects

Scott Hocking, Seventeen Shitty Mountains Installation image, 2019, Image Courtesy of DAR

Addressing the urban environment, Wasserman Projects has mounted three solo exhibitions that speak to the state of affairs where man-made structures exist in various forms of decay. Works by Detroit-based Artist Scott Hocking, Brazilian artist Maritza Caneca, and Brooklyn-based artist Jack Henry opened on April 26, 2019, with different mediums that find their subject matter in abandonment, ingenuity and rebirth. The exhibition required artist residencies weeks before the show opened where the work was collected and in some cases custom built into the generous expanse of the gallery space.

“To immerse oneself and fully own the beauty and power of seemingly ordinary objects and environments takes a certain kind of audacity. That is in part what has drawn me to each of our spring featured artists,” said Alison Wong, Director of Wasserman Projects. “Their ability to transform day-to-day experiences into narratives that address both personally and universally resonant subjects is so compelling. And as you engage in their work more deeply, you see at play the dichotomies of the natural and man-made, the contemporary and ancient, the funny and the grave—when those pieces come together in their hands, they produce something fresh, exciting, and real.”

Seventeen Shitty Mountains (No. 13), Concrete, steel, fluorescent pigment paint 46″ x 42″ x 37″ 2019 Image Courtesy of DAR

Scott Hocking, the Detroit-based artist, has been creating site-specific installations, using the city of Detroit as his laboratory to create works of art dating back to 2000. I first became aware of his work with the Detroit Institute of Arts exhibition Relics. The scope of his exhibitions inside abandoned buildings or outdoors in the elements, such as the Rustic SputnikTire Pyramid, or the Celestial Ship of the North, all demonstrate a wide range of locations and materials that speak to his expansive and inquisitive imagination.  Hocking delivers a formalist arrangement of three-dimensional artwork, primarily vacant interiors, to leverage an open stage as he creates collections of objects that propose deeper meanings reflective in a space that was part of a past. Hocking is documenting change, rebirth and transformation, causing the viewer to be held in awe, and as the artist transforms his found materials, reconstituted into a new form.  All the work is carefully photographed for exhibition and documentation of an image in the event the exterior space changes where new development clears the building or land.

This Wasserman installation features discarded concrete sewer pipes that Hocking collected from a now-defunct Detroit Water & Sewage Department building in Eastern Market transforming the cast concrete into colorful megaliths, some weighing as much as 15 tons.  Hocking, who has leveraged abandoned spaces in places like Port Austin, Michigan, New South Wales, Australia, and Lille, France, speaks to an artist who seeks new spaces for inspiration. A variety of motifs that reappear in his use of form are the pyramid, the oval and the circle: psychologically universal in their iconic existence for thousands of years, reminding this writer of the role the collective unconscious plays in creative expression.

Scott Hocking, Seventeen Shitty Mountains Installation, 2019, Courtesy of DAR

For the lack of a formal artist statement, and perhaps in a Hocking-ish way, he says in his bio, “Like my childhood experiences, I found myself hiking up to the railroad grade via desire paths, climbing through fence holes and busted open doorways, and into these once-bustling buildings of industry, now quiet and still. Cavernous is an accurate term to describe them, not just because of their interior size and space, but also because of their transformations into man-made caves: stalactites and stalagmites formed throughout these often cast concrete structures, as years of water permeated the roofs and floors. I found solace in the quietude and natural reclamation in these spaces. I craved it in my life and sought it out where I could find it. In these historic Detroit factories, built along the railroad over 100 years ago, and left for dead by the 1980s, I found my church-like experience. My freedom. My escape.”

Seventeen Shitty Mountains at Wasserman Projects is produced in collaboration with David Klein Gallery, which represents Scott Hocking, and Eastern Market Corporation. Hocking earned his BFA from the College for Creative Studies in 2000.

Jack Henry Untitled (Stacks), Concrete, found material, steel168″ x 4.75″ x 4.75″ ea. 2019 All images to follow courtesy of Wasserman Projects.

A combination of “core sample” sculptures and windows of detritus, Brooklyn-based artist Jack Henry uses resin and cement to bond various remains of discarded civilization and contextualized as new work, contrast with delicacy to the megaliths of Scott Hocking. The urban debris often on the interior cement perimeter to the rectangle is often thematic, be it branches, leaves, wiring or glass. These commonplace, post-industrial abstractions form the tension between the natural and industrial elements. The vertical stanchions constructed in plywood and plastic, then cast in cement result in colorful, chaotic and intricately-textured, supports, resembling geographic core samples from an urban landfill. These were created on-site to conform to the floor to ceiling height of the gallery.

