December 23, 2011

Report #3 from P.2: A "Pearl" Greater than the Sum of its Parts

Another of my favorite components of P.2 New Orleans was the satellite show curated by John Otte, "Constant Abrasive Irritation Produces the Pearl: A Disease of the Oyster" - Lenny Bruce.

The setting for the show is The Pearl, a residence-speakeasy-restaurant-exhibition space further described by Eric Bookhardt at The Gambit as "a 200-year-old farm house posing as a nondescript Bywater residence. It has served as a private salon and performance hall for owner Jay Poggi (aka MC Trachiotomy) and his friends for more than 20 years . . . . "

Otte found The Pearl packed with what looks like the most intriguing detritus from numerous lifetimes. He decided to work with the existing stuff, rather than against it; the results are magical. As he writes in his curatorial statement, "[s]culptures and two-dimensional works are strategically placed to interact with already existing assemblages and vignettes. . . . Videos are ceiling-mounted, wall-mounted, projected, and embedded throughout the space in a nod to the vast proliferation of tv screens and video projections currently found in many public spaces . . . . "

The show includes work by AdrinAdrina & Elliott Coon, Jonathan Bouknight, Susannah Bridges Burley w/ Katie Tabor, John Curry, Dawn DeDeaux, Lee Deigaard, Courtney Egan, Margaret Evangeline, Fereydoon Family, Jessica Goldfinch, Dave Greber, Brian Guidry, Sally Heller, Ingridmwangiroberthutter, Kathleen Loe, Aristides Logothetis, Jennifer Odem, John Otte w/ Jeff Dahlgren, Anastasia Pelias, Kim Phillips, Michele Schuff, Gary Stephan, Paige Valente, and Delona Wardlaw.

The work is highly eclectic; hence, at least in part, the show's title, which might apply to any "pearls" of art resulting from social or other disturbances, or to any art that seeks to disturb.

While most of the disturbances in the show merit attention on their own, I realized there were a few I might normally have felt less than thrilled with (for reasons having to do with, among other things, how some video art doesn't seem to exploit the medium's potential sufficiently to justify the kind of sustained attention the medium tends to demand from viewers [which, as a video art maker, I find frustrating insofar as it turns people off to the medium]) – but as installed, most of the pieces were thrilling; and nearly all benefit from their encystment among objects that, old and odd as they were, made the "art" more luminous.

By thoughtfully utilizing Poggi's curated detritus (which itself draws from the output of numerous intentional and perhaps unintentional artists), Otte's taken curation-as-art-practice to the next level.

(I enjoyed using my secret weapon {camera flash} to unveil some of the mysteries supporting Otte's construct; and confirmed that The Pearl's contents emulate the larger world's in that, the more you see, the greater the mystery as well as the meaning. But they were extra-fun to discover, via the occasion provided by the videos and by overcoming the darkness required to show them.)

I sent Otte some questions and have incorporated his answers about particular works into an online gallery of visuals from the show, here, and below are his answers to a couple of more general questions:

C: Some of the pieces seemed to me greatly enhanced by their physical locations and contextual elements, e.g. Susannah Bridges Burley's, Brian Guidry's, and Dave Greber's (in a building entrance, on the floor). I'd be curious to know which if any of those aspects they'd include if the work were shown in a completely different setting.

Otte: You would have to ask the artists that question. It would be great to know what they retain from this show, and end up using from this experience. I suspect many will continue to show these and similar pieces in the future as discreet autonomous pieces.

Most of Dave Greber's videos employ wonderfully heavy frames that relate to paintings as well as windows. I originally cut out a plywood "window" frame for Dave's piece: Join Us Today as it was initially shown on a very nice Samsung 24" flat screen tv. In fact, it was first displayed lying in a nearby wood pile. However, the concentrated humidity in the air of New Orleans and the horizontal positioning ended up destroying the flat screen tv after about a month's time. I had an understanding with Dave that the piece would probably change form during the course of the show due to its precarious installation. I also let him know that I would immediately inform him of any necessary changes, and get his O.K. before proceeding with the changes. And, I can tell you that with each artist, I carefully considered a multitude of aspects with regard to content and context as well as micro and macro scales. I am constantly considering the meanings that result from various placements and media arrangements. In fact, that's a major driver behind this exhibition. I feel that the white-walled detached gallery/museum experience seems so played-out at this point. I believe that 21st Century viewers require many other things to inform our experience of art these days. Very few artworks have any resonance for me when isolated from everything else. Let's take the Renaissance for example - just think of the massive artistic egos of those such as Michelangelo and Raphael. Yet, they were (seemingly) enthralled by the chance to include their own masterpieces among the art, architecture and music of countless other artists, artisans, musicians and architects. Regardless, that was just the way things were done then.

I certainly believe the element of sound plays a crucial role here, especially in the interaction among the works of Brian Guidry, Dave Greber and Anastasia Pelias - they all have interpenetrating soundtracks which add up to one grand composition according to my aural perception. It is also exciting to visually apprehend various combinations of the videos from different vantage points.

C: I get the idea of art resulting from and functioning as an irritant in the oyster of life, and these works generally seem to question important aspects of the way society operates; but there are arguable exceptions, such as Courtney Egan's or Dawn DeDeaux's pieces, and the work otherwise seemed pretty eclectic. I'd be interested if you could share any further thoughts about how and why you selected the works included.

