Tag Archives: Rebecca Steele

Jared Haug and Brooks Dierdorff, Window Smokers

Recess Gallery


By Rebecca Steele


All I could do was to break the whole thing down and show that it is no longer possible.  -Gerhard Richter


Jared Haug and Brooks Dierdorff, "Window Smokers." Photograph by Rebecca Steele.

Jared Haug and Brooks Dierdorff, “Window Smokers.” Photograph by Rebecca Steele.

An evolving methodology in contemporary art might be the trend of using one medium to critique the failure or relevance of another. When sculpture relies on photography for its language or successes, then we can conclude a failure of the singularity of media. This also serves as critique of the set of circumstances that allowed for certain types of work to exist as singularities. This new methodology could be called one of alignments, such that neon lights frame a photograph only to obscure it. In the exhibition, Window Smokers, the artists, Jared Haug and Brooks Dierdorff, fabricate the evidences of a panoramic view of terrain and possible altercations of landscape by insinuating the punctuation of one medium by another. This strategy could be described as contrapuntal and adheres to certain ideas invoked by the artist Gerhard Richter, who approached the act of painting a landscape as not an act of representation but as looking at what is to be represented through a glass darkly. It is arguable that this has become in and of itself a strategy. To lift the lid of the scanner in the moment of scan in order to create a photograph by act and action, and then to speak about the form within this photograph as being related in some way to a melting iceberg, is both contrapuntal and darkly meditative. Rather than speaking about the ability of light, through gestural manipulation, to create an angular form that slowly leaks its cause, the act is used to create a representation of the act.

Window Smokers often suggests light and its physical traces, capable of interruption and usurpation. Five framed digital prints are titled according to the actions that created them: “Held Steady,” “Slight Rise,” “Continuous Rise and Fall,” “Rise and Fall, Rise and Fall,” and “Held Steady, Then Lifted.” These images are high contrast abstract compositions that are punctuated by bits of color and graded lines. “Haug and Dierdorff search for nature and representation where the unenclosed can be depicted in its disappearance.” The digital prints made by lifting the lid of a scanner create abstract “photographs” that use light in its burn and retreat as a set of tight compositional constraints. The Photograph is used elsewhere as a representative of or dummy landscape as in “Organizing Principles” or “Late Season Tactics.”

"Transfer," from Jared Haug and Brooks Dierdorff, "Window Smokers."

“Transfer,” from Jared Haug and Brooks Dierdorff, “Window Smokers.” Photograph by Rebecca Steele.

There are times when works of art seem to conspire against the viewer through tense aesthetics and closure. In Window Smokers the artist’s aesthetic language is dexterous and full of material alignments. The works “Transfer” and “Merger” are photograms, evidencing an image created through the trace or positional affectation of a natural element on to a two dimensional surface. “Merger” was created by ice melting and moving food coloring across a sheet of paper—in its rusty streaks it is possible to find the remnants of a thing’s end: winter, ice, light. In the case of “Transfer” fake leaves sit in front of construction paper faded in the area not blocked by the leaves. This is also the case with a series of works in the main gallery space: “Red Heat Tremors 1-7,” “No Mercy Traveling North 1-5,” “Summer Nights Land of Doom 1-3,” and “Vertical Limit Under the Volcano.” These works are landscapes made on light-faded construction paper and though simple create a feeling of the elegiac beauty found in faded photographs of evening landscapes, of night vision palette, paper cut collage, or Luc Tuymans Allo Social Housing. The ambiguity and dexterity of these works is disorienting and, though small in scale, suggest the degrading effects of light and sight—or possibly that the landscape itself is the source of degradation, not of culture or moralities but of being and representation.

"Late Season Tactics," from Jared Haug and Brooks Dierdorff, "Window Smokers." Photograph by Rebecca Steele.

“Late Season Tactics,” from Jared Haug and Brooks Dierdorff, “Window Smokers.” Photograph by Rebecca Steele.

