Many of man's most lasting cultural achievements have been devoted to the engagement
and or self conscious positioning between viewer and the observed.
rock at Machu Picchu
was carved to mimic the profile in alignment to the
Velasquez's Las Meninas revealed the intrigues of political positioning as pictorial
Manet changed Western Art when his Olympia gazed out at salon goers. It was painted
specifically to engage and acknowledge the presence of viewers
breaking Aristotle's axiom of ambivalence as a necessity for great art.
Kandinsky's drive for abstraction was born in part from his desire for a rapport of form and color with the viewers akin to music's connection to listeners.
Later, the work of Donald Judd, Walter de Maria, Michael Heizer, Robert Irwin,
James Turrell and Richard Serra have all conversed eloquently in the way human
beings kinesthetically connect where they are to what they see. Less abstract, photographers like Ansel Adams, Andreas Gursky and Edward Burtynsky
all suggest a certain point of view
with most photography it's inherent.
Vantage (L to R) Layman, Pond and Slappe
Picking up the thread, the Archer
is a tightly curated and well presented rumination on
the participatory rapport between art subject and viewers. As new Archer curator
Blake Shell's first big show (that she programmed) it is telling that she chose
to scrap all of the movable walls that once cluttered the fine space, affording
all pieces sight line opportunities with one another. It's a welcome break from
many northwest curators' fetish of cloistered, discreet spaces that keep works
from forming interesting visual and conceptual aggregates. It also forces the
show to have less work. Thus, Vantage is noteworthy for how good it looks as
a gestalt. Pay attention Portland and Seattle galleries and curators, Vancouver
Washington just showed you how it's done!
When one first enters the space Seattle photographer Isaac Layman's wall and
floor based works first come into view. His glossy, out scaled pieces like "Sink
With Lettuce" allow us the opportunity to view a kitchen sink as if we
were the size of a rabbit. A daunting edifice of house chores to be sure but
I prefer his slightly outsized "Drawers" on the floor. These works
become more than a photograph when removed from the wall and are placed on the
they become more illusionary simulacra than the illusory documentation
of the wall works.
Also, because they are on the floor the drawers are more generous to the viewer
because we can shift our vantage point more radically. This is key, as it allows
us to test our perception of Layman's illusion and comparative scale more thoroughly.
It's the equivalent of a magician who allows the audience more angles from which
to evaluate their trick. For me it's way more pleasurable since oversized hyper-real photos are hardly rare in contemporary art. Like a lot of Seattle art it's
strong on execution but not exactly cutting edge
it just looks and acts like "contemporary art." My challenge to Layman it to push this much farther in
more unexpected, original, possibly less fussed ways. To be fair, this is a
problem for all photographers, not just Layman.
Levin (L), Bawa (R)
From Pittsburgh, Golan Levin's fascinating "Merce's Isosurface" is
an animated video made from the captured coordinates of Merce Cunningham's hands.
The resulting schematic displays the kinesthetic topography of his movements
which could just as easily be the mapped movements of protons and neutrons in
an atom. Here the vantage is through the filter of computerization yet the wiggles
and bobbing blobbings read as being sourced from something alive though algorithms
designed to produce similar results are being refined by Hollywood and video
games all the time. Since we use satellites and other instruments to schematize
and render the universe, this piece reminds the viewer of the role perceptive
aids or tools play in our understanding of where and how things are.
As the saying goes, out of sight out of mind and computers increasingly augment,
translate and transform the topography of human perception/experience. This
augmented and shifted reality is so common that this piece derives most of its
interest from the fact that it is in fact Merce Cunningham who is the one making
this puppet dance.
Atlanta's Avantika Bawa's "Points (for Brunelleschi)" is historically
immersed in deconstructive architecture like Daniel
, the perceptual paintings of Ellsworth Kelly and the painting/installations
of Jessica Stockholder. The convergent perspective of the pink wall forms do
evoke renaissance architect Brunelleschi
since the first known paintings in geometric optical linear perspective were
made by him around 1425. But it's the pink sawhorse and black line on the floor
that push the idea further than reference mongering. The sawhorse's V's mimics
the pink wall painting while being a three dimensional object while the black
line further inducts the gallery's architecture into the mix. It's an interesting
push/pull of real and schematic space both kinesthetic and conceptual.
Whereas, Tennessean Greg Pond's sound sculpture, "That Intricate Never",
consist of two condenser mics and an octagonal array of speakers on a stand
plus some other hardware in a fur trimmed wooden box. Here the piece is actually
monitoring the sounds the gallery visitors make as they walk about. For example,
a sharp clap of the hands was digitally reversed and rebroadcast 30-40 seconds
after the intial event. It produces the oddly dystopian feeling of being monitored.
A familiar feeling these days. Still, I feel this work would work/look less good without
Layman and Slappe's work adjacent to it. It's kind of an anonymous techno-geek
fest I've encountered in many other forms before.
Pond (L), Slappe (R)
Stephen Slappe's "Bear Witness" video is probably the most successful
thing he's shown in town since "Crossroads" at the Art Gym last year. The constantly
spinning camera in a cemetery with a strangely menacing figure interjected into
the dizzying panorama does feel like coming across a stranger, bear, vampire, evil wizard
or zombie in a graveyard
the figures are an engine of constant surprises that are unnervingly
static despite the spinning scene. Moments where the figure shows his teeth
are also reminiscent of the horror films that Slappe loves and studies. Overall,
Bear Witness is a solid kinesthetic video piece that makes me wish it were projected
a bit larger. Its effect in the gallery is wonderful as one continually catches
glimpses of it
an inspired choice for this group show.
Lastly, Victoria Haven's work takes up a corner. Her "Double or Nothing" works
like an architectural doodle, rendered as sculpture and it's the shadows it
throws which remind the viewer of the gallery lighting choices
bit of curatorial porn. It's interesting but still not one of her best works,
falling into that old Seattle trap of fine execution, while somehow not risking
enough on the journey to finished work. Her 6 photos of sculptures called Oracle
I-5 also feel like photos of Olafur Elliason's sculptural studies. Haven's work
used to knock me out in 2002 but maybe I am just jonezing for a major boundary
pushing installation by her
something her inclusion in any group show
can't really sate.
Overall, Vantage (which closes today) encouraged me to wander around, visit
multiple times and contemplate after I left. I've been obsessed with the existential
experiences and encounters one has in space for decades now and Vantage, though
hardly as defining as Chinati, Spiral Jetty, Double Negative or Picasso's Les
Demoiselles De Avignon it feels like a show I'll think about year after year.