Jack Henry, Utitled, (Wilderness), Gypsum cement, found material, steel, cast resin 32” x 24” 3” 2019

The contrast in found material and gypsum cement in Wilderness creates an abstraction that pays attention to composition as well as the juxtaposition of textures. Varying in size, Henry gathers commonplace materials and transforms them into multi-media works he calls “monuments” to post-industrial America.

Jack Henry Untitled (Fairview), 2019 Gypsum cement, found material, steel, cast resin 108″ x 72″ x 3″

In the publication, Beautiful / Decay, Ryan De La Hoz interviews Henry who says, “I appropriate discarded objects seen by the roadside to create monuments to post-industrial America. The selection process is focused on man-made objects and structures such as dilapidated houses, roadside memorials, tattered billboards, and other discarded materials. Each object is reinterpreted and presented as an artifact or a natural history museum model of something pulled from the contemporary landscape. The purpose is to evoke a sense of wonder from the banal byproducts of our failed but once successful modern society. Instead of merely pushing these man-made items into the peripheral of our everyday routine, I recreate the curiosities that happen when they depart from contact with people to move, decay, and harbor with other items to create monuments to cultural disaffection.”  The artist earned his BFA in sculpture from Florida Atlantic University and his MFA from the University of Maryland.

Maritza Caneca, VAZIO, Cusco, Peru, Pigment print on Hahnemuhle paper 31.5″ x 47.25″ 2017

 

Maritza Caneca, NIGHT POOL, Jerusalem, Israel, Pigment print on Hahnemuhle paper 40″ x 60″ 2016

The Brazilian artist Maritza Caneca began her career in still photography in the 1980s working alongside cinematographers, capturing fragments of film for a larger narrative and launched her attraction to abandoned swimming pools in 2012, beginning with a visit to her childhood ranch in Brazil to discover that after 35 years, the pool she loved as a child was in complete decline. What followed was her work in Cuba in 2014 where she was researching the abandonment of swimming pools in Cuba by order of Fidel Castro because of how they represented wealth and power. These events, coupled with her recent work in Budapest (known as the city of waters) to document their thermal baths – created a sensibility: An attraction to water pools, vacant of people, with light, form, color and the subtleties of the pattern. The empty pools are perhaps personally nostalgic, while the full pools become a vehicle for the illumination of an abstract composition.

Maritza Caneca, HEMINGWAY, Havana, Cuba, Pigment print on Hahnemuhle paper 40″ x 60″ 2014

When one surveys the body of photography, it is not uncommon to find a thread, be it particular objects, architecture, acts in nature, people of a rare type or periods in time, that dominate their attraction. For this exhibition at Wasserman Projects, Caneca’s work is found, whether driven by intuition or circumstance, working in the spaces around the man-made environments of water.

She says in her statement, “I have become obsessed with the nature of pools and the “ghosts” that once filled the spaces. I have gladly made the various shades of blue, the malleability of the water, and the artistry of the pool tiles my artistic tools. Conveying the nostalgic sensations that pools evoke became my motivation. I work from the perspective of an outsider attempting to gain, or regain, access to the coveted freedom pools offer; attempting to access the immersive sensations of weightlessness and calm so unique to a pool’s environment.”

Maritza Caneca, IMERSAO, HD Video, 58 min. 2016

These video screens take the camera immersed as part of moving underwater to a new dimension and reinforce her attraction to the waterscape of a full water pool. That is the conception of the video titled Imersao, which was shot in slow-motion to capture the feeling of a plenitude of submerging, like someone who drops their anchor in the world. Caneca’s pictures not only invite the memories but also the invitation to submerge in the silence of an immersion. Maritiz Caneca earned her Bachelor of Arts and Social Communication at the Faculdade da Cidade in 1982, and spent two years studying at Parque Lage Visual School of Arts.

While this exhibition presents three individual solo works of art, there is an obvious connection to urban decay and reinvention. Each artist in their own way approaches and encapsulates the nostalgia of material reused, reinvented, and celebrated.  It’s more than a discovery, rather a metaphor for our continuing engagement with art as an expression of urban environments from the past and present.

Scott Hocking, Maritza Caneca, Jack Henry at Wasserman Projects runs through June 29, 2019

 

 

 

 

Katherine Gray: (Being) in a Hotshop @ Toledo Museum of Art

Katherine Gray, Installation image, Toledo Museum of Art, 2019, all images courtesy of TMA

There’s more than meets the eye in the exhibition Katherine Gray: (Being) in a Hot Shop, hosted by the Toledo Museum of Art.  This intimate exhibition of glass art and glass-inspired art by Canadian-born artist Katherine Gray is a conceptual and immersive show that aspires to give visitors a sense of what it’s like to be in a glass studio, and it does this through touch, sight, sound, and smell.  It’s a multimedia show, but most of the works are glass, and for this exhibition the medium is the message.

