Daniel Baird, This New Ocean

Appendix Project Space


By Daniel J Glendening

At the rear corner of Daniel Baird‘s exhibition, This New Ocean, at Appendix Project Space, is a slowly turning object. It is small, about hand-sized, and is held just a hair’s breadth off of the ground. It would be easy to miss, but motion grabs the eye.

From Daniel Baird, “This New Ocean.” Image courtesy the artist and Appendix Project Space.


It appears to be a rock, painted silver. It turns on a vertical axis rising up out of the concrete floor from some unseen buried motor. The rock is sort of wedge shaped, rough contoured, pointed. It could be used as a weapon, or a path marker pointing the way. It could be cast aside—it is, after all, a rock.

It turns, clockwise. It could be pointing to the hour, the minutes, seconds, of some unmarked clock. It is an arrow, after all, but a rock, also. It turns, slowly but visibly—maybe about the rate of a second hand revolving around the face of a clock, marking the passage of time, on and on, relentless. There are no numbers on this clock face—indeed there is no face of the clock, only grey painted concrete floor, but still we know what it is.

This is a rock, and a clock, and time is moving onward, no matter what. We can see it, here, passing: one revolution, two revolutions, three revolutions.

But it is a rock and it is not a rock. It’s silver, and rocks are not silver (unless, in fact, they are silver, but this is a rock). Its surface is marked by not just rough angles and broken edges, but some regular striation, as if we could see here the layers of sedimentary earth made small—millimeters of sediment: millimeters of layered time—but this rock is not a sedimentary rock, it lacks the planar regularity of sandstone or shale and carries the broken and chipped hardness of flint, or granite or—I only know my rocks so well.

So, this is a rock and also is not a rock—it’s maybe a replicated rock—though I don’t know for sure—how can one know for sure without some unavailable knowledge? It is a rock and not a rock: it turns about a vertical axis, it is silver, its surface marked by thin thin striations of layered material formed, perhaps, by lasers and resins and 3-D printing technology. This is a fabricated rock, ejected from the smooth and fluid digital sphere into the physical world, bringing with it the layers of its digital past and butting up against a world marked by, above all things, time.

Time moves, always.

We say that maybe we can escape time, maybe we can turn back time, maybe we can bend time through the manipulation of physics we don’t yet understand and maybe we can rewrite time and come to understand time as not simply a line on a page that never ends but as a continuously folding over space that is knotted up and porous like a sponge. We, though, get old.

We die.

Does the earth die?

Does data die?

Geologic time moves at a rate we can’t see except in small punctuating bursts when something suddenly gives way, when the forces of age and change sudden pierce through and shake the surface or the tension suddenly ejaculates a flood of magma, smoke and stone.

Otherwise, we only see the evidence—hills painted with bands of color: lake sediment and ash, the mulch of leaves and fallen forests. We see mountains slowly crumbling, the cleavage of stone by ice, the carved path of a river through the desert. We see sand dunes shifting and we see where water once was and now is not, where water was not and now is. We age, our hair grays and our faces crease and we die.

Does data age? Does a stream of digits that codes for the shape of a stone for rendering in a three-dimensional modeling program replace itself over and over through time? Does it make mistakes and replicate those mistakes? Does it accidentally develop a wrinkle, or a cancer? Does time exist, there?

This is just a rock on the floor, slowly turning. This is just a relic, a piece of evidence—the ejection, the erosion, the subduction. Everything old will be destroyed, and reborn.

This is just a rock on the floor, ticking off the seconds, one by one.


MSHR, “Earthly Door”

MSHR, Earthly Door.

Appendix Project Space

by Daniel J Glendening

MSHR, a collaborative project by Brenna Murphy and Birch Cooper, presented “Earthly Door” at Appendix Project Space in Portland, Oregon. The work consists of an interactive installation and a performance. As an installation, “Earthly Door” resembles a found-object architectural model of a disco-rustic beach house, complete with conversation pit. The surfaces are all wood and mirror, with carefully arranged seashells and rocks, and a black vase holding one sprig of dried sage.

