Nightmares

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Image courtesy of Studios Inc

I’m going to tell you about my first nightmare. I walked up the stairs to my room, the first room I was ever conscