Thursday, May 25, 2017

No Judy, I didn't see a single painting of a clown? Are we talking about the same guy?

In a UC San Diego exhibition space, five discrete island-paintings are erected (how did I come to refer to them as paintings and not sculptures?). On the back wall is a work so large that it was produced in four large equal parts.

Two hours ago I was trying to figure out what to do with my evening and now I think I have about 15 minutes before Morgan Mandalay's MFA thesis exhibition is done for the night.

What I knew of this artist and his recent projects (SP15, quick beach exhibitions of artists who initially baffle him, and then he curates it to get to know them/their art better) is that what breathes life into the work is the involvement of other art from other artists. It could be to defy the cult of the individual inherent to the solo show format, but it could also be a return to an interconnected reality, for our generation, the new normal. 

Each collaboration floats on its own resourceful pallet. I'm immediately drawn to a small consumer grade voice recorder wedged between scrappy wood, but it's powered off. I want to believe that I may have missed something, maybe because mistakes are human. On the other hand I appreciate if it never turns on, technology turned off is one of the only ways we indicate a serious effort to make space for solitude.

The gallery is intimidatingly big and bright so I try to casually look for some literature, artist names, piece titles etc. But I don't see anything, which is my favorite way to encounter work, like with the Underground Museum or with VTS (Visual Thinking Strategies).

...Which I say I appreciate because it allows the mind to make free-associations. But if I'm being honest, just like other gallery-goers, I give something unknown about 40 seconds to stay that way, before I become too self-conscious and desire something to hold on to, like a beer. It's something about how the face 
betrays ones actual curiosity. While I'm thinking that I may be missing something, I either have the look of utter panic or a super smarmy judgmental look. It's fun if you think to yourself in retrospect how your first impression was all backwards. It's horrifying to think about getting caught off guard by someone coming up and saying, "so you think it's absolute shite too!"...

I watch Morgan as he continuously stops to gesture over towards the works so that he can give appropriate attribution. I try to get close enough so he wouldn't have to repeat it all again, but all I hear are the propositions like: This leans on this, this done over here, through, around, within.

So I floated back to take another route, I took out my phone and pulled up the blurb from the artists' official Facebook event. I'm thinking, his partner writes, the work is decisive, surely accompanying words will elaborate more on this world, not destroy potential ones.
I read more references to social-ness and human nature, subtle qualities that analyze the limits of what we consider "epic". There is a mention about anthropologist Dunbar's number, 150, compared to the number of crew at the beginning of a shipwreck story, 151. Which given that I'm reading it on a social network adds further comparison. When Facebook isn't fueling FOMO (fear of missing out), it has become the standard platform for sending out wide invitations, in the hopes that maybe 1 in 7 acquaintances will actually show up. 

Facebook caps the number of invites to 3X as many people as Dunbar's number (per user) and let's you digitally befriend 33X more identities. 

By the end of the harrowing voyage where objects mixed with people mixed with fiction over the span of over two weeks, about 1 in 11 of that crew survived in various stages of being cannibalized. 

The absence of whole bodies perhaps is meant to be unsettling, but which is more alarming, the discovery of the lack of survivors or the inward anxiety that grows in proportion to the size the crowd, or even, finding oneself addicted to a smart phone when there's real living bodies in the same room with you? 

In some circles there is a tendency, or a preference for maximization (as opposed to minimalism) as if it is more accessible and realistic to our current situation. The painting in the back is almost maximal.

I think my description of loneliness and perhaps its connection to minimalism is actually more relatable, it's one of the silver linings of a current Trump reality, how much more we talk about self-care and get down to the brass tacks values because we're all in this shit together. Let's talk about depression.

Or maybe it's a matter of perspective, what is our response supposed to be if we're told that after the MFA only 1 in 11 graduates  "make it".

I read all the way through and I love the last line: "Am I a passenger or am I a raft?" I feel like this is a wonderful complication in object oriented ontology. It follows my recent feelings about intuition and bewilderment

(I think to myself are there other artists who also rely on other people to help form a more grounded sense of reality? Do others too question leadership and masculinity, but are then also unsure about what role to play that is both decisive and also responding appropriately to ones own privileges?)

I look up and see metaphors all around me that reference making something sea-worthy, staying afloat, images swirling in and out of cognition.

The large painting seems to represent an infinite net. It could be modular. I think about the environmental cause to clean up the oceans before plastics break down into smaller and smaller particles that never really go away.

But it also has religious connotations/a Jesus vibe the longer I scan over the large painting. It started with feeling like I was searching for the artist, which is probably because someone once told me that Michelangelo hid a portrait of himself into the back of the Sistine Chapel, you know, the amorphous skin figure. The painted ropes begin assuming the forms of rosaries and crosses. There burned marks of a figure is a stand in for the Shroud of Turin.

But I believe that this is not someone whose works are meant to be taken at face value. For example, his contribution to a large group show was to paint a rubber ducky to look like it was a hand crafted wood duck decoy. To me this piece achieves a legendary status because while all other works by "painter bros" vied for attention through style, this piece gets better knowing that it was probably missed entirely.

I don't believe that 'hiding things in plain sight' is part of a still-life repertoire per se, but if the thing in front of me is not THE thing, then maybe we are supposed to be thinking about our relationship to what we believe is the work at hand. I relish in the practical aspects of the structures that give rise to aesthetic decisions. Is that function over form? Screws are unceremoniously driven through some of the backs of the stretcher bars so that it's just structural enough. He is taking more time to treat the objects of collaborations with proper framing and respect.

To make nooks and crannies in which other works and ideas by friends can be discovered eludes a linear narrative and is metaphoric as a whole. Do our peers' influences not live in the nooks and crannies of the brain as we work on our own work? Involving other people is an attempt to be honest about where ideas come from and what things are.

Paint is just colored glue, canvases give things a frame or something to stick to, and an exhibition is just an excuse to be in good company. 

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Thanks to Katie Bode for the tip to check it out with a few days notice and to Ellen Schafer for introducing me to the artists when I didn't feel like I was going to be able to get to know anybody in my first days in LA. Speaking of two people that understand what I mean by the new normal of community... do you know about Katie Bode and/or Ellen Schafer?

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Notes for Morgan, Hey there, let me know if I got anything wrong. I have a feeling that the duck wasn't a rubber ducky if the picture I found is the right one.

Also I came across these snippets in the part of the book "Psychomagic" that I've been reading that also seems to pertain to your text:

245 - "This primitive depth: to be devoured or not to have anything to eat."
241 - [In order to understand how artists and poets heal (themselves by healing others), Jodorosky said] he studied mutilated bodies, those with what's called 'ghost members'." They were one of many cultural approaches where an imaginary biology really works because, "when you imagine your body, you are creating it."

What did you mean that the raft is a machine?

 254 - "the mechanic begins to produce machines: gas motors and tools that operate with manual energy, like watches. And man incorporates those machines. He imitates the conduct of those machines! He arrives at rational thought. Even today there are traces of this rationalism of the Enlightenment."

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