Thursday, August 17, 2017

Brian Dario & Christian Tedeschi at Reserve Ames (and interview with Tedeschi)

Part 1: The last day to see Christian Tedeschi and Brian Dario at Reserve Ames is August 22nd. (open by appointment)

Compared to other exhibitions that have taken place in this quaint wood garage, artist-curator Ben Echeverria encouraged Tedeschi and Dario to take the maximal, generous, multiple-relationships-all-at-once approach.

There are no wall labels, and no titles, which further blurs individual authorship between two artists whose work appears to have quite the affinity with each other considering this is the first time they've worked together. 

They both engage with found materials, but their tact allows the viewer to still feel like they too are 'finding' the object (as there is too much to see all in one go) in order to understand the essence of each thing separately and when it's all together. 

Curious objects do not feel elevated to a precious level, nor is it like stepping into a cabinet of curiosities. It's more like a prop house with everything jammed together partially sorted in a haphazard way by type. Particular items have an aura to them, like they can stand to represent something from afar, a character all their own. A silhouette may suggest a modern gargoyle, a prehistoric satellite, or a Félix González-Torres.

Unlike a prop though, each is actually it's own world, not just populating someone else's world. The longer and closer you look in and around it, the more thrilling it really is.

One of the latest bodies of work by Christian Tedeschi are wabi sabi tools outlined in hard edged plexiglas. His work sometimes reminds me of Paul Thek's use of tight vitrines that held "meat" as well as Art Povera works with the kind of formal design that lent itself well to having clean formica edges. He also works as a serial artist, like a previous employer of his, Chris Burden, who made many iterations of massive "toys", in Christian Tedeschi's case it is the messy encapsulation of "tools".  This obviously renders the tool useless except that the reading is complicated by its proximity to other living things, rotting wood, the skin or the actual meat of a dead animal. This is not a vague equivocation between life and death, rather everything is at play, everything is kind of socializing. I think this is partially what Leslie Dick's accompanying essay was about, which was referred to as the exhibition checklist.

Brian Dario has more similar actions directly relating to Leslie Dick's essay, most notably, mimicry. A wall may or may not have belonged to the shed, but someone immediately recognized it as the artists' own property from his studio, as if it was a painter's palette. Dario also obfuscates authorship one step further when he let me know that the pale painting in the back was actually by another artist. He tracked this painter down who then ended up giving her blessing to alterations that he has been making to these discarded works. He sees the forgotten as perhaps the most useful material for their unassuming traits. His installations successfully play with when something becomes visible or invisible. I almost missed the painting altogether, mistaking it for some kind of white panel that somehow just existed because there wasn't enough space given to it, no cues to approach it as a painting. But this strategy worked wonders as I kept shifting left and right to peer around larger works just to figure out if I was really looking at a painting or not.

Both artists have a background in ceramics, but perhaps their background in working with others and opening up the process of making art is what gives it a prescient quality. Working with materials as basic as clay may have deep roots, but is anything older than curiosity? The works are more abstract and formal than conceptual or personal. The exhibition is more like a miniature golf course than a portfolio. 

I kept trying to back up in order to 'really see' the work, and perhaps the opening would have freaked out a claustrophobic person who is afraid of bumping into artwork, but something about the show seemed to be about facing reality; one in which there may not be as much comfortable space as we would like, but it also means we have a greater chance of bumping into someone who we don't know and to alleviate the awkwardness, we engage in a conversation with a stranger. (Note: not all interactions of the evening were exactly pleasant, a certain guy was making Rachel very uncomfortable with his questions about what she might wear in a hypothetical situation, but that's not the fault of the artists or gallerist.) What I keep coming back to is the interesting format of Reserve Ames, and how, even though Ben Echeverria has not occupied the house in front of the garage for quite some time, the current occupants and owners and pretty happy to keep a pleasant thing going.

Part 2: An Interview with Christian Tedeschi

I've been wanting to know more about Christian Tedeschi's work since we kept missing each other as we ping ponged in and out of Detroit. We finally met up in LA and I got glimpses again of his work when a mutual friend lived with him. While doing the internet research to prepare some questions, I was surprised to see how make-shift a career he has had, down to try everything that might be a little messy, which totally fits his practice. I accosted him by chance on the same day that he returned from his honeymoon, we corresponded over e-mail.

