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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.

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

Recess

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.

Hypercorrection.

Recess.

by Daniel J Glendening

Hypercorrection, at Recess, brings together the somewhat disparate work of four artists under a thematic umbrella ostensibly concerned with notions of self-correction and self-identity. In its traditional usage, the term hypercorrection refers to, in language and grammar, a case of syntax or diction in which a grammatical rule is applied in an in appropriate case, out of a desire for propriety. In a sense, it’s overcompensation, turning into (or out of?) the skid so severely that the car swerves wildly out of control.

As a whole, the exhibition feels a little off balance, with the work of each artist (Sokhun Keo, Paul Clay, Krystal South, and Ross Young) installed somewhat independently, with Clay’s Bear Crosses Territory and South’s The Medium is the iMessage in the Recess collective’s main gallery, Young’s Grid 3 (Mold Grid) hanging like a mechanical Spanish moss in the stairwell, and Keo’s Tomorrow’s Artifacts occupying the first floor entry way. Dispersed through the building, the work of each artist functions as an independent installation, and while this allows the work to function as waypoints on the path towards the main gallery, it also minimizes the extent to which the works are able to directly communicate and reflect upon one another.

Keo’s work, Tomorrow’s Artifacts, includes a stack of printed take-aways and two sculptural works. The black and white take-aways, each 8.5”x11,” read “HOW TO DANCE THE SARAVAN AUTHENTICALLY,” and depict six steps, explicated with an illustrated figure looking, a little, like Keo himself. Upon closer examination, this saravan dance, commonly associated with Cambodian Rom kbach music, is mashed up with the “YMCA” dance, an East/West, traditional-disco hybrid. Keo’s sculptures are situated on the floor of the entryway, the first an arrangement of ceramic shards, fragments of broken plates printed with a woman’s face, the second featuring a large colorful placemat or paper prayer rug, featuring an ornate paisley pattern and borders with text, in an Asian-fast-food font, reading “Take Out.” Atop this print are two halves of a ceramic teacup, each half set atop a small round mirror, the reflection rendering the cup holographically whole. Keo’s work offers up something of a puzzle with missing pieces. The woman depicted on the plates is somewhat enigmatic and unidentified, though, in combination with the mirrored cup piece there seems to be a sort of trauma enacted here, a violent loss only tentatively filled in the reflected teacup.

Paul Clay, "Bear Crosses Territory."

There is some amount of exchange between the works of South and Clay, occupying, as they are, a single room together. Clay’s Bear Crosses Territory is a standout piece, a deft blend of humor and existential angst in a glitzy package. The work is a fairly simple computer game, depicting (through two side-by-side digital projections, somewhat distractingly overlapping and imperfectly aligned) a shaggy, acid-flashback, brightly hued bear, lumbering across an expansive landscape. The game is controlled via the exhibition audience through two large buttons, the first button, when pressed, activates the bear’s slow march. The second, while pressed, sends a stream of vomit out of the bear’s mouth, looking like a flood of chunky, semi-coagulated blood, splashing and staining the landscape floor. The bear marches slowly through a simply rendered desert, beachfront resort, and, apparently, a dance club.

It’s a darkly humorous meditation on existential suffering. Through an oblique lens, this blood-spewing bear, prodded onward my the whims of external and omnipotent onlookers, marches on and on, never really arriving anywhere, never taking pleasure in its surroundings. This shaggy, damaged, cartoonish bear is alone in a vast and unrelenting landscape, dying a long and protracted death, to no apparent purpose or end.

In a grouping under the title The Medium is the iMessage, South presents three works combining Apple iPads with Marshall McLuhan’s canonical texts Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, from 1964, and The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects, composed in collaboration with Quentin Fiore and published in 1967. A portion of McLuhan’s philosophy positions technology (any and all technologies, including, but not limited to, the printed word, radio broadcast, television broadcast, the automobile, the internet, the hot air-balloon, the iPad) as a social-transformer, and as an extension of human-ness. In an extremely reductive interpretation, McLuhan positions technologies as prosthetic appendages, extensions of the body, which transform the way in which a person or persons interact with the world at large. We are already cyborgs, as Donna Haraway described in her 1985 work, “A Cyborg Manifesto.”

South’s The Medium is the iMessage is comprised of a sculptural combine, a video projection, and two framed images leaning against the corner of the gallery. The sculpture is composed of a copy of McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage (I think) clamped, open, to a white iPad box, with large black C-clamps. The video depicts yellow-toned, flickering overlays of a book (presumably, also, The Medium is the Massage), its pages being turned, and iPads or iPhones. The image is high contrast, reducing the imagery to stark black and yellowy-white, abstracting the image overlays. Aesthetically, the video projection resides somewhere between a 1960s loft-party psychedelic light-show and a jittery intro title-sequence for a Showtime techno-thriller. South’s third work, the pair of framed digital prints standing on the floor, leaning against the wall in the corner of the gallery, each depict an iPad displaying text from a book page. The text is entirely obscured by black redaction bars, save for a heading at the top of the page, reading “Literature,” a page number, 25, and one isolated sentence: “By itself a given sentence is neither a fact nor a fiction; it is made so by others, later on.” The page displayed comes from Bruno Latour’s 1987 work, Science in Action. The source of the text does, in a sense, connect directly to the apparatus of the iPad, but without knowledge of the source material the piece still functions.

Krystal South, from "The Medium is the iMessage," detail.

South’s work, here, seems to be concerned to some degree with the role of contemporary technologies on human thought and language. The juxtaposition of McLuhan’s text with the iPad is somewhat flat, as the point of conflict or tension is unclear – through McLuhan’s text, the prosthesis of the iPad is not far removed from that of the printed text. South’s redacted iPads, though, touch on something else outside of Latour’s text: when Apple or Amazon can reach into your iPad or Kindle at any time and alter, edit, or censor your digital text, say, for example, your bought-and-paid-for digital copy of Orwell’s 1984, maybe something is wrong, somewhere in the system.

What Hypercorrection ultimately conjures is a sense of angst and trauma. Clay’s suffering bear, South’s techno-anxiety, Keo’s shattered plates and illusory, holographic other half.

Keo’s figure, in How to Dance the Saravan Authentically, is simply an outline of a body, hollow and faceless.