Electrical wire is intermixed with chunks of subtly carved driftwood—wire wrapped around branches and stones, buried in loose sand. A glass bowl bubbles, brewing fog, and a low drone emanates from a pair of speakers against the back wall of the gallery. The room lowly vibrates.

MSHR, “Earthly Door”

Preceding the June 28 performance, the artists spent time with the audience, inviting them to interact with the installation. Murphy, smiling, served as a guide: she picked up a pair of cycling gloves wired into a mirrored box and helped a visitor put them on. He began moving his hands in the air and high-pitched tones emanated from the machine. Murphy guided two women to a pair of metal trays joined by a wire. She advised them to remove their shoes, stand on each tray, and hold hands. The machine squealed; lights flickered.

Murphy and Cooper left the room as the sun set, and “Earthly Door” shifted from a space of collaborative interaction to a site of ritualized performance.

The duo returned moments later in black sunglasses, Murphy having changed into a costume of black body suit and a custom leather utility belt. At the rear of the gallery, Murphy and Cooper executed a set of mirrored movements clutching a conch shell between them. Cooper blew a series of notes on the shell and relayed them through an echoing set of effects. Murphy, executing a series of slow, awkward movements, made her way to the recessed space at the center of the installation. She donned the pair of sonic cycling gloves, coaxing sound out of a series of poses somewhere between tai chi and voguing.

MSHR, “Earthly Door”

The performance concluded with a mirroring of its introductory movement: Murphy and Cooper took up position at the front of the installation, standing barefooted on the metal trays. They touched hands to faces, hand to hands. The sound and light faded as their touches lightened, and the performers took their leave.

“Earthly Door” contains a multitude of binary relationships, and is strongest when those relationships begin to break down: the duality of gendered bodies, of audience and performer, the technological and organic, hard and soft surfaces and the nostalgia that is embedded in the aesthetic of retro-futurism. Allowing audience interaction and play, the artists invite users to incorporate themselves into the work and complete a circuit with their bodies. Everyone, here, is a conduit: the artists a conduit of information, the audience members as conduits of energy.

However, as Murphy and Cooper transition from roles as guides to those of techno-tronic performers, eyes hidden behind black sunglasses, the audience is from the work. The sequence of movements executed by MSHR hovers between dance and ritual, and remains enigmatic and opaque—it is a fledgling ritual, not yet fully imbued with meaning. While an intimacy lingers in their movements—hands on faces, hands on hands—audience access is largely predicated on having experienced the work through earlier bodily interaction.

MSHR, “Earthly Door”

MSHR’s “Earthly Door” may have too many edges, too many facets competing with each other for attention. The retro-futurist aesthetic, for instance, serves as a lure while simultaneously recalling a cultural history that never was. The physical installation’s function as performance set potentially trumps its role as an interactive environment, as the audience ceases interaction and shifts into spectatorship. Stepping in as performers, MSHR resets the power dynamic to a hierarchical state.

This shift undermines what seems to be the aim of the work, and evidences that maybe one can’t have some things both ways. In our screen-bound era, it’s refreshing for the audience to suddenly become, of its own accord and with only minimal guidance, performer, entwining their own bodies with this techno-organic musical cyborg machine.

Bobbi Woods, Warm for Your Form.

Fourteen30 Contemporary

by Daniel J Glendening

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Once you’ve seen them, it becomes difficult to un-see them.

“California Light (Some Like It Hot),” courtesy Woods and Fourteen 30 Contemporary

Bobbi Woods’ Warm for Your Form, at Fourteen30 Contemporary, includes a looped video containing text in white on a black screen. The piece, “California Light (Some Like It Hot),” 2011, includes that line, tucked in among a script that sits somewhere between directorial notes and cut-up poem: “deep space / Palm trees / strong shadows / INSERT – CLOSEUP / I have no sense of proportions. / there’s something about you…” Woods’ text operates with multiple functions. It is at once a text-based interpretation or analysis of a lost film, recalling some vanished piece of history, and a Burroughs-via-Hollywood-Boulevard narrative, alluding directly to e.e. cumming’s “Now Does Our World Descend”: “If it’s all the same, / it’s time you unbecame.”

