Nayland Blake's The Big One
The current show at Linfield
College entitled .meta
, is curated by TJ
and the finale in an unofficial trilogy of shows including Grey|Area
This very ambitious and diversified show consists of twenty works by eleven artists
all completed within the last five years and range from sound sculpture to photography.
What's more, .meta is organized in a tersely subtextual manner for the viewer
- so much so that the exhibition as a whole has ceased being implicit and has
become a curatorial affectation. Luckily, on an individual level some of the artworks
are able to speak for themselves.
Upon walking into the gallery the first piece you notice is Nayland Blake's The
, an unavoidable Halloween-esque monument. The large bunny suit is
probably seven times that of an average bunny suit and beckons the viewer to climb
in and interact with it. Luckily, I fought the urge - just barely. By sheer size
alone, it has undoubtedly become the centerpiece of the show. Blake's piece by
itself makes the trip to McMinnville worthwhile.
The Big One
is the only image on the map that is provided at the entrance
of the gallery. This is an odd choice. The map then bestows Blake's work with
obligatory attention that is unnecessary do to its size and instant aesthetic
accessibility. The map is also very important because none of the pieces are actually
labeled in the gallery. If the viewer missed the map, they would then miss a vital
part of the show. But if the viewer finds the map the first thing they understand
visually is "bunny" and secondarily about a period and the letters that
follow. It might as well be called The Bunny Suit Show (.meta
Curators have certain responsibilities. First, the curator conceives of an ideal
- manifesting a visual communication of this abstract ideal is the entire motivation
for the show, regardless if it is actually manifested or not. Second, a selection
of work based upon the criterion of the ideal is made. It is then left up to the
curator to organize the gallery in the manner that most effectively communicates
the predetermined ideal to the viewer. Without a communicable ideal, the purpose
of seeing the show in its totality is lost, becoming a masturbatory act of abstruse
Despite this, the viewer gives their best efforts to absorb the totality of the
fanfare as it's presented. In this case, The Big One
's massive presence
is an unavoidable encounter upon entering. This creates a radial divide in the
viewer's path from any vantage point in the show where the viewer often encounter's
obstructions to experiencing multiple works. For example, when the viewer stands
at the feet of the bunny and looks above to the opposite side of the gallery where
they see an early 90s style boom box which is diffusing a quiet, ambient noise.
Then the viewer's eyes drift back to Jesse Paul Miller's sound installation as if antennae and bunny ears are a call and echo reverberating a pleasant visual connection. But before the viewer can fully engage Miller's work, they have to walk around the bunny suit forcing the viewer to pick a side of the fork and commit.
I chose to go to the left and was quickly pulled in the direction of a louder
piece, both audibly and visually. This arrangement continually causes disruptions
for connections throughout .meta.
Within the oceanic parameters of this show, Norris has laid out a large problem
for himself: to translate a wide range of art into a coherent ideal. At stake
is the communicated understanding or convolution of the ideal. What clues are
left for the viewer? How does the viewer understand the transitions between the
works? Unfortunately, these questions are crucial and left unanswered. Without
clues that lead to a clear definition of the dialectical interplay - i.e.meaningful
congruency in the empty spaces - the pieces only stand by themselves, orphans
on the side of the road, individuals stranded by a curatorial action. Conversely,
the curator should be creating a harmonic presence much like that of a well-developed
mixtape. This presence is an aesthetic delight of; ebb and flow; dissonance and
resolution; panic and relief; hunger and satisfaction; silence and noise. Because
this dialectic is absent, the viewer is left with an irresolvable noise "subtext"
(bg)Jesse Paul Miller's boom box
(l), John Waters' 21 Pasolini
Coincidently the subtle ambiance noise of Jesse Paul Miller's boom box
for the most part. When walking to the left of the bunny suit and in the direction
of the boom box a sound of many small wheels with batteries attached to it pulls
the viewer in. The video installation by, Pe Lang + Zimoun's Swarms of Autonomous
is intriguing as both a scientific inquiry and a clever visual
pun that yields many interesting fetish-sized sculptures in the aftermath of exhausted
batteries. The sculptures are placed on a shelf below the video. After a moment
of hypnosis caused by a video of tiny wheels attached by smaller wire that lead
to watch-sized batteries flying erratically back and forth across the TV screen
in a most sperm like manner, I was disappointed that the video quality was so
poor. The inconsistency created by the quality of the video and the ingenuity
of the sculptural element is not a satisfactory dichotomy and leaves the viewer
a bit confused.