Glassblowing is a multisensory experience for both artists and spectators alike, so this exhibition incorporates nearly all the senses.  Upon entering the space, viewers are welcome to touch the various glassblowing tools used by Joseph Rosenberger, a longtime veteran of Toledo’s iconic Libby Glass Company back in the 19thcentury when it was in its first iteration as New England Glass.

Nancy Callan, Paper, Sleeve, Wax, Block. Blown glass, diffusers, motion sensors, 2015. Courtesy of the Heller Gallery.

Nearby, a sculptural ensemble of four monumental glass vessels playfully subvert the nature of the bottle as a vessel of containment, and they disperse the distinct hotshop smells of steaming wood, beeswax, wet newspaper, and Kevlar, each material of which plays a small but essential role in the glassblowing process—for example, Kevlar gloves are used to transfer the completed work from the blowpipe to a special oven, which safely allows the glass to gradually cool to room temperature over the course of many days (or, depending on the size of the form, sometimes weeks and even months).  For this work, Gray collaborated with master-perfumer Kendra Hart.

Katherine Gray (Canadian, born 1965), Irridescent Aura Diptych. Iridized blown glass, 2017. Courtesy of the Heller Gallery.

Central to the glassblowing process of course is the furnace, which Gray represents in several minimalist sculptures mounted on the wall. Her Iridescent Aura Diptych comprises two squares of iridized blown glass in which viewers see a radiating sunburst of color.  The colors subtly change and pulsate as we move around the diptych, and in this work Gray abstractly visualizes the tactile sensation of working so close to blinding heat.  Similarly, the two works which comprise the ensemble This Makes Me Think of That also subtly change color when we approach.  Here, Gray takes the furnace and the glory hole (from which glassblowers collect molten glass onto their blowpipes) and reduces them into the elemental shapes of the circle and the square.

Katherine Gray, This Makes Me Think of That. Iridized blown glass, steel, 2015. Courtesy of the Heller Gallery.

This exhibition’s pièce de résistance is Gray’s glass and light installation A Rainbow Like You.  Here, Gray illuminates a glass table from below, upon which rest a veritable rainbow of glass goblets, cups, and saucers.  Their luminous reflections are cast onto the wall, where the colors merge and mingle in surprising ways, creating a brilliant and immensely satisfying symphony of color.  The glass vessels themselves are created in various historical styles, so the work is a kind of introduction to the history of glassmaking.  The magic of the installation is in Gray’s ability to take common, domestic glass forms and with them create a work of arresting beauty which even evokes the shafts of light and color we might expect to see in grand spaces like Chartres Cathedral.

Kathrine Grey, Installation image, 2019, image courtesy of TMA

After viewing this exhibit, viewers should complete the experience by wandering over to the TMA’s Glass Pavilion to actually watch glassblowers at work.  (Being) in a Hotshop can ultimately only go so far to convey the sights and smells of the real thing, after all. But Gray’s intention was certainly not to replicate hotshop in the first place, and we should be glad—the  glass furnaces blaze at about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, after all.  In this exhibition, Gray celebrates glassmaking itself with palpable affection, and it’s abundantly clear that for her the glassmaking process is a labor of love.

Katherine Gray: (Being) in a Hotshop is on view at the Toledo Art Museum through May 12

 

 

 

UNFURLED @ Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit  

MOCAD presents Unfurled: Supports/Surfaces 1966-1976

To enter “Unfurled: Supports/Surfaces 1966-1976” is to discover a wellspring brimming with treasures and pleasures for all seasons. Filling the four walls of a cavernous, big box space, objects large and small, modest and theatrical, plain and comely, are prosaically lined up in tight formation around the perimeter of the space. In the center, jaunty banners, dyed fishing nets (one multicolored, another shaped like a portal), scrims of patterned fabric, and lengths of rope (one red, one blue) hang and dangle from the rafters.