What’s sticking, though, is that line about the ghost.

The bulk of the exhibition is comprised of poster works, paintings on Hollywood adverts. “In the Mood,” 2011, is composed of a framed folded poster for the film of the same title, creases quartering its blue-violet gradient. It’s all atmosphere, color and space with the dust of use.

There are five iterations of “Warm For Your Form,” 2012, painted silver enamel on poster paper, hung simply without frames. The surface of the poster paper is almost entirely obscured by silver enamel. In something of a break from past work, streaks, handprints, and the swiping of fingers across the still-tacky paint mar the paintings’ slick surfaces. Looking closely, the text and imagery of the poster is just barely visible through the enamel—they are film posters for the critically derided 2007 comedy, “The Brothers Solomon”—but the text and imagery is reversed.

“In the Mood,” courtesy Woods and Fourteen30 Contemporary.

The paintings are mirrors—worn and weathered, their silver backing flaking and water-damaged—reflecting in their haze a somewhat inconsequential advert that, in the end, is only substrate, a surface to be manipulated. They reflect light and motion in the room, but imprecisely, fogged over with breath or steam. They are streaked with fingerprints, handprints; the traces of some unseen entity: an invisible being, a ghost—something trapped behind the surface clawing for escape.

There are other ghosts here too: specters of history. All around are remnants of a California dream in the cast-off detritus of failed films, in the video without actors, sets, or sound. “California Light (Some Like It Hot),” through its title, alludes to that sun soaked Hollywood of yesteryear: of palm trees and ’57 Cadillacs with teal paintjobs. It hints at the haunted hotel that served as a shooting location for Marilyn Monroe’s film, and towards a different Los Angeles, the L.A. occupied by the group of artists making their home in the city in the early 1960s and who came to be loosely affiliated with the California Light and Space movement.

“Warm For Your Form,” courtesy Woods and Fourteen30 Contemporary.

With “Warm For Your Form” we get surfaces with the potential for capturing the sheen of light and reflectivity of a John McCracken slab or a Helen Pashgian sphere, but interrupted with the hand—the physicality of the body—and held by a thin paper substrate that warps and curls slightly on the wall. Something of the expressionist painter creeps in to an otherwise phenomenological object—the libidinal body smeared across the minimalist plane.

Certain occultists, in a practice known as scrying, utilize a mirror to commune with spirits or divine the future.

Turn out the lights, stand in front of the bathroom mirror, and call her name three times.

Paul Clay, How to Immigrate to the United States of America


by Daniel J Glendening

Paul Clay’s exhibition at Recess, “How to Immigrate to the United States of America,” is made up of three digitally composited, high-sheen and high production value video works, circling around themes of ethnic and cultural identity, immigration, and human rights. At least, ostensibly.

In the first floor lobby of the Recess complex is “Paul Clay on Lopez Tonight.” Clay has digitally inserted himself into a segment of the talk show “Lopez Tonight,” casting himself in the role of Latin pop-star Enrique Iglesias. The piece is a brief segment, looped, in which Lopez and Clay discuss fashion trends among Latina women.

“Paul Clay on Lopez Tonight,” image courtesy Clay and Recess. Photograph by the author.

Upstairs, the main gallery is split in two by a temporary wall, creating two viewing rooms, each housing another of Clay’s works. One of these, “24/7 Waterfall,” is a mock newscast narrating the story of Felipe Salazar, a fictional immigrant who has moved from Mexico to the United States looking for opportunity. In his time here, the character Salazar has worked as an agricultural laborer, has run a (since-closed) restaurant, and has now taken up offering his services as a human waterfall. Clay has cast himself, again, in the role of the narrative’s protagonist, Salazar. The video boasts high-end post-production, with the contemporary news-cast’s graphic overlays and spinning logos, and features several scenes of Clay, as Salazar, toting his waterfall: a neon “OPEN” sign around his neck and a showering cascade of water pouring out of his chest and pooling at his feet. He walks towards the camera in stoic measured steps, water pooling around him, through the aisle of a grocery store and across a parking lot. He stands, water flowing, atop some granite boulders in tree-dappled light, and looks around.

“24/7 Waterfall,” image courtesy Clay and Recess. Photograph by the author.

The second piece in the main gallery is “How to Immigrate to the United States of America Via International Arrivals at SFO.” Here, Clay adopts the role of narrator/spokesman in a corporate instructional video detailing the proper means of immigrating to the United States, boarding a plane in Mexico City to San Francisco, and how to pass through customs without attracting undue attention. As in “24/7 Waterfall,” the work adopts the aesthetic of its satirized form, incorporating computer-simulated visualizations of the airplane interior and airport.

One gets a sense here that Clay has, if not an agenda, then definitely a stance. The work starts to point towards political discussion around immigration law and immigration reform, and the status of those members of US society who willingly contribute to a system that, often, demonizes them, in hopes that eventually things will get better. The work Clay presents in “How to Immigrate to the United States of America” is satirical in tone, and seems to be attempting, at least, to point towards a critique of the flawed immigration policy currently in place in the US—the satire, though, falls flat.

“How to Immigrate…” image courtesy Clay and Recess, photograph by the author.

Clay identifies as a “Canadian-Irish American,” according to his website bio, albeit one who spent his preschool and kindergarten years in Costa Rica, and several months in Mexico and Barcelona in High School and College. He “dreams of one day being a Latin Pop Star.” However, despite whatever intentions drive the work, and despite the extent to which Clay has been exposed to the culture of Latin America, the artist is working from a position of privilege. The three videos on view are, at best, problematic. Clay has cast himself as a person of a cultural heritage not his own, digitally inserting himself into a dialogue here removed from context, and what we see is a white man speaking on behalf of the exoticized other.

Here, I’m going to shift gears a little bit: while I am always only offering my personal read of a work I write about here, and make no claims to speak for any other party in my interpretation, this exhibition may draw out some more personal, more political, lines of investigation. However blurred and self-made our identities might be in the twenty-first century United States, in Portland, I also speak from a position of privilege: I am a citizen of the United States; I am a Caucasian male; I did not grow up wealthy, but I definitely did not grow up in poverty. I was raised in Northern California; at least one of my parents has a college degree.

So, how do I unpack a series of works in which a Caucasian man casts himself as a range of Hispanic or Latino characters, in a series of moderately high-production videos, in order to talk about immigration? Something about the premise makes me uneasy, and I don’t buy the explanation that that uneasiness stems from my own set of prejudices or expectations of identity. It comes, I think, from an examination—or, at least, a consideration—of power structures: economic, social, political, cultural. Somehow, a corporate presentation video outlining a MEX to SFO airplane trip, however satirical, fails to capture the nuances or tragedy of the reality of US-Mexico immigrant relations; according to statistics compiled by the Arizona Human Remains Project, 2,381 bodies have been found in the Arizona desert since the year 2000, primarily the remains of people attempting to enter the US illegally from Mexico.

A faux news-cast following a fictional migrant worker’s success as a human waterfall does little to speak towards the reality of the migrant worker’s experience which, according to reports, is often inhumane—agriculture laborers often work long hours for very little pay, with poor and crowded housing and exposure to unhealthy or even toxic conditions.

Perhaps it was the artist’s intent, through his work, to stir just these concerns.

It’s the role of satire to offer up a critique through the guise of humor, however biting. The work, to that end, doesn’t push far enough. Clay’s work doesn’t reach a point of self-reflectivity that empowers the artist, as satirist, to point out the hidden or suppressed flaws in not only their audience, but also in themselves. The artist is hidden behind a digitally produced facade—he’s there, but he’s not there—and how can I, as a viewer, believe this cold, flattened entity?

To take on the guise of another—to imagine the world through the eyes of one of another culture, ethnicity, gender, political-stance, upbringing—this is the challenge of character building. People do it all the time, in novels, film, theater, art, the list goes on. For such a project to succeed, the audience needs more than a shell—more than a name, more than an accent, more than a brief line of dialogue. The audience needs to believe in the totality of the character, in the breath of their lungs and the electricity of their mind, in the memories, successes, and failures of the character. The audience needs to believe, at least temporarily, that the character is real. Clay’s characters don’t feel real—there are too many holes, not enough history—they serve a function and little more. I can’t see the weight of the life that could be Salazar’s life, and I’m not convinced Clay can, either.

In order to be believed as someone else, you’ve got to become someone else.

Dan Gilsdorf, Sentences


by Rebecca Steele

“The aesthetic experience is not a gratuitous epiphany. Viewers must bring their knowledge and training to the encounter with the work of art.” -Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Text based work can be challenging.

It challenges in its stripped revelation of successful form/content paradoxes. Much text based work states what it is trying to do, its function laid bare. Where the function is also the form and the vehicle, all the associated parts must be screwed together pretty tight or the end result becomes little more than a rusty fiat. Text based work at its best either becomes agitated political arbiter, absurdist/minimalist joke, or a mythical incantation (Ligon, Nauman, Beuys).

Dan Gilsdorf, “Sentences,” at 12128. Photo by Rebecca Steele.

That being said, Dan Gilsdorf’s exhibit, Sentences, at 12128, is both provocative and dry, and by dry I mean to imply sandy, shifty, unstable. The pieces are constructed of type geometrically situated on white expanses of digital photographic paper, with one video monitor. They hover between tightly executed minimalist forms and typographical gymnastics. There are eleven pieces, one of them being the video. The ten prints appear to be analogue type written exercises. The font is something similar to “American Typewriter,” and viewing them becomes slippery: they assume hand execution, rather than computer generation, to perform minimalist poetic Borgesian tricks.

The texts are mostly directives for the executor of the type. “Type very carefully and thoughtfully one hundred times really quite long sentences each being longer by no more than a single word relative to the sentence that precedes…” is repeated for the duration of the page in such a way that the statements construct particular patterns and forms that seem irrelevant of their implied content, unless you begin to consider the text as rooms with various mirrored corridors. The meaning of the sentences acts as a kind of hex dump for the implied image.

Hallway Mirror (after Borges) has type that forms a trapezoid and repeats the sentence “in the hallway there is a mirror that faithfully depicts all appearances,” a quote from Borges’ Library of Babel. In this text Borges’ narrator describes the universe as a series of interlocking hexagonal rooms equipped with all necessities for human survival. On four walls of each room are bookshelves containing books each of exactly 410 pages. Though the order and content of the books is random and apparently completely meaningless, the inhabitants believe that the books contain every possible ordering of just a few basic characters (letters, spaces and punctuation marks). This thesis could also describe the working process for Gilsdorf’s Sentences, where design and formal structure are an illusion and the repetition and instructions gibberish — the human conundrum of necessitated meaning as an allegory for the labyrinth as a form of existence abstracted.

Dan Gilsdorf, “A Short Sentence.” Photo by Rebecca Steele.

The video, A Short Sentence, contains one statement that flashes on the screen on a timed loop: “On a video monitor, display a single sentence for a length of time that is slightly shorter than the duration required to read the sentence.” It is neither frustrating, as implied by the text, nor particularly revolutionary in its fraught symbioses. The work’s thinness might come from the simple claim being overwrought in relation to its provocation, or possibly being dis-serviced by the shift in medium.

Gilsdorf’s Sentences formalizes the aesthetics of exercise — the act of an exercise as a chant wherein meaning lies not in words said but is located in repetition, as action over content and tone becomes the vehicle for transcendence. This is not unlike the artist’s previous works, Black Mass and Diabolus in Musica, in which the artist utilized repetitive actions to outline the reach of the human gesture, as well as the possibility of transcendence through simple gesture. The piece Sixty-Six is composed of the phrase “sixty-six times by sixty-six spaces followed by sixty-six characters,” descending in diagonally striped banners down the page.

A Hopeful Manifesto attains transcendence in its arrowed square, stating, “a hopeful manifesto of a visionary genius,” and simultaneously “the polemical rants of a dogmatic ideologue.” These sentences both pull at each other as well as suggest meaning as authored set and the form as its own dogma. Where the sentences begin to switch places and trade words, an arrow is formed on the page by the diagonal of space. The arrow points down, suggesting the viewer, this place in time, or the failure of meaning to supersede the form of its transmission. One pole really does not differ from its oppositional statement, and given enough interaction all words create a similar kind of gibberish, or a sentence that might as well be rhythm created by mirrored form.

In The Novelist’s Lexicon, Jonathan Lethem answers the query of what key word opens the door to his work with “furniture,” and says, “it is widely believed that after Borges, mirrors are forbidden as symbols in novels. However it is cruel to deny the characters in a novel sight of their own faces; hence mirrors must be provided.”

Dan Gilsdorf, “200 Sentences.” Photo by Rebecca Steele.

I would not reason that Gilsdorf’s Sentences do their best work as mirrors, but they do relate to some activity that is mirror-like. In some pieces, like 200 Sentences and A Hopeful Manifesto, the activity that is implied by the fictionalized exercise of typing, what is typed, and its eventual form, collapse in such a way that stimulates sentiments not unlike those implied in The Library of Babel. More so than mirrors, this experience simulates our intuition of space as exercised in type.

While Borgesian libraries are “minor horrors,” Sentences maintains a cerebral visual geometry: quiet angles inviting contemplation, despite the contention between form and content.

Alex Mackin Dolan, Pure Clear

Appendix Project Space

by Daniel J Glendening

Alex Mackin Dolan, "Pure Clear."

It has become standardized practice for the walls of an art exhibition space to carry a smooth white finish. In theory, it creates an open space, allows light to wash evenly over the walls. It’s a blank. It’s a way of disappearing.

It’s rare that white walls are even regarded, looked at, or thought about. They are empty.

In THX 1138, the white room is a prison, a void implying an infinite and unbreachable space:

As literal white voids represent some “other realm”—usually a result of a dream or crossing over to another universe—physical rooms that replicate this visual effect will have the same connotations. They make excellent cells for imprisonment or interrogation—the absence of visible exits (or any sign that the outside world exists at all) implies no possibility of escape. (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WhiteVoidRoom)

Neo in the Construct, "The Matrix."

The white room in cinema (THX 1138, The Matrix) is also something else: it is the digital. The blank white room of The Construct in The Matrix, where Neo is sent to procure supplies (i.e. firepower) is a depiction of a digitally rendered space, with objects input as necessary. We see this also in the loading sequences of Assassin’s Creed 2, as the protagonist plugs in to a digital VR simulator, and enters a white void that is slowly loaded with a digital representation of renaissance Italy.  The white gallery walls, then, can be read as something more than just a retreating surface. The white walls of the gallery are a blank matrix, awaiting input. They are an un-rendered digital slate.

Screen shot 2012-04-16 at 10.05.54 AM

Or, at least, this is what they begin to signify in the case of Alex Mackin Dolan’s recent exhibition, Pure Clear, at Appendix Project Space, and accompanying documentation images at alexmackindolan.com/pureclear. The sculpture and video-based work on exhibition seems lifted out of a digital rendering program or tumblr photostream, the white walls stand in for the white space of Sketchup or the blank screen of an empty, waiting web-browser. The work is somewhat alienating, aloof, as if it is reluctant to occupy physical space and is simply waiting to be photographed and re-entered into the digital image cloud.