At this point the viewer is wondering, what exactly is the curator's ideal? The
biggest hint toward an answer is "subtext". Subtext is an excuse to
place eleven talented artists in one gallery and the work is left to duke it out
for the viewers attention. This could be a good idea, much like that of serialism
without the rules. Even in a close analysis of the artist's statement, there is
a drought of creative direction for the viewer to be guided. Norris states that
.meta gives an instant association with fascinating phenomena. One example he
provides is metadata. Actually, metadata is a really ugly example. There are
few things more boring than data - especially data about data. And even if it
were a good example, a title can't endow a show with anything more than a hint
at central ideas. When the title is an abstractly utilized prefix and the core
idea is "subtext", asit is here there is nothing for the viewer to be
guided by. A collection of orphaned ideas isn't much of an exhibition.
The poor video quality of Pe Lang + Zimoun's work mildly hinders one's appreciation
of the piece, also causing the viewer's eye to wander elsewhere. The viewer who
looks to the right sees two large red cedar dice and might wonder, "Why are
there two large dice there?" And yes, this is a question that anyone could
ask themselves about most any show with large dice, but there is a distinct possibility
the dice are placed as a non-linear transition. Still Jack Daws' Indian Dice
isn't one of his strongest pieces, which tend to be both subtler
and more viciously cutting
. More importantly, the piece is sadly being overshadowed
by the three pieces surrounding it and seems to add little or take away from the
entirety of the show.
.meta is working to achieve an aesthetic much like a mixtape - a mix of random
artists hinged together with a nostalgic premise that is present throughout the
tape, CD or playlist. The mixtape is a great part of postmodernity and, if you
are familiar with them, you understand mixtapes hold many of the same standards
this show is working to achieve. A mixtape, when given to a boy/girlfriend early
in a relationship, coupled with the musical selection, can be "ambiguous",
"awkward", "forbidding" and "ludicrous". If those
qualities are a standard of success, then that is exactly what Norris has provided
as a whole: that is, to claim curatorial rights without the problem solving and
creative context building that is required of a curator. All that remains is preference
without explanation, a puzzlingly composed mixtape or in this case art lacking
adequate transitory space.
Harrison Higgs What you Sew
and What You Eat
To the right of Daws' work is Harrison Higgs two examples of contemporary abstract
photography. What you Sew
and What You Eat
are beautiful representations
of the quality of work that Higgs is known for, and both pieces are autonomous
islands of solace created by a trinity of photographs, artist statement and titles.
This trinity creates a beauty of waste and consumer byproducts to our eye in a
subtle yet simultaneously plainly-stated visual and written modernist vernacular.
Continuing clockwise from Miller's sound sculpture, John Waters' 21 Pasolini
evokes the great Italian intellectual Pier Paolo Pasolini: pimples
and possibly the number 21. It is twenty-one randomly cut out photos of what looks
like pimples on TV. Each photo is pixilated and distorted. I understand why his
other work has drawn some critical acclaim but it is hard for a one liner from
larger body of work
to create a connection that holds interest.
Jenevive Tatiana has seven Sunday Paintings
consisting of sequins and .metallic
thread on newspaper. Tatiana's artist statement is very revealing and added depth
to the work. It is too bad that the seven pieces were placed so closely together.
A sense of claustrophobia ensues and soon after the viewer migrates on.
Robin Rimbaud / Scanner's Dress
is a digital print of three very orange
dresses. It is a fun picture but I didn't find anything in it that compelled me
to look any longer once I figured out it was a reflection picture.
(fg), Speer and May (bg l & r)
Stephanie Robinson's large sculpture, Decoy
, is placed in the front of the gallery
by the window, a location that lacks a desired radial view. It achieves the homemade
aesthetic that Robinson aimed for but it seems to have lost its conversation with
urbanism and construction in McMinnville.
Eva Speer contributed It Follows
, a celestial oil painting. Placed just
right of the entrance it is not one of the first pieces you see. In a less erratic
show this work could inspire tranquility.
D.E. May's Template, Template
Last but not least is D.E. May and his three pieces, all entitled Template
They are very subtle works that look like some strangely colored - or possibly
moldy - paper that was once something out of an excel spread sheet. May's artist
statement allowed me one more moment in this busy mixtape show to hear a soft
story and develop a close relationship with the artist's notion that "there
are times I look down at the worktable, and I would just like to remove history."
Sometimes it is the silence that does all the talking.
With so many different agendas on the gallery plate, the curator has made it difficult
to find the one idea that is really pulling the show out of .metaphysics and back
into an atomic reality. In the end, the subtext was too deeply abstracted and
the viewer is left feeling unresolved and genuinely confused about the text for
which .meta is prefixing. The show Norris manifested has many talented artists,
but overall his ideal confuses the gallery space and distracting properties of
the pieces as arranged, overwhelms the space and the viewer. Still, when the viewer
is able to isolate each piece into autonomy, several pieces make the show really
worth seeing. McMinnville as the heart of "wine country" is a bit of a step out of the Portland metro area, but I had no second thoughts about making the trip.