In “Twitch” and “Organizing Principles” traction, implied opening, interruption, and the kill are physical maneuvers in time and space where the integrity of one physical body is interrupted by the integrity of another physical body. A block of ballistics gel sits on top of a pedestal and holds a photograph against the wall in “Organizing Principles,” and presents a formally satisfying arrangement. Sculpturally, “Organizing Principles” employs the dynamics and materials of hunting. The ballistics gel that holds the hide (photograph) to the wall looks slightly oily and resembles cast acrylic; the photograph seems to be of animal hair that looks blond, sharp, and damp. The video “Twitch” depicts a deer that has been shot and lies barely twitching in a field of grass. The projector and a thick slab of acrylic, serving as projection screen, lie on the floor and cast a greenish glow in the space. The video is very still, and viewed through the thickness of the acrylic is blurry, suggestive rather than intelligible. The strategies of these two works find their fullest realization in “Late Season Tactics,” in which a large piece of smoked acrylic pierces and folds a digital image of an organ (possibly a heart or liver?) laying on the grass. There is something simple, elegant, and intriguing about this situation. “Late Season Tactics” suggests a forever of open possibilities born of contradictions, and two flat surfaces that provoke a narrative through interruption.

Gerhard Richter has made the claim that to degrade something is to get at its truth, and so contradictions of material and media can be their own narrative and solution. In Window Smokers, the landscape is subjected to and created by physical change. It is this interruption or alteration—in the form of an organ on the grass, of ice or light on paper—that demonstrates the human temporal and the natural as unresolving change.

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.

Matthew Clifford Green, Excitable Boy

Lawrimore Project, Seattle, WA

by Rebecca Steele

Matthew Clifford Green’s exhibition, Excitable Boy, at Lawrimore Project in Seattle, consists of a series of six paintings paired with six photographs of the canvas’ backs, four fluorescent tubes installed on the gallery ceiling, and a brochure printed inside with the statement a rose is a rose is a rose ad infinitum. The paintings are installed leaning in black recessed areas of the walls. The photographs, the same dimensions as the paintings, are hung eye-level on a wall across from their corresponding canvas. Each piece is a set, the painting and its photographic documentation.

This new iteration of Lawrimore Project is a condensed version of the original gallery, an intimate space that suits this body of work well, but surprising if you have experienced the gallery’s previous expansive piece of real estate. The space has no windows and the ceilings are higher than the walls are wide, lending the gallery the atmosphere of a vault. The intimacy and starkness of the space allow the work clarity in regards to implied connections between the face and the back.

Matthew Clifford Green, "Excitable Boy," courtesy the artist and Lawrimore Project, photo by Rebecca Steele

The six paintings are salacious and geographic in their use of material. The paint sits atop the canvas in thick terrains of red, green, yellow, and brown: color as sticky waves marbled by white. Staccato, rhythmic peaks bring to mind stiff icing, play-doh, a chewy, late-night handling of the medium. The works were built using force rather than stroke, crude face-off over representation, pondering, or even gentle abstraction. The palette is gruff and animated though its handling is sincere and certainly enthusiastic. The paintings could be a series of roses, out of focus and mashed together—a representation of a flower by looking to the florist’s floor. The canvas, in essence, is the final brush, and the system of this work is one built upon pairs. One painting smashed against another to create the stiff waves and conicals of paint, using the physicality of the painting to make it a stamp, or a crude monoprint.

If the paintings are defined by such adjectives as brawny, indulgent, or crepuscular, then the photographs are simple minimal spaces where the light of the gallery, the wall underneath a painting, and the sounds of the street coalesce to a hum, or even a sigh. The photographs lack the vibrato and punch of the painted work, and therein lies the cunning thrill of the exhibit. The photographs are so sharp in their detail of the canvas, and shadows of the stretcher bars that it is initially difficult to indentify them as photographs; the photograph as tromp l’oeil of the painting. This is fantastic. The paint seeps through the back of the canvases, wipes and stains reading as deteriorated markings, some hot new symbology or wicked words.

The photographs float on the walls aided by the temperature of the light, the humming white walls, the height, the ratios. The representation of the canvas-back is an iridescent grey nearing silver, the stretcher bars as oddly painted frames. Teams of systems and reversals begin to work back and forth within the sets. The paintings hang in pairs, the thing and its document, front and back simultaneously: partners, mirrors, or reversals.