Otte: On one hand, the artworks are the 'pearls' that I've extracted from the oyster (the world). On the other hand, they are like punctuation marks in the larger composition of The Pearl - they serve as contrast elements to the rest of the space, images and accretions of objects.

I was directed to a number of the artists by Anastasia Pelias, who seemed to have a very good idea about what I wanted to do as a curator, and who ultimately turned out to be a very reliable source for me. In the end, I had to really ride the dynamics of the system already extant at The Pearl. The Pearl suggested so many possibilities and offered so many opportunities for a wide spectrum of visual and aural experiences that I knew I wanted only to add to the mix rather than take away from it too much. Well, mostly . . . I found that simply clearing paths for viewers to get from one place to another really seemed to help a lot. And, the act of "carving away" some of the chaotic messes only seemed to enhance other chaotic messes! Before installing the show, I spent a lot of time in the backyard pruning and 'defining' the plants, deciding which outgrowths to keep and which to get rid of. Sometimes it was really hard to decide which sets of weeds were interesting and which were not. When this difficulty persisted, I simply left them alone.

The decision to work primarily with video offered the opportunity for as much life as possible to continue on unabated at The Pearl. The videos, as much as possible, stay out of the way - not entirely, but a lot of the time. Of course, all of this technology is so precarious and vulnerable and dependent upon electricity. And, by the way, I must admit my indebtedness to technology - I am also a DJ. So, I'm often confronted with the question: what happens when the power goes out? Well, the answer is I'm TOTALLY F*CKED with all this dependency on technology! I absolutely admire the emphasis in this town of singing and playing and doing things with non-electric instruments and whatever's at hand. I love the use of candles, etc. I love oil paint and marble. I love it all, really. I just feel the need to constantly recognize the precariousness of all life at the dawn of this New Millennium, and especially with regard to this show. Call it a 'diseased' state if you will. Yet, in the end, it's probably no more diseased than at any other period.

Finally, I would have to say that I am most proud of the fact that this sprawling amorphous exhibition is just so . . . expansive. It is a spectrum of experiences, leading one down many different paths and potential paths only to turn back on itself. Many aspects of this exhibition are so stupid (in my mind) and silly beyond comprehension. I really feel this way. In fact, I must include my own stupidity in so much of it. In my opinion, only a few (and certainly not my) pieces contain moments of 'High Art' brilliance, and everything else is somewhere caught in between. But, that's really the point of this show. It's all stuff that's potentially interesting . . . and not. It's like a great big wonderful party where lots and lots of people are invited. Everyone's babbling away, but only some have 'important' things to say. Yet, who knows? What's important, in the end, can only be decided individually. I guess you had to be there . . .
[* substituted by moi.]

As for substantive themes in evidence at The Pearl and elsewhere in P.2, artists seemed concerned with issues having to do with social and economic justice, the corporatization of humanity and humanization of corporations, the power of p.r., social systems and interactions, the environment and our seemingly attenuating relationship to it, and our place in an ever-expanding universe, among other things.

Explorations of time, history, and real and virtual space were also much in view.

I was struck in particular by the prevalence in P.2 video of images of the ebb and flow of wind and water, and leaves' wavery shadows or reflections in water or elsewhere, e.g. in works by Dawn Dedeaux, Otte & Dahlgren, Jonas Dahlberg (see visuals starting here) and Pawel Wojtasik (see visuals starting here).

Of course, the water thing certainly makes sense in the wake (pardon the multiple pun) of Katrina; but I commented last year on the prevalence of the same motifs among NYFF "Avant Garde" films. By the fourth time you see it, it starts to feel clich├ęd; by the eighth, you're wondering about collective compulsion (by which I mainly mean that artists may as usual be being among the first to recognize that we're about ready to do some important work on something).

These videos are of course about various things, and perhaps it's a bit of a leap, but esp. in the context of other elements present in the works, the waving, bobbing imagery seems suggestive to me of such aspects of time and history as rhythm, periodicity, tides, drift, wavelength, arc length, etc., and perhaps even a sort of fractal view of time – video is, after all, esp. amenable to the exploration of issues relating to time.

Back in 2008, I tried unsuccessfully to talk my co-curators of The Program into considering a focus on time and/or history, which seemed to me prevalent concerns in work we'd seen.

My thoughts on the subject remain far from fully-formed – hey, ditto physicists' – but why wouldn't we be collectively obsessed with time? Among other accelerating developments, technology has increased our power over time a thousand-fold – while further enslaving us to the project of mastering it – and now holds out the prospect of virtual immortality. Why wouldn't we be obsessed both with our histories and the systems through which they're preserved or re-written, as we hurtle into the future carrying individual and collective pasts at once exploding in volume yet evidenced by physical relics that remain fragile and by virtual archives ever more easily deleted or revised with a few keystrokes?

This is the third of three reports from Prospect.2 New Orleans; for the others, click on the "Prospect.2" label below this post. Prospect.2 runs through January 29, with the exhibition at The Pearl open on Saturdays and Sundays only, from 5 - 9pm, at 639 Desire.

Below is a video by Susannah Bridges Burley about the show at The Pearl:

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