“Unfurled: Supports/Surfaces, 1966-1976,” Installation view, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, 2019 (All images courtesy of MOCAD and Ceysson & Benetiere; photography by Tim Johnson)

Nothing feels heavy or portentous; rather, an osmotic “lightness of being” builds as the eye and spirit bounce and rocket from object to object: a tall, naked stretcher listing against one wall, irregularly shaped fabrics and bedsheets rudely tacked to walls with nails or pushpins, constricting frames and stretched canvases nowhere in sight, a wooden pole tilted into a corner, dyed dishrags suspended from a drying rack, a crisscross arrangement of stubby logs skittering across the floor, and so on…

In a word, the art on view, in one way or another sheds de rigueur formalities of content and presentation. Fusty aesthetic tropes are deconstructed and dematerialized as bespoke ideals rip and split with invigorating impact. Such radical upheavals both in art and society at large in the mid-to-late 60s occurred not only among the loose federation of French artists who dubbed their experiments “Supports/Surfaces” but also among Arte Povera practitioners in Italy, the Mono-ha cohort in Japan, and the anti-form post-minimalists in the United States.

Of all the loose congeries of rebellious unfurlers the French cadre is perhaps the least well known, although the Mono-ha rebels also fly pretty much under the radar. Hence, the value and high voltage appeal of the “Supports/Surfaces” exhibition organized by MOCAD and curated by Wallace Whitney. Refreshingly, this survey brings to the fore fourteen countercultural artists of the far-flung 60s youthquake whose fertile experiments continue to inform the dynamics of contemporary art practice.

Louis Cane, “Cut-out Canvas,” 133 x 74 ½ in., Oil on canvas, 1974

One of the prime examples exhibited in this 2019 iteration of “Supports/Surfaces” is Louis Cane’s Cut-out Canvas of 1972. Here the color blocks of primary hues resemble an upright apparatus. The blue “legs” not only flank blocks of yellow and red, but also suggest overtones of anthropomorphic hoisting and supporting. Close up, one notes that the creases visible in the canvas reveal where the unstretched yardage is folded, unfolded, and subsequently refolded into a compact parcel for storage, transport, and reinstallation. In effect, a formal Mondrian has been nimbly informalized.

Patrick Saytour, “Deployed,” 157 ½ x 315 in., Fabric and PVC pipes, 1972

Patrick Saytour’s festive Deployed (1970), in contrast, exudes barely suppressed mobility and incipient celebration. It all but dares observers (a family, gaggle of friends, school tour group) to liberate the PVC poles, merrily dipping and swaying the brazen pink swags as they process through the museum. When not in motion Deployed, like a number of other works on displayis simply propped against the wall, and accommodatingly expands or shrinks in width depending on space available.

Louis Cane, “Wall/Floor,” 112 x 94 ½ x 84 ½ in., Oil on cut fabric, 1974

More delights, veering from transcendent to quotidian, await the spectator.  At a far remove from the entrance to the exhibition, a plush yellow installation by Cane beckons from an awkward corner.  As its title, Wall/Floor (1974) intimates, it radiates warmth from wall to floor, projecting its sun-splashed chroma across the viewer’s territory. The wall element, simply cut and left unhemmed, is almost invisibly framed by a matching length of dyed fabric, a sly play on a traditional frame. For the ultimate quotidian encounter, one discovers, in the corner opposite Cane’s luminous install, Noel Dolla’s cheeky Dyed Dishrags and Metal Drying Rack (1968). Distinction is conferred upon the humble ensemble by the realization that the process of drying kitchen rags on metal bars is not unlike hanging art on a wall.

Noel Dolla, “Dyed Dishrags and Metal Drying Rack,” 34 ½ x 25 x 11 ½ in., Dyed dishrags and metal structure, 1968

The iconic Grand Stretcher (1967) by Daniel Dezeuze, towering high above many other pieces in MOCAD’s central gallery, signals the structure/support dichotomy at the heart of the movement with terse, succinct economy. Stripped of its canvas, the bare, leaning stretcher, bereft of a painterly surface, nonetheless looms lofty and unbowed. Its stark grid, absolutely foundational to the age-old enterprise of painting, is both passe and grandiose.

Daniel Dezeuze, “Grand Stretcher,” 172 x 106 in., Wood stain on stretcher, 1967

Claude Viallat, “1970/056,” 85 ½ x 234 in., Methylene blue and acrylic on fabrics, 1970

Hanging nearby is Claude Viallat’s airborne 1970/056 from 1970. Bold in shape and broad in contour, its 19 ½ ft. width resembles the unfurled wingspan of a super-entity that is perhaps talismanic: Imagination Incarnate. Unstretched and unframed, its gusset of ruffly fabric at midpoint wittily violates the sacrosanct flatness of two dimensional art.  Shorn of the familiar trappings of pre-1970 aesthetic practice, Viallat’s 1970/056 epitomizes the unbridled freedom and irresistible laissez-faire of the art and artists in this spirited, revelatory exhibition.