Matthew Clifford Green, "Excitable Boy," courtesy the artist and Lawrimore Project, photo by Rebecca Steele

To discuss this work in terms of painting would be misleading. The paintings alone are confusing. Florid dead ends, they lean midway down the wall in blacked out alcoves to propose the afterthought of the excitable moment. The product of so much material needs its singing document to gain traction. In respect to the exhibit’s installation the photographs formally mounted on a wall are such a tight and interesting series the casual angle of the painted pieces reads as pure strategy, it works yet is simultaneously laden with a heavy and intentional vibe.

And here the exhibition’s text begs an analytic return—are we to wonder what is in a name again and again? Helpful hint, insistent bully, frowning bystander? What is in a name, or a painting for that matter: a joke, a long farewell, an eviction notice? A painting as its own question and answer so neatly, purposefully, maybe even thoughtfully delivered with transcript of some future progeny, a painting as its own beginning and end, it is its own brush and also its copy and documentation, which in some manner can be considered its end. This work hovers on white wings, nearly angelic. Green has not forgotten his more calamitous jokes or “fuck you”s of previous pieces, but the margins have narrowed and what is said is only what needs to be. The joke isn’t on the audience, but on his painting, and as such is one of the more refreshing ideas I have seen lately. The exhibition establishes meaning not through the success or failure of a painting, but on the insistence of exchange between the front and back of things.

Oh, I did put the Warren Zevon reference to the artist, and his response suggested the title represented the energy that surrounded the making of the work rather than any particular interest, serious or otherwise, in the musician as artist or inspiration.

Rebecca Steele is a West Coast based artist, writer, freelance photographer, avid historiographer, and occasional critic. Steele is super excited about collaboration, couch surfing, and sun.

Fucking James Franco.

Social Malpractice Publishing and Container Corps.

by Daniel J Glendening

Fucking James Franco is a collection of short stories and poetry constructed around the titular act. The book, edited by Sean Joseph Patrick Carney and published by Carney’s Social Malpractice Publishing and Gary Robbins’ Container Corps, is somehow, despite all rationale, more complicated than it has a right to be. Fucking James Franco is a joke, a shaggy dog story – long, drawn out, crude, and lacking much of a punch line. It serves also as an examination of the cult of celebrity, of the rickety scaffolding of fame, and the slippery nature of delusion and fantasy.

The volume contains work by fifteen contributors, all of whom are, as Carney writes in his introduction, “involved in creative endeavors of some sort; visual arts, poetry, music, and so forth.” The individual contributions are somewhat scatter-shot, the writing haphazard and the narratives lazily constructed. Under scrutiny, Patrick Melroy’s Piqued becomes a jumble of point of view and temporal shifts, and First Date, by Nadia Buyse, is just a few paragraphs too long, lingering past its climactic punch line for an unnecessary cuddle, while Brandon Scott Bosch & E.L. Shaw’s San Franco stops short, giving us the set-up without the payoff.

Elsewhere, the craft of writing is well displayed. In (Aunt) Susan’s First Orgasm, Ellen Lesperance builds a well-crafted exterior and interior world for her character:

“She was upstairs, lying in one of the two twin beds that her mother had once arranged to straddle this single window draped against the sky in tones of black, and she was naked beneath the covers. She listened for the hum of the neighbor’s television, a comfort to her by this point (others!), but it was too late for that. She hadn’t changed the linens on the bed up here, and it had given her sad pleasure to find them just as her mother had left them: neat as a pin, with a waffle-weave cotton blanket tucked as tightly as humanly possible over flannel sheets. As always, the starch in the coverlet belied the softness of the interior.”

Lesperance’s contribution also, most explicitly, gets at a central theme of this collection: fantasy. The protagonist of the story, Susan Lesperance, struggling to achieve orgasm, indulges in a sexual fantasy revolving around James Franco and his role on General Hospital.

Fantasy is the primary theme of Fucking James Franco, more so, even, than the titular act of fucking. Read not as a collection of individual works but as one kaleidoscopic whole, Fucking James Franco is an examination of that mise en abyme described in Sydney S. Kim’s “Two Lesbians Get Stoned,” between fantasy and delusion.

