Standing outside a gallery, talking with its owner about urinal cakes may be an odd starting point for a review, but stay with me. It’s these kind of off-hand moments, scattered throughout that night, coupled with the typical social formalities, that seemed to echo the artworks of Claire Falkenberg, Matthew Feyld, and Jessica Halonen currently on exhibition at Big Medium, in Austin Texas.
I’ll start with the art works first.
A painter (Matthew Feyld), a collagist (Claire Falkenberg), and a sculptor (Jessica Halonen), each artist retains a genealogical connection to a traditionally formal, or institutionalized, aesthetic practice. These are familiar mediums in the canons of art, and are more easily encountered than their post-modern descendants such as performance, or video. It is this nexus that initiates the dialogue the show presents. Yet simply working in established methods is never enough to ensure the success of the works’ complementing of itself and its groupings. This occurs by way of what the works present.
For this show, I would call it the Humanly-Mechanical. Each artist ventures into the mechanical nature of image making: the reductive line work of Feyld, the photographic imagery of Falkenberg, and the industrial material of Halonen (chicken wire for example), yet each fails to pull off a completely mechanical work. The reason why people read the Minimalists or the Pop artists as invested into a dialogue of modern industry, and mechanics is because these artists USED modern industrial, and commercial, methods in order to manufacture their works. This does not happen in this show under review. Instead, the artists seem to allude to these types of works without fully embracing them as the pull back to reveal their hand in the works’ manifestations. Albeit Feyld’s works seem reminiscent of Stella, they lack Stella’s rigid precision, and instead remind the viewer they are made by a human through the irregularities notable in the inconsistent line, and ground applications. As for Falkenberg, while relying on the photographic ground of her imagery, she obscures this mechanical apparatus’s results through the disjunctive assemblage of the images, producing irregular edges, and then proceeds to go over large areas of the image with paint, subsequently presenting her hand OVER the photograph. Pertaining to Halonen, while there is chicken wire shaped into a cube (a hollowed, minimalists form), there is also a noticeable area on the sculpture’s podium where the paint was either not finished, or chipped away by accident in transport. Thus in each work: the human hand is in, on, or behind (beneath) the mechanical. And it was these human moments that opened the works to each other, and to the viewer.
But enough formalism. What about those urine cakes?
Well, in order to have that conversation, I had to approach the gallery owner, as I did several other individuals, and groups of people that evening. You know this scene well; you’ve faced this very formality yourself. You approach someone you wish to speak to, and if they are in conversation, social formality dictates you wait your turn. They go on talking, you stand there and… look at your phone, or pretend to listen to what they are saying and look interested. Either way, you are held out, away, from them due to the formality of the social interaction. It is only when they turn to you, smile, and greet you; that you are brought into the intimacy of their conversation. They must shift the formality of the situation to bring you in, and if they don’t, you stand there looking, and feeling, like a fool. So when they do, you are, of course, grateful. Much in the same way that the works’ retained, and presented, the human as active in the formal, this social scenario was, and is, the same. The human works through a formal distance to give you an entry point.
One entry point that I had the enjoyment of making occurred later in the evening. I was outside the gallery speaking with two people about my inability to control gleeks in the presence of famous persons such as the President of the United States, and the contemporary normalizing of plastic surgery. Apparently people are spending thousands of dollars to either look like Justin Bieber, or white/Asian (we could never reach a conclusion on that last issue). As these conversations were happening, I called someone else over whom I had wanted to speak to. This was a direct action, circumventing the formal distance, to bring him straight into the human laugher we were having. And he joined in with his own opinions, and laughter on the matters.
Therefore, the result of all of this is simple: in the face of the mechanical there is the human and vice versa. What needs to be remembered that it is the human that draws us in. Those breaths whispering in, and through, the machine.
Posted 29th September 2014 by Arnold, H.C.