Isabelle Cornaro's Reproductions (all photos Jeff Jahn)
Of all the Time Based Art festival's visual art offerings under the End Things
umbrella, Isabelle Cornaro's large scale solo show
comes off as the most satisfying, probing and relevant to the curatorial theme this year. Perhaps it is because the Washington High School venue just feels inherently didactic or full of provisional festival strategies, but it is also because Cornaro's very large and sustained exhibition at PICA's downtown headquarters is so wholly consumed with zen-like circular logic... which I'd argue is the real theme of the End Things suite of shows. In fact, all of the process oriented exhibitions explore how objects don't really have a beginning or an end as much as a moment of inertia in the mind of the viewer. (A common discussion point in performance and cinema.)
A majority of Cornaro's exhibition consists of an endless feedback loop of videos about making paintings, which are then reproduced as paintings again on a large single wall. It is not unlike a record that keeps skipping and replaying or a recurring dream. Perhaps, the viewer themselves are the only ones that can truly end things, simply by leaving the space. Thus, the agency of the viewer becomes the decisive factor in the show, not the artist's choices.
When the viewer first enters Cornaro's exhibition they are confronted with a long mobius strip like succession of delicate sprayed paintings directly on one long wall. The paintings are all surface and hazy with mostly day glo colors, which would be another exceedingly dull So-Cal lets riff off Dave Hickey art show if that's all it was. Instead, as one walks past the discreet rectangles one senses they have been laid out like a series of surrogate landscapes, the final (or eastern most) one being the most impressionistic. This too is also very dull or at least incomplete, which gives the viewer a sense that there must be something more to this exercise in surface spectacle... and of course there is (thankfully it has nothing to do with Southern California).
(On Right) Floues et colore'es (Blurred and colored), (On Left) De l'argent filme de profil et des trois quarts (Money filmed from a profile view and a three-quarter view)
In fact, these paintings are called Reproductions, because they are all re-staged paintings that recreate the end results of spray painted process paintings in a video called Floues et colore'es (Blurred and colored), which is projected on a facing wall in the back of the cavernous space.
It is this video that reveals the true nature of the work as its sense of timing reminds me of Dada films from the late 20's like Duchamp's Anemic Cinema. The colors are applied in a very droll, matter of fact way that reminds the view of what they just saw moments before... while traversing the expansive space. This gives the exhibition a languid, dream like non-linearity that is more mental disorientation than Katherina Grosse's completely different spray painted kinesthetic works. These are more like stage performances than environments.
De l'argent filme de profil et des trois quarts (Money filmed from a profile view and a three-quarter view)
Another film projected right next to it, De l'argent filme de profil et des trois quarts (Money filmed from a profile view and a three-quarter view), only heightens the sense of detached and inconclusive observation as money, normally a symbol of agreed upon values is transformed into a difficult to decipher configuration... looking less like money at one point than a blue/green tinted absurdest sundial designed by a member of De Stijl.
At this point the viewer must walk past the long arcade of spray paintings to exit the space and take in one last video, Figures (Figures), which references Nicolas Poussin's rationalist landscapes via a sseries of plinths, which also ties in well with the sense of looping intellectual obfuscation threatening to erase anything memorable about the show.
The haze of amnesia doesn't quite manifest itself though and some memories of the show remain durable. In the end of these things, that final spray painting in the line does still seem like a hazy landscape that Poussin would not have approved of. Also, the money on its side remains in my mind like an inside joke about how the art world operates and the process itself reminds me why artists like Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and Jason Rhoades were all more popular in Europe than they were in the USA at first... Europeans like Cornaro, work exceedingly hard at trying to unsuccessfully forget and resurrect the pervasive history that is everywhere on that continent. In the USA, in an unfinished brutalist building like the one that houses Cornaro's current PICA show for TBA... it simply feels like a refreshing game of cat and mouse, one where that cat purposefully lets the mouse get away so it can chase it again and again. Ten years ago this would have been a bit too much for Portland viewers, but right now it seems like a great way to begin or end some things. That is an exciting, somewhat circular thought...
Portland Institute for Contemporary Art
415 SW 10th Ave, Suite 300
Through September 29, 2012 *Update, Extended until further notice.
September 20-29: Thu-Fri, 12-6:30pm; Sat 12-4pm
Just a little note to say that Isabelle Cornaro's exhibition has been extended until further notice, the show is open tomorrow Sept 29 from 12-4pm and from then on from Tues- Friday from 10-6pm. Thank you! K