1. We both really appreciated our time in Detroit and perhaps found coming to Los Angeles more of a challenge, in part due to the circumstances to making the move in the first place, but moreso perhaps because of the difference of scale and heightened pressures. I wanted to ask you if you thought your work changed depending on where you lived, but I want to ask it in a different way.

You've had your home studio for some years now and a smaller program that you teach within, do you think that your next best body of work would come from a place of confidence in familiarity, or from something more improvisational, out of necessity from something unexpected?

Yes, I believe that I’m constantly responding to my life environment and or situation. When I was younger I lost my grandmom, my dog and two close friends in a weeks time. I went to the studio and didn’t leave for several days. I didn’t shower or brush my teeth, ate very little food, and drank lots of coffee. The act of discovery and creative pursuit in this life has been my tether to sanity for long as I can remember.  

When I lived in Detroit the situation was much different. I had a 29,000 sq. ft. warehouse for $300 a month (which was tough to pay at times). But the expansiveness and freedom that  I was afforded was critical to the work I made there. As was the free space and materials that came with the courage to venture into abandoned buildings and spend time there. This is where I really started using found objects. I realized that in scenarios where one might find a burnt down, abandoned home, they were extremely deep and dark but incredibly poetic. It was a post 911 world and Detroit felt like a forgotten land. A void filled with incredible people who were neglected by their elected officials but also a vibrant place booming with creative energy and artist types. A place where anything was possible (good and bad). It took about a year for me to see that but once I relaxed into it, I fell in love and my work changed. I became obsessed with what I was seeing in these spaces.

Now that things have stabilized a bit for me here in LA at the age of 43, my work has not. I’m always looking for the poetic. I rarely know things before hand. Most of what I make are a result of moving, collecting, walking and talking.

The “branding” issue in the art world is something that I have a difficult time understanding. I can’t adhere to any one “style” or methodology. I have many interests and life is complex. Sometimes the work feeds the work and sometimes life interjects something new. I really try my best to remain open to the signals and impulses without too many walls.

2. Correct me if I'm wrong but it looks like you've shown at a lot of down-to-earth spaces: Popps Packing, Monte Vista Projects, Elephant... (feel free to add any) as well as ones that have closed (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) Space Craft Gallery, The Happy Lion, and Summercamp. What have you come across in LA that excites you the most and does it make you feel like good work can get done here?

I love the gallery where I am currently showing, Reserve Ames. It is run by a unique artist / curator Ben Echeverria and it’s run out of an old garage. I think the programming at this space is unique and not LA specific which I find refreshing.

I was in a group show at ASHES/ASHES which was not specific to Los Angeles artists as well. I think the world of that space and the director. It’s a shame it closed its brick and mortar here but I’m sure will come back stronger wherever it lands.

For about a year I was represented by a gallery called Western Projects but they lost their space in Culver City and I chose to go my own way.

It seems that the wealth inequality of our country is being reflected on the gallery system. It’s kind of an interesting time in that there seems to only be large museo-galleries as well as in people’s garages and homes.

Currently the garage and home format makes for exciting contextual opportunity that doesn’t exist in a white cube. I’ve always loved images of contemporary exhibitions in Europe that take place in old cathedrals or churches. Anyway, maybe that affords a different opportunity for the work to expand into. It seems important somehow or at least, of the moment.

3. You mentioned that being an artist-teacher is a kind of model that you're interested in. Reserve Ames also has an interesting model in letting things unfold slowly (the pun being holding back on defining something too early) to find its footing and change to what things need to be.

I know you told me that you really appreciated that Ben is a curator-artist himself and that you and Brian Dario were able to fire up that playful part of him. It seems like your style to dive into a process that is inherently open is meant to forge more friendly relationships to avoid otherwise stark power relations. Can you tell me more about what perhaps you do as an artist and/or as a teacher with students to get praxis going?

Well actually Ben was the one who got us going, but he was responding to the work. I thought the show would be much more minimal, stark and contemplative but when Ben saw the work, he wanted us to bring all of it. I can’t speak for Brian but I was intrigued.

The whole experience was all about getting to know these two guys and discovery. Both Brian and I brought way too much work. We packed the show and the stripped it down. We moved everything around and added video. We took everything out again and decided that minimal was the way to go. Then we moved everything inside to store it because we were too exhausted to bring everything home that day and that’s when it all started coming together. It was an intense week of trial and error but I think it’s the way all three of us work anyway. I got to be very close to Brian and Ben as a result of this experience. I am very proud of this show and the work in it. But I wish I could say I gained new friendships with every show I’ve done.

