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Idiosyncracies, the Mundane, and More at The Land of Tomorrow
February 18th, 2012
The Land of Tomorrow in Louisville collaborated with Country Club to curate a broad show of many different artists, many of whom are well-known in Cincinnati (such as Aaron Morse and Jimmy Baker). Only certain artists were given their own individual rooms (The Land of Tomorrow’s group), and are my focus here: Taylor Baldwin, Lisa Walcott, Jacob Isenhour and Willard Tucker (in collaboration), and Amanda Church.
Taylor Baldwin’s I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts (2009) features a laborious blend of unusual materials and meanings. The chainsaw, the topmost element, is made of transparent polyethylene, an “idiosyncratic” combination of material and function inspired by approaches to art practiced since the 1960s. This idiosyncratic approach (as it is commonly referred to for artmaking in this style from that period) usually relies on minimal form to isolate a sense of the unexpected (e.g. Claes Oldenburg and, more recently, Tara Donovan). Baldwin, instead, complicates this approach by putting idiosyncratic components with other idiosyncratic ones, resulting in a jarring plethora of ‘disassociations.’ In I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts, the aforementioned fragile transparent chainsaw rests above a central stump-form (idiosyncratic–forgive my overuse of this term–in its hollowness and intricate composition of small, straight pieces of recovered wood) and two shipping pallets (surprisingly made of plastics).
As if these juxtapositions were not enough to visually digest, the complex description of his materials violates the essential idea of artistic “repurposing.” The gallery handout includes a paragraph-sized, diligent listing of the varied sources of the sculpture’s materials (such as “cutoff from Lisa Walcott’s ‘My Pleasure’ installation” and “copper nodule from the San Manuel Mine”). It encourages the viewer to separate the material from its function in the form. It also highlights the process of production when the process is not so visually evident, or even relevant.
The final result is a negative aesthetic that disturbs. It is meant to do so. According to the curator’s statement, his work “deals with anxiety and the specter of imminent catastrophe.” The resulting piece, like many of his others in the show, is a curious amalgam of the anti-modernist tendency in the arts of the past fifty years, if not further back (if one includes its Dadaist aspects). Yet, its bombardment of the mind and the senses (or mind versus the senses) perhaps best reveals the kind of stimuli of which the most recent generation, habituated to the intensity of electronic media from the cradle onward, demands. Perhaps also the obsession with materials and their properties indicates an uneasiness with the unreality of digital, virtual space. In such a case, the task of the arts is not the subsumption of matter to form but to remind us that matter matters.
While Baldwin’s work is an in-your-face approach to visual art (a central piece in his show featured a life-sized skeleton on a pseudo-life raft), Lisa Walcott’s My Pleasure (2011) kinetic sculptures are subtle. An eye-level brown paper bag extending from the wall grabs one’s attention upon entering as its expansion and contraction makes a rhythmic crinkling sound (it is supposed to mimic hyperventilation). Yet, it is curiously tender, as if its fragility required assistance. Likewise, other kinetic objects slowly make their way to one’s attention: small soap bubbles appear and collect around a hole in the floor; a miniature black object imitates a fly trapped in an erratic orbit under the central ceiling light; and a nearly unnoticeable cigarette rests slightly “lit” on the floor. The mimetic element here is what makes these four objects/installations so effective, as the artist reveals an appreciative attention to details in the world about her. Their duplication here, placed in the framing of the gallery on old floorboards, gave me the sense of a curiosity cabinet of the everyday. A particularly personal narrative for me was that of an evening with an elderly smoker gazing quietly out a large window from a room in which he restlessly was trapped.
A Colder Friday, a collaboration between Jacob Isenhour and Willard Tucker, features varied elements involving an enclosure around a window. The enclosure, a smaller “room” in a larger room, is composed of straw bale and grey disaster blankets. Curiously, the smaller room is centered about one of the gallery’s windows, open to the outside with a fan blowing in frigid, 35-degrees air. The straw bale, a green building component, served to keep the cold air in the enclosure, a curious inversion of its usual function in architecture. Isenhour and Tucker placed other sculptural elements in and around the enclosure, such as a gold-painted cement mixing rod, some pieces of styrofoam, and cement blocks. I was unable to make anything of these elements, although apparently some were encased in ice at one time. The strength of the work resided in its inversion of architecture and the relationship to the weather, an unexpected experience in the gallery.
The final solo show, “Hollywoodland,” featured the abstract/Pop paintings of Amanda Church. Large (typically 72×80 inches) and highly stylized, her work features bright hues painted within strongly delineated lines. The artist abstracted from drawings she made in Los Angeles (from “hotel exteriors and interiors, pool shapes, billboards” and more). This is evident in Man with a Big Heart (2010), an dematerialization of a man’s jeans, shirt (with a geometrical pattern), and what appears to be animal to his left. The abstraction of the original form implies that the relationship of color and line are more essential than whatever subject matter her initial drawings drew from. Yet, I had difficulty with her bold colors, perhaps due to my experiencing them in the midst of winter. I found myself preferring how they looked in reproduction (such as the jpg included with this article) due to the way in which the small scale made her work intimate.