This week, Grayduck closes Out of the Ruined Place. It was an exhibition that brought together Margaret Craig and Tonja Torgerson under the umbrella Print Austin. However, printmaking was the least of what these artists had in common. Craig’s work focused on the environment while Torgerson looked to the human experience. Although different in their methods and initial inspirations, the artworks shared the common interest of exploring what decay can turn into.
Inspired by the environmental realities of the Great Trash Reef that lingers out in the Pacific and global warming, Margaret Craig fabricated ornate organic forms that alluded to the type of plant life one would find in an abandoned garden or the Great Barrier Reef. The sculptures played out a complex illusion. Their sheen and translucency gave them the appearance of being made from finely shaped glass while they were actually discarded plastic and tar gel that was heated and molded. This faux materiality called attention to our selective vision and pre-determined judgment we often cast on the world around us. I doubt many of us would consider the litter we pass by on the street capable of being rendered into something so beautiful. But, there it was, saved from the long haul to the dump or the recycle plant, and transformed into a series of remarkably aesthetic objects. Instead of lingering on the negative associations surrounding pollution and our destruction of the environment, Craig showed us how there may still be hope left in the remains of our trashcans.
Combining four different bodies of works, Tonja Torgerson’s prints embraced a series of slight contradictions that demonstrated her interests in death and the decay of the human body. Outside of the gallery’s main door and near the entrance of the backyard are two wheatpastings Hold and Seep. Installed by the artist herself, these works depict a female character in what I would describe as a tumbling sleep and a kneeling meditation. Inside the gallery, Torgerson presented a series of large format photographs, prints, and archival books—white gloves required. The photographs and books documented other wheatpastings. The figures from Hold and Sleep reappeared there, linking the separate bodies of artwork together.
By leaning heavily on presentation and preservation, Torgerson metaphorically called attention to life’s ephemerality by arresting it. Usually, streetart such as the ones outside the gallery eventually succumb to their environment and deteriorate. However, given these piece’s location, I assume they will exists for quite sometime as the owners of Grayduck has no intention of removing them. Preservation was also at work in the photographs and books. By archiving her artwork and then presenting those archives as the work, Torgerson accentuates the original work’s decay. These records serve as documentation of something assumedly long gone, and thus the artworks’ absence is made even more apparent through its reproduction.
However, the photographs and the books are works of art in their own right. The photographs are large and aesthetically composed, and the books are well made. Unfortunately, because of these objects’ professionalism, the original wheatpastings feel more like secondary participants than the primary artwork. But, this speaks the larger issue of documentation within the streetart aesthetic. One of the central questions present in graffiti is how does photography change the medium? While it allows for a greater circulation of the imagery—we would not be able to see the extent of Torgerson’s body of work without it—the imagery becomes stripped of its original context and assumed impact.
This criticism began with Walter Benjamin as he cautioned against the mechanically reproduced work of art in his famous essay: The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. What Benjamin also underscored with his text was the sheer multiplicity of what modern industry can create. Taken alongside Craig’s sculptures, these reproductions speak to the larger simulacral society we are evolving into. Things exist often only in their virtual reproduction, and as there are so many of them floating around us, we are more prone to dispose of them. Considered from this perspective, Out of the Ruined Place is more nuanced than just being an examination of deterioration. Instead, the show reflects our inclination for a disposal society, and gives us pause as to what that ultimately means for us, and the world.
Posted 12th February 2016 by Arnold, H.C.