Phagic Growths is a sculptural work incorporating a flat screen television, lying screen-up on a low plinth with a looped video, and several glazed ceramic forms. The video depicts an undulating, black, fluid surface, something reminiscent of the “black oil” in the X-Files mythology. Every few minutes, a line of green sparkles cascades across the screen (similar green sparkles sprinkle out of the mouse cursor when viewing the exhibition on Dolan’s website). Slick black glazed ceramic forms, spiky and globular, rest on the surface of the screen, some of which look to be reaching upwards, out of the screen. An alien parasite, the Venom symbiote, or a digital, black virus.

Alex Mackin Dolan, "New Tribal Orientation."

Much of the work barely seems real, and, especially in the case of Resource Board (four snap-shot sized c-prints of digitally rendered images clipped to a glass message board, with pen drawings), New Tribal Orientation (silk digitally printed with rendered pattern and wrapped around a cylindrical plexiglass form), and, even, Positive Outlook Windspinner (a purchased wind-spinner with various charms and lenticular prints), look like they could, in fact, be computer generated images somehow occupying physical space.

In work that utilizes digital imagery and 3D rendering technologies, which have in recent years become increasingly accessible to artists working outside of the gaming or film industries, there is, often, the danger of simply becoming entranced and enamored with the new-ness of the medium, with the slick finish of the CG object or animation. In a criticism similar to that often levied against the “Finish Fetish” artists of 1960s and ‘70s Los Angeles, there is the possibility, for artist and viewer alike, to allow surface to substitute for substance.

Alex Mackin Dolan, "Long Term Offerings," detail.

Dolan’s handmade objects still somehow read like holograms pulled from the digital, but the specificity of his material choices counters this, and, along with his titles, offers up a tongue-in-cheek mysticism. Performance Stain, through context and presentation, looks unreal, though its manifestation relies on specific material choices: watercolor on hydrophobic moisture wicking cotton (designed, I think, for athletes, to absorb and hasten the evaporation of perspiration). Long Term Offerings consists of three objects on a low plinth: a plexiglass rod holding a hanging chain of multihued “tribal” rings, a gloved hand holding a nubbed laundry wash ball, cast in pigmented dental plaster, and a glazed ceramic plate piled with tourmaline ceramic balls, a material used in curling irons due to its ability to release negative ions when heated, and a small sprig of sage.

These material choices are hyper-specific, adding layers to the meaning of the objects and a depth to how they occupy space. However, I still can’t shake the feeling that they, in true hyper-Judd-minimalist fashion, don’t want their viewer around. The experience of the work seems almost more complete and whole when viewing images of the work online, mediated by Dolan, the internet, and my iMac. Dolan’s website page for the work is, maybe, a more complete exhibition, or perhaps simply a more refined, edited experience, complete with the titles and materials-list (not present, or at least readily available, at Appendix) and cascading green cursor sparkles.

For Dolan and Pure Clear, the physical world seems secondary, a necessary inconvenience in order to traverse a loop back into the digital, back into the white room.

I am, honestly, unsure what that means, or where that leaves us.

Ralph Pugay, Night-Tide Daytripping

Rocksbox Contemporary Fine Art

by Daniel J Glendening

I grew up without a microwave, and in my early teenage years I spent a lot of afternoons at my friend David’s house. His family had a microwave (along with all those other advances of modern living: cable television, the internet) and we’d employ it in making after-school snacks, primarily for it’s unsurpassed ability to melt cheese. More than once I stood in front of the machine as it hummed, staring through the glass as the food spun around and around on the rotating platter. “Don’t stand in front of it! You’ll get cancer!”

Oh, shit.

I don’t know if it’s true that standing in front of the microwave will give you cancer, but all that matters is the threat, the potential. In our search for convenience we’ve harnessed the unseen forces of nature to heat our food, and to lay waste to urban centers. To stare into the microwave is maybe akin to staring into the sun, to look for the divine amidst unknown power, to court blindness, or death, for a glimpse at something wondrous.

