Sadie Wechsler’s Lucid Dreamers at Gallery 4Culture

"Emeritus I"

As I walk through Sadie Wechsler’s solo show Part I: Redo at Gallery 4Culture, Leonard Cohen’s song “The Future” keeps running through my head. In it, he presciently warns: Things are going to slide, slide in all directions / won’t be nothing, nothing you can measure anymore.

Wechsler’s work is immeasurable and slippery like that. Take “Eruption July 2013″—the tableau that greets you from across the gallery as soon as you walk through the door. In it, sightseers at a national park huddle in translucent rain ponchos, standing casually on an overlook. Their backs are turned as they watch a wildfire rage along the spine of a not-too-distant hill. Smoke puffs upwards—or maybe it’s a vapor cloud. The atmosphere belongs to neither day nor night; it’s as cinematically artificial as it is menacing. The wet asphalt observatory reads like a stage spot-lit with red, and the figures, like actors on rehearsal break, are aware that none of this is quite real. They’re an audience as much as I am, watching a movie as I, in turn, watch them watching. It’s a feedback loop.

If “Eruption” hints that a sly, uncanny current is bubbling up through cracks in our perception, the large-scale monochrome “Steam Beds” confirms it. There, a woodland scene of overgrown foliage and tall grass parts as if trodden, revealing a black hole in the ground and steam rising to fill a patch of sky. Silhouetted branches are collaged together with silvery-white outlines. With one glance the setting is whole, with another everything’s fragmented—it’s a finespun manipulation of surface that yields a destabilized alternate reality.

Beside the inverted tangle of “Steam Beds” is a much smaller print, “Press Click.” Flooded in electric blue and glowing white, a figure sits sideways against a rectangle of harsh light. Her hair’s in curlers, the strap of her slip is falling, the toes of her perfectly pointed foot arch toward tiled floor. She belongs to a futuristic, slickly minimalist world in which she’s aware of herself as an image. And this is where weird images get even weirder: Wechsler’s decision to place a portrait that could be taken from a William Gibson novel in direct relation to a neo-Gothic landscape. Part I: Redo continues in this manner, refusing static definition.

“Zabriskie Point” portrays craggy, violet mountain peaks and rusty bluffs set against a sunset so beautiful it’s cheesy. The photograph could possibly be hand-painted and it could definitely be computer generated—or both. Next to it in “Emeritus I,” a dying elderly man lies on a bed of mismatched patterns, enveloped in cut-and-paste breathing tubes. “Emeritus II” depicts perhaps the same person in happier days, wearing sunglasses and a psychedelic kaftan as he reclines against banana leaves.

Perhaps first place in show goes to “Pure Breed;” it would be darling at face value. But again, nothing is quite right here, including this poodle frolicking in the night sky, surrounded by mist, moonlight and pinprick stars. It’s dark out, and probably cold, and I’m not sure where I am. I’m seeing without knowing.  

At first glance, Wechsler’s body of work comes across as a mixed-up non-series where vivid color alternates with high-contrast black and white. Styles recall CGI, documentary photography and Photoshop collage all at once. Landscapes aren’t centered on one recurring site, but flit from forests to tropics to red rocks to space. The works are only unified, if tenuously, through an austere presentation that shuns installation props. Printed on adhesive material and applied directly to the walls, her strategy emphasizes the immediacy of the image, not the frills of the exhibition.
Throughout Part I: Redo, incoherence is intentional. If Cohen were to rewrite “The Future” through today’s lens, 25 years out, would it even belong to time and space? Perhaps we shall be living so thoroughly virtually, through images, that they’ll become our primary currency of self—frighteningly unreliable, yet limitless in iteration. In the realm of images we are, as in a lucid dream, free to flip the script at will. And so goes our metaphorically (if not literally) burning world—sliding ever-further into the artificial, the augmented, at a cost we can’t be sure of. Sadie Wechsler leads us into the incoherent future with surprise and odd, if foreboding, humor.

Part I: Redo runs through Sept. 24.