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The Week in Arts

All Tomorrow’s Parties

Last Tuesday afternoon after hitting the publish button on The New Hunger Artists, a friend invited me over for a quick dip in his pool before my next meeting. I said yes because there are two new rules in my life: 1) thanks to a friend who recently got a bad case of kidney stones, never say no to a proffered glass of water and 2) during the too-brief summer in Seattle, never turn down a stolen moment in the lake or pool. Both are uncomplicated tenets, but nonetheless easily transgressed in the daily grind.

So I was bobbing in perfectly Hockney-esque, sun-drenched chlorine when my swimming pool friend mentioned he’d just read the column.

“Now you tell us yours, how you get by,” he said. My story’s not that different from the others’, but we all have our twists. Mine goes something like:

Recently divorced (literally) from a Seattle tech industry lifestyle that afforded me nightly 14 dollar cocktails and summers in Europe, last year I struck out on my own with just a few hundred bucks in the bank and a possibly-over-enthusiastic desire to see if I could support myself in the arts. I moved into a cheap Capitol Hill studio and subsisted on a diet of Progresso soup and black tea for a few months. I started selling art. I started writing. I experienced the bouquet of Two Buck Chuck for the first time. It was hard but not impossible, as I’m no princess. I grew up in a trailer in rural Texas, miles from a town with a population of 640, where it was common knowledge the mayor’s son made meth in an abandoned farmhouse. I’ve managed to sustain myself, but mostly because my life is really stripped down and simple: it’s all about art. I don’t have kids, a house, a car. I live in a very boho apartment populated by other artists, dancers, filmmakers. Here, water sometimes runs brown out the faucet. I don’t drink Two Buck Chuck anymore, but I’m a huge fan of Bandit pinot grigio, which is technically box wine (“It floats!”). Sometimes I feel rich compared to artist friends who have even fewer sources of income. It’s all relative. But I do feel like I’m living Kiki’s Paris most days. We scrap, we scrape, we hope we don’t need surgery any time soon, we borrow, beg and blague. We gamble on life. We have a lot of fun.

Later that same evening, I was at a meeting with a group of poets, planning an event. (I don’t find myself in the company of poets often, but when I do, I’m always delighted. Compared to visual artists, they’re so exotically well-spoken and affected with refreshingly different neuroses.)

“Is there anything you would like from us?” the celebrated, Egyptian-born poet asked me.

I told him, considering my interest in arts writing, I would be delighted if the writers wanted to respond to visual art at some point. He reeled. He said something to the effect of wealthy visual artists using poets to further their careers. He pointed out the New York School specifically. John Ashbery getting sucked into the world of art criticism. Pollock and de Kooning responsible for tarnishing poetry’s vestal purity.

I kept deadpan, but was chuckle-cringing on the inside. One of the poets came to me after the meeting. “That was funny timing, considering what you just wrote,” she said. Yeah. But the guy had a point. Poets don’t have a market. At least we’re not poets.

WHEN FIRST THURSDAY FALLS ON SECOND THURSDAY (AKA THE SUPERMOON OF ART WALKS)
Thursday was, as I forecasted, a clusterfuck of art openings, thanks to the Fourth of July bumping First Thursday openings to the 11th. In fact, I didn’t even make it to any Captiol Hill openings. I did end up eating jellyfish at a Chinese restaurant later in the evening with a gallerist and some collectors, which goes to show the artist’s life isn’t always only Bandit and lentil soup.

 

The first thing I loved was the front show at SOIL, Surf and Turf, curated by local artist Jessica Dolence. Dolence is obsessed with the mythology of the ocean (her dress at the opening appropriately patterned with lobsters) and her pieces at SOIL are girly and nerdy Candy Land visions of sea life colliding with land. She generates her imagery digitally in Maya, so everything has that plastic dreaminess to it, including her Caviar Nursery, where mounds of shiny black and orange caviar nest cozily amongst toys and a foam of iridescent pearls (the piece is a digital print embroidered with glittering sequins.) Her other piece is a video titled Wet Land. Projected from the ceiling onto a low-to-the-ground plinth, it pops with a twirling montage of mushrooms, roses, pearls, more caviar and coral. Later, goldfish swim through a digital sea clustered with ombré rainbow lilly pads (which look just a little like floating Pac-Man heads). The sea peels back to meet a field of grass, which in turn is devoured by a lawnmower. Overhead, the strum of harps and splash of waves are seductive as a 21st century sirens.