This edge of the abyss takes many varied forms. Buyse gives the reader a meta-narrative about an encounter ending in sexual role-play between herself and Franco not long after the publication of a book by Sean Carney to which she’d contributed a story, “the book is called Fucking James Franco…” Ryan Pierce, in Jonquil, relays a narrative, taking place in a prison yard and featuring a character, Frank, with “a mug like a silver dollar” and an education in the arts. In the end, the characters are delusional, method acting gone too far. The title is enough in Sally Gotfredson’s Eight Poems to Serve as a Declaration/Evidence of the Mutual Feelings James Franco and I Feel for Each Other, to be Read by James Franco in Bed Post-Intercourse With Sally Gotfredson, and the fantasy is turned on its head, clinical and blue-balled, in Sarah Johnson’s spare and finely crafted Franco, Good Morning. There are those aids and prosthetics of fantasy in Emily Wolfer’s The James Franco Collection, a catalogue excerpt of sci-fi flesh-clone Franco-phile sex toys, and what begins as a porn-vid review in Fucking James Franco by Arnonymous Poet, unwinds into a tale of a teenage trip with Franco to Amsterdam, where the narrator and his daydream protagonist smoke hash, look for “Houses with Boys” and conclude with some possibly non-consensual anal-fisting.

One has to wonder what, as a cultural figure, the actual, living James Franco, has to do with the project. Carney writes in his introduction, “The point here, Mr. Franco, is that there is nothing outside of this text (whoa). It exists solely because you do, and, simply put, it had to happen. Luckily, I fucking thought of it before you did.” Leading up to the publication of the book blog writers and commentators on sites including A.V. Club and Nerve were questioning the books origins, positing that Franco himself had a hand in its manifestation. Not the case, but it raises the point that Franco has positioned himself in the cultural sphere quite differently than most of his celebrity peers. As an actor, he takes on projects ranging from stoner slapstick, to superhero-blockbuster, soap opera to art film. He exhibits, with Peres Projects, work heavily influenced by Paul McCarthy, and he recently published a collection of short stories, Palo Alto: Stories, primarily concerned with the lives of teenage boys in suburban California, drinking, getting stoned, and committing seemingly random acts of violence, including, if memory and interpretive skills serve, rape. Franco was’s 2009 Sexiest Man Alive, and received a BA in English in 2008 from UCLA, an MFA in writing from Columbia University in 2010, and is now pursuing PhDs from both Yale and the University of Houston.

In other words, the man is everywhere, at all times, and is, undoubtedly, a man of his moment. It would appear that he is not satisfied with a fixed identity, but is seeking a multiplicity of identity. Along with this multiplicity comes some sense, or at least projection of the sense, that he himself is in on the joke, that he recognizes to some small degree the ridiculous nature of his position, and that, as many of his cultural critics would state, much of his success in the fields outside of acting are due, in part, to his status as an actor. If he didn’t appear to be in on the joke, to be winking off camera, the speculation that Franco himself was the mastermind behind Carney’s project would likely not have surfaced.

This is to say that James Franco is the perfect foil for Carney’s project. As a celebrity and cultural figure he molds a multitude of identities for himself, each one another facet of James Franco the Actor, the Artist, the Writer, the Sexpot, the Auteur. None of them are James Franco, the human. In the case of Fucking James Franco, James Franco the human does not exist. He is Rebecca Steele’s generic Nacho Franco reefer hazed, hung-over hotel room, “ITS OWN AUTOCRAT / IN LACKING ANYTHING PLAUSIBLE FOR / PERSONALITY / THIS COULD BE THE PLACE FOR THE LAST WEEK. / FOR ALL THE FUCK I CAN TELL / ART FASHION AND FASHION ART.” There is a total collapse of fantasy into delusion. James Franco the Public Figure is what anyone wants him to be. He is without a determinate gender, without a determinate sexuality, without a determinate face or even a determinate name. He is that perfect Renaissance man, the charmer, and the one who can do anything he wants to do.

He is the one we all want to be, to love, to be loved by and to fuck.