“Unfurled: Supports/Surfaces 1966-1976” remains on view at MOCAD through April 21, 2019

Oscar Tuazon: Water School @ MSU Broad Museum

Rural Rockets and Rainbenders

In 1972, the pioneering architect and inventor Steve Baer created the “Zome Home,” a passive solar-powered house that allowed him to live completely off the grid.  Wildly inventive, the angular, dome-shaped structure looks like something that might exist in the Star Wars universe.  Dispersing his ideas through publications like Dome Cookbook, Baer garnered a small but devoted cult following of environmentally conscientious do-it-yourself amateur architects. Breathing fresh life into Baer’s ideas, California-based artist Oscar Tuazon represents the next generation of zero-waste domestic architecture.  Water School, on view at Michigan State University’s Broad Art Museum, brings together a cross-section of Tuazon’s experimental works which collectively suggest practical possibilities for more environmentally sustainable living.

Tuazon’s work has appeared in a host of major venues in America and abroad, including Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the Whitney, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Art Basel, and the Venice Biennale.  His interactive Water Schoolat the Broad complements two other similar “schools” Tuazon created in California and Minnesota (both locations that experienced moments of water crisis: drought in California, and the Dakoda Access Pipeline in Minnesota).   The schools serve as spaces that cultivate discussion about sustainability.

Oscar Tuazon, Zome Alloy, Plywood, aluminum sheeting, and hardware, 171 x 826 1/4 x 768 7/8″ , 2016 – Courtesy the artist and Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich

The centerpiece of the exhibition is Tuazon’s Zome Alloy (2016), a full-scale plywood prototype of several rooms inspired by Baer’s signature polygonal “Zome Home” (a term coined by Baer’s friendSteve Durkee, referencing the dome shape of each module).  Here, Tuazon erected three interconnected rooms taken from the complete structure which was originally displayed at Art Basel, 2016 (the other rooms are on view in his other Water Schools).  Zome Alloy isn’t functional as an actual home, but serves as interactive sculpture/architecture.  Its rooms contain a library of books selected by Tuazon from the MSU library because, as Tuazon says, “ever school begins with a library.”  The subjects range from art and architecture to science and activism.  For the duration of the exhibition, the space will host interactive sessions, variously termed read-ins, write-ins, and speak-ins.  So while Zome Alloyis displayed as sculpture, it will also quite literally serve as an interdisciplinary school, creating space for conservation conversations to occur.

Oscar Tuazon,  Rainbender (E 3rd) Velux skylight, aluminum, steel, borosilicate glass, vinyl, Sharpie, enamel, and water – 41 x 61 x 35″, 2018  – Image Courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York

Unlike conventional solar-powered homes, Baer’s Zomes applied passive solar power, meaning that the architectural elements of the home harness solar energy without the aid of any electronics or waste-producing fuel.   For example, the south face of Baer’s home (which faced the sun most of the time) contained large window bays which held dozens of large drums filled with water, serving to cool the house by day and insulate the house at night.    Working in the same spirit, Tuazon created experimental prototypes for architectural elements that serve as examples of how we might live more efficiently.  His Rocket-Stoveis a highly efficient heating system that produces almost no smoke, and his Rainbendersare designed to capture water in regions that receive less than 15 inches of water per year.  Perhaps the most inventive architectural element is his Curtain Wall, a window comprised of two large panes of glass set within a frame (imagine a glass shadowbox); during the day, it functions as a window and lets in sunlight, but at night the space between the panes can be filled with polystyrene beads, which serve as highly effective insulation.

Oscar Tuazon, Curtain Wall, Steel, acrylic, electrical components, steel drum, loose polysterene beads, and tinted Plexiglas – 91 3/8 x 67 7/8 x 46 7/8″, 2013, Courtesy The Brant Foundation, Greenwich, Connecticut

A final room in the exhibition displays selected ephemera and publications produced by the first-generation environmentalists (Steve Baer, Buckminster Fuller, and Stewart Brand) which inspired Tuazon’s own work.  These writings include Baer’s Dome Cookbook (1969), which disseminated Baer’s ideas and encouraged a movement of do-it-yourself sustainable architecture.

The works on view in Water School might admittedly be disappointing if approached purely as aesthetic objects, though the unabashed zaniness of the Zome is undeniably visually satisfying.   But more importantly, Tuazon’s practical experimentation makes the point that zero-waste living is a real possibility.  Furthermore, his work carries an enduring relevance.  After all, in Michigan we have over 3,000 miles of freshwater coastline (more than any other state except Alaska), but issues like the Kalamazoo Oil Spill and the Flint water crisis demonstrate that water, though necessary to sustain life, is hardly something we can take for granted.

Oscar Tuazo, Water School will be at the MSU Broad Museum through August 26, 2019.