In Night-Tide Daytripping, at Rocksbox Contemporary Fine Art, Ralph Pugay presents a body of work consisting of painting, sculpture and performance. Much of the work utilizes a subtle dark humor and absurdity to tiptoe through a conversation that hovers over trauma and a fear of modernity, blending suburban anxiety with science fiction and The Far Side. The work is somehow crude in its craft and highly refined, attentive and considerate of detail. Pugay’s paintings are flat images, the acrylic color applied in a smooth even surface largely absent brushstroke and scumble marks, except where used to illustrate a gust of wind, or the reflection of light on a car window. Figures and objects are cartoonish, lacking sharp edges and with bulbous white eyes, and they move through environments composed of a tilted, flattened, depthless space.

Ralph Pugay, "A Sign of the Times," detail. Courtesy Pugay and Rocksbox.

The first work in the exhibition is A Sign of the Times, a 16”x20” acrylic on canvas painting. Here, Pugay depicts a band of escaped convicts, still in prison-orange jumpsuits, leg-irons and handcuffs, arriving on a bluff overlooking the Great Salt Lake and Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. The ringleader of this escape attempt points enthusiastically down at the historic earthwork, his wide Wallace-and-Gromit grin beaming through his thick, matted beard. His fellow prisoners appear mostly puzzled, unmoved, and bewildered by the destination of this ankle-bound pilgrimage. They, somehow, don’t see what their comrade sees.

Moving through the exhibition, some themes spiral outward from A Sign of the Times. There is a sense of alienation, of anxiety, of people amidst their world; a feeling that we’re looking for meaning in all the wrong places. Daddy’s Changing depicts a white middle class family in a suburban home, pausing in their game of Jenga to enthusiastically welcome Daddy home as he sweeps into the living room while undergoing a rapid evolution from ape to suit-and-tie-wearing man. In Presidential Panic Attack the leader of the free world (a grey-haired white man) cowers against the wall of the Oval Office as frantic aids try to sooth him. The Blind Man Reading Atlas Shrugged sobs uncontrollably in the public library. Chicken Pox Orgyfinds the suburban living room transformed into a scene of anguished sexuality, red-spotted participants writhing on the floor amidst bottles of calamine lotion and rolls of toilet paper while a small spotted dog frantically barks at the mayhem. It’s as if everyone knows that the tower is about to collapse, and they’re going to make damn sure they get the most out of life before it does.

Ralph Pugay, "Identity Crisis." Courtesy Pugay and Rocksbox.

At the rear of the Rocksbox’s small warren of rooms is Identity Crisis. It’s an approximately life-size paper mache sculpture of a blonde white guy, seated on the floor, with a downcast gaze. He is dressed in a representation of buckskin pants, with a leather vest and moccasins adorned with Native American style patterning. In his right hand the figure holds a black braided wig with a feather tucked into a headband. The sculpture is a fitting conclusion to the body of work presented in Night-Tide Daytripping — a humorous jab at the fashionable appropriation of indigenous spiritual symbolism, to be sure, but also tinged with melancholy, as if to say that this world is moving too fast for any of us to keep up, and none of us really know who we are anymore.

Pugay depicts, in his work, a world at odds with itself, caught between progress and complacency. Our modern homes shelter us from the world, allow us to fool ourselves into behaving with civility, but once we go outside into the night we’re just apes with sticks. Like the pajama-clad figure standing before the machine in Spiritual Microwave, we’re all staring into the bright light. We’re looking for meaning or purpose in physics, in the bending of atoms and the elusive Higgs boson. We each carry a small pocket-sized computer with us everywhere we go as if it were some sort of magical talisman, always ready to carry out our command, or comfort us in our loneliness. We don’t really understand the world that we live in, but most of the time we accept it without question, or hesitation.

We’re not sure who we are anymore, we only know we want something wonderful.

Ralph Pugay, "Spiritual Microwave." Courtesy Pugay and Rocksbox.