As far as arts education goes Cal State Northridge has been a unique opportunity for me. I was brought there to build a sculpture program. I didn’t have an elder faculty leader breathing down my neck making sure I was passing on their dogma. I’ve had the freedom to teach how I want to teach. I have a very open attitude toward the work my students make and I see it as my responsibility to teach them practical tools (woodshop metal shop mold-making etc.) and fill them with a historical and contemporary precedent for the ideas they may be interested in. Then I enable. I enable all ideas and attitudes toward making in an open and creative environment. All in the hopes that they will break through to something that gives them something to be proud of, to laugh at, or to throw in the trash.

An arts education in sculpture at CSUN is about seeing things differently, in my classes that means the visual language and material.

Anyway, I work alongside my students and talk to them like human beings. I push a rigorous work ethic, I don’t play favorites, and I believe every idea can and should be discussed.

4. You’ve had quite a few students who went into good grad schools and now are showing their work in museums, the two I know are Beatriz Cortez who teaches at CSUN in Latin American literature and returned to art where she was established back in El Salvador in that scene. Then there’s Kevin Beasley whose work reminded me of Mike Smith who went to Yale before him, but he may have been introduced to resin for the first time in your class at the College for Creative Studies. What they share with you is their work ethic and maybe a ceramicists way of working, not too precious to be able to really push a material, but that’s perhaps that's where the similarities end?

In other interviews you mention Chris Burden and Nancy Rubins as influences, but who do you feel like you are in conversation with artistically speaking?

Mike E Smith and Kevin Beasley were students of mine at CCS in Detroit where I taught ceramics as well as an experimental course called “intermedia”. That’s where I worked closely with them.   
And Beatriz was a student out here at CSUN. She received her MA at CSUN sculpture while teaching full - time in Central American studies then went on to Cal Arts for an MFA, a remarkable work ethic. They are all extremely bright , poetic and driven artists.
I did use a lot of resin in non-traditional ways when i lived in Detroit and still do. I can’t speak for their influences directly but I am extremely proud of them and really enjoy following the evolution of their work.

I worked for Chris during Metropolis, I got a teaching job then stepped down to part time work for Nancy. Their life as artists was enlightening to me, their professionalism and fearlessness, to live the way you want to live. I am influenced by both for different reasons. I love Nancy’s directness. Her touch has a lot to do with the way clay works when it’s at its most alive which is when it’s on the verge of collapse, very direct and confident but loose and sophisticated. She has a tacit knowledge of physics without overselling it. It is simultaneously magnetic from afar and practical when up close. Like when the magician reveals their secret but you’re still baffled.

I was thinking about Paul Thek who was skeptical of the market around art and may have been written about less because of that kind of stance. I feel like Detroiters refer to having an affinity to Gordon Matta-Clark or Tyree Guyton as influences on how they think about artists who deal with discarded houses.

I agree. I like artists like Thek, Manzoni or Merz or Durham who seem to make the market come to them. In Detroit those houses do become material when you live there. Some have a D for demolition on the facade but never get demolished. They become illegal tire dumpsites, user houses, spaces for all kinds of questionable behavior as well as places for the homeless to live. Most times they are dangerous structurally as well. They are tempting to employ like any other material.

5. There's this pithy way of saying that when people talk about how broke they are, then it's a self-fulfilling prophecy and one shouldn't limit oneself like that. How do you feel about that sentiment? Do you feel like your working with cheap materials is in the same spirit as the Cheap Art Manifesto and Arte Povera or is this something you actually feel resigned to in order to have a realistic daily studio practice?

Hopefully I answered some of this in the above comments. I think whatever an artist wants to make is valid. I may or may not like it but I would always defend their right to do it.
I don’t feel like anything is truly cheap these days. Do you mean, if I were to get a grant for $20,000.00 if I would just make more work with “cheap” materials? Hard to say. I had a show with 40 pieces of glass clamped by 20 salami. Neither of those elements were cheap for me.

(Image courtesy of Christian Tedeschi)

Maybe next to a bronze I guess they would be considered cheap. I just look for the poetics. I would never limit the potential of the work and, in found objects I find potent and sometimes tragic history and energy that is significant.

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