April 1, 2011

Defaults Restored at Camel Art Space

“Conceptual art” has been ubiquitous for so long that the term has lost its original and specific meaning. Now it means anything that riffs on themes or ideas, or anything that borrows stylistically from some earlier idiom that was once called conceptual art. Or anything that looks vaguely like something by Vito Acconci. It is broadly speaking any tableaux that illustrates or "sets up" or "stages" an idea of one sort or another. Rarely is it conceptual in the straight and narrow sense.

Wacdesignstudio (Scott Cartwright and Jenny Lynn Weitz-AmareĆ© Cartwright) Obus Lofts in Houston, TX. Their proposal, based on Le Corbusier’s Plan Obus, is to redesign the city in anticipation of future oil and water scarcity, by situating massive apartment complexes under the freeway system.

We have to remind ourselves that for a work to be "conceptual art," it has to consist in a concept of art. That is, it has to address the conditions that establish the work as art. Conceptual art is about what makes something a work of art. It follows then, that conceptual art is a genre very much in the spirit of “art for art's sake.” The “definition of art” is the main consideration. Early in the 20th century, when objects that were not deemed to have the status of art were introduced as art, a development in the concept of art took place. And later, when words and texts that had no physical existence were introduced as “objects” of art, the concept of art was further developed. A young Joseph Kosuth famously defined conceptual art in the 1960s as being art that "is capable of conceptual development."  

The show Restore Defaults at Camel Art Space has grasped this point with clarity. Curators Carl Gunhouse and Tom Marquet have distanced themselves from all manner of mannerisms wrongly associated with conceptualism, and they've given a coherent idea to an eclectic group show. In essence they have taken an abiding motif of conceptual art — the “found object” — and transposed it to what they call the “default condition.” The result is fresh and convincing.

The artists in this show take on the environment of consumer culture in America, and present it basically as found. As with the art of the found object, there is an astringent, hands-off approach to the thing. But strong points are made with simple maneuvers. A high-rise housing project is spliced into a freeway overpass, where it fits perfectly, in a grim union of two monoliths of consumer culture.

The works in this show, write the curators, “treat their starting points as things that are already of interest, and, rather than seeking to disguise or destroy these beginnings, embrace and emphasize their role in the process of creation.”

Nathan Davis’ sound composition Crawlspace, composed digitally on a computer, uses only the sounds generated by the computer as it goes about its tasks, the spinning of a hard drive, the reading of a disc, the whirring fan.

Jenny Drumgoole’s video about her attempt to win some kind of a Philadelphia Cream Cheese cooking contest was a little too far out on the irony belt for me fully to grok. But the art statement consists in, and only in, Drumgoole’s hassled participation in some semi-conscious cooking show, now teased out and rarefied by the artist. She’s cute and you’d like to see her in a TV show, but of course that's not the point. And this piece works fine as found.

Calvin Lee, photo of a group of celebrity shutterbugs in Los Angeles who call themselves “The Money Shot.”

Calvin Lee has taken a photograph of paparazzi in LA waiting to take photographs. When the art critic one-ups him, as I do, by taking a photo of the photo of the photogs, the conceptual circuitry is complete, and I get zapped! Presto, interactive art. And if you, the reader, repost this photo, well, you get the idea. And notice the pentimenti of reflections in the picture-frame glass, which lend to a distortion of the image as it "runs its course" so to speak.

Hilary Baldwin and Matthew Ward’s collaborative installation is the most conventionally “gallery-style” work in the show, and perhaps for this reason it is the work that best captures the sense of what the curators mean by art as a “default” situation. The artists have installed their own paintings in their assemblage, suggesting that a painting by the artist can be uncoupled from the context of a straight showing, and derived into another frame of reference; a second work by the same artist, involving the same object.

Hilary Baldwin and Matthew Ward, installation view
Thus, a conventional painting can double as a found object. Baldwin and Ward make the point that works of art are part of the “default condition” of everyday life. They are quotidian objects, like consumer goods. Certainly this is true in Brooklyn, and in many other cities where being an artist has become the norm, not the exception, and there is a surfeit of painting. “The paintings hang in an ambiguous relationship to the objects that surround them,” write curators Gunhouse and Marquet, “sometimes reflecting the objects in their own compositions, sometimes seeming to wish they could just have some modernist autonomy and be left alone.”

– Ethan Pettit, 11 April 2011

Restore Defaults, at Camel Art Space on 722 Metropolitan Avenue, right near the Grand Street L stop, runs through May 1st. A talk and performance will take place on April 8, from 6-9 pm. www.camelartspace.com

March 21, 2011

The Bisected Moon – Takahiko iimmura at Microscope

Takahiko iimura: Between the Frames
Microscope, March 19-April 11, 2011

It was a supermoon over the Township of Bushwick. When the moon is full the penumbra of the City of Williamsburg draws inwards like a contracting tide, and the great heath of northern Brooklyn reclaims its Bushwickness for a night. And in the round ass of that very Bushwick lies the confluence of Evergreen and Myrtle, where in a pocket of that neighborhood is the gallery called microscope.

The more industrial the region, the more rarefied the event. The door to the place actually opens. And though the place is dark and silent, thirty people stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the room. On the wall the moon flickers, cast upon the wall by so many holes punched into a 60-foot loop of 16-mm film. Only the sputter of a projector sounds in the room. The loop of film careens like a cable along the length of the ceiling, and then drops in a corkscrew wiggle down in front of the jiggling moon, bisecting it.

Heads are transfixed, silhouettes are still, cellphone cameras raised all around. All the rest is space | space split open. Space bisected by the string of celluloid that also casts the dancing strobe. When the film finally jams up in a hot red toenail of light and the projector coughs and chokes and sputters out, the room erupts in applause, the house lights go up, and Takahiko iimura waves a springy bush of film triumphantly aloft.

iimura has been working in experimental film since the 1960s. On the press release Jonas Mekas writes, “He has explored this direction of cinema in greater depth than anyone else.” This is as basic, as classical a work of “conceptual” or “structural film” as you'll find, the work of a master axeman of minimalism. A piece of cinema, sculpture, and performance art, since iimura punches the holes into the film as it is rolling, until the film becomes too weak and jams up.

From an old school conceptualist, this is a poignant remark on Bushwick today. It was not only a clever film sculpture, but iimura deftly illuminated a neighborhood that has in fact made a transformation from manufacturing to a so-called "creative economy" that includes film production.

January 21, 2011

Loft Dwellers Prevail, For Now

Jim Fleming of the book press Autonomedia, and a longtime resident on the storied South 11th Street in Williamsburg, testifies at last night's Loft Board hearing
At the conclusion of last night’s special hearing in Manhattan on a proposed amendment to the Loft Law that would make it more difficult for many loft dwelling artists to qualify for protection under the law, Loft Board member Chuck DeLaney thanked the people who packed the chamber, the great majority of whom were loft dwellers who’d come to testify against the proposed rule.