The other videos in the show are Erica Schreiner‘s Erase and The Tale of the Bravest Warrior. Small birds, soft-boiled eggs and flowers are masticated and caressingly mouthed. Trisha Holt‘s surreal photos of plundered fruit and flowers and breast (meat) are funny double entendres riffing on the semiotics of surf and turf (top image).

 

SHELTER THAT DEVOURS
When I walked through Patte Loper’s show How to Stay Alive in the Woods at Platform, I mused to a friend, “if Whiting Tennis’ sculptures dreamed, this is what they’d dream of.” The exhibit is a series of oil paintings directly referencing sculptures Loper also makes. She builds these sculptures intuitively, automatically, and they have a messy, sprawling quality that doesn’t make much structural sense. It’s piles upon piles of lop-sided towers made from sticks and cardboard hobbled together with sloppy pearls of glue and puddles of acrylic paint. Old iPods and tiny portable speakers are nested throughout the mess, strapped in with tape. You lean in and try to hear the audio, but it’s inaudible, a dull murmur. One iPod screen shows a tiny black and white image of Susan Sontag speaking. Another is video of Deleuze and Guattari. Their texts are being read, I’m told. The oil paintings made in response to the dioramas further the surreality of the scenes, placing the structures in winter woods, where naked tree limbs weave overhead. Some of the structures look like troughs waiting to gobble or spit out. Some are covered in a spatter of bright fluid. Some look like dream-catchers, ghost-catchers, bone-catchers, portals.

THREE WAY
Over at Greg Kucera, SuttonBeresCuller has their first big show, Three Way. Keep the magpies away. Everything is polished so shiny, including a bronze banana (titled In Advance Of…) on the floor. I was told no fewer than ten people tripped on it, sending it flying across the gallery multiple times during the opening. After kicking it, one patron made a beeline running out the door, assuming he’d broken the art.

A writer friend likes to call SBC “Duchampian pranksters,” but In Advance Of… (referencing Duchamp’s In Advance of the Broken Arm, a 1915 readymade in the form of a snow shovel) is the only real laugh-out-loud gesture in the show. It’s also the only “interactive” piece, if you can call it that. The rest falls squarely in the category of precious, don’t-touch objecthood where the prank only exists in the laborious appropriation/subversion/perversion of the hallowed readymade. Thus a four-dollar mop found while cruising Home Depot becomes a bronze monument for those who can afford it (titled Piso Mojado). Jasper Johns’ Sculp-metal lightbulbs—themselves art historical readymades—are one-upped, remade and cast in precious metal. But SBC’s stab at the serious elevation of mundane, utilitarian things finds its apotheosis, for a [Capitol] Hillbilly like me, in the reproduction of shitty, scratched-up mirrors taken from the men’s restroom at Linda’s Tavern. Years ago, SBC made similar reproductions of mirrors sourced from the Summit. But these new editions take the cake for fucked-upness. Tagged to the point you can barely see your reflection, the original Linda’s mirrors were removed and scanned, then screens made so that unmarked, virgin mirrors could be etched with acid, tagged with archival ink, and stickered with exact reproductions of the torn and faded original stickers. The editioned mirrors are essentially no different from prints, and if they weren’t all lined up in a row, you’d never guess they weren’t the real deal.

The mirrors bring up another point about Three Way: maybe we shouldn’t be thinking so much about Duchamp as about Lacan. Since you can see your reflection in nearly every piece in the show (always a seductive element in art objects), it’s tempting to think of this body as a collective self-portrait. For the art threesome, subjecthood is too tangled to pick apart anymore. The mirror stage is part of every individual’s identity, and SBC, thirteen years into working together, might be hitting that 18-month-old stride, taking stock and settling into their inescapable union. Or maybe Three Way has more to do with Hegel’s master-slave dialectic (Herrschaft und Knechtschaft or “Lordship and Bondage” also could have been a title of the show). After all, the one oddball, non-bronze, non-mirror piece in the show is a pair of handcuffs with a third cuff attached. It’s called, of course, Self-Portrait.

 


 

THE PARTY NEVER ENDS
Friday night was the reception for Shaun Kardinal’s Inertia at LxWxH. In recent years, you may have seen his smaller works at SOIL, Cairo and other places around town. He takes things like vintage postcards of touristy landscapes and lavishly embroiders them with colorful, geometric designs. Terrain gets interrupted and embellished to the point of obfuscation. Canyons are striped. Horizons are blotted with radiant, blue, ivory or rust-red sunbursts. Like most embroidery or repetitive fiber artwork, the transparently labor-intensive process involved in production is foregrounded. It makes you want to write something about meditation or monomania or traditional craft, but it could also just be good, old fashioned getting stoned and the pleasure of making visually-stimulating things while watching episodes of Lost.

Either way, the installations at LxWxH are truly labor-intensive (definitely not made in front of a tv) and flawlessly situated in the space. One looks like a gigantic azure mandala made with a gigantic spirograph. Another zig-zags like a thousand threads zipped up along a narrow band of wall. Though Kardinal’s diminutive, yarn-bombed postcards are nice, these upscaled pieces are headed in an inspired direction. Still…it feels like a bit of a tease. I want to see entire walls criss-crossed, pinned and patterned with Kardinal’s fiber op-art. Maybe that just makes me a glutton.

On Saturday, Deborah Faye Lawrence opened at Joe Bar (810 E Roy St)—a bit of a casual venue for a rather established artist, but her collaged panels and tins pepper the green walls coquettishly and with punch.

I’ll be the first to shout from the rooftops: collage is a tricky medium. Tricky in that it generally suffers from intolerable cliché. But Lawrence nails it on the head. Her work benefits from the original, surreal playfulness of collage masters like Max Ernst or Hannah Höch and ventures towards the subversive, feminist text messaging of Barbara Kruger. However, where Kruger waxes heavy-handed with the message, Lawrence’s texts err on the surreal stream-of-consciousness. Such as the following, which is long, but worth a cut and paste:

“And what costume shall the poor girl wear to all tomorrow’s parties?” It’s the sad dirge sung in 1967 by Nico, with the Velvet Underground, when I was fifteen. “…A hand-me-down dress from who knows where…” I think about what the 99 % shall wear to all today’s parties. My brain recognizes that I’m neurotic to worry about party clothes. So it supplies a diversion: A list of parties: the Democratic Party, Republican Party, Whig Party, Green Party, Union Party, Revolutionary Communist Party, Libertarian Party, Freedom Socialist Party, Tea Party, Peace and Freedom Party, Youth International Party. Now my brain asks me to consider: What if I were a gung-ho member of the Heritage Foundation, or Americans for prosperity? Would I still neurotically worry about what to war to the Tea Party? And while we are wondering, how did my brain get constructed to think this way? Is it Intelligent? The Human Genome? The Fashion Police? Planned Obsolescence? The Military Industrial Complex? Laissez-Faire Capitalism? The Patriarchy? The Dark Feminine? Gender Essentialism? Lou Reed? He wrote the song.”

All this is on one panel. Streaming out of a lipsticked, grinning woman’s head, the strands of words undulate like the bony tentacles of a sea creature (or a medusa). The costumes of all yesterday’s parties march across the panel like militant paper doll clothes. The faces have been excised. 

Another panel circles back to Duchamp: Last week I was in the room where artist Terry Allen told us that Marcel Duchamp said it’s OK to be a bad artist because unlike a bad doctor or a bad lawyer, a bad artist does no harm. So no fear. Make your bad art. It’s from Lawrence’s journal, March 2011. Words descend the ladder. Bared teeth grimace and grin. A vintage  anatomical illustration of a flayed head sits atop hips sheathed in granny panties made of roof shingles. I have a feeling at this point, Lawrence would have a hard time making bad art. 

PUT IT ON YOUR CALENDARS
Thursday: Summer at SAM Thursday Nights at Olympic Sculpture Park

Friday: Like Future Beauty at SAM? Valerie Steele, Director and Chief Curator at The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology is visiting to discus the Japanese “fashion revolution” of the ‘80s. I confess, I have all of Steele’s books and am a nerd for her spin on fashion history.

Saturday: Twin Peaks Dance Party. This isn’t visual art exactly, but it sounds like the best (or worst) thing ever. GLITTERBANG and cotton candy and Twin Peaks sounds like my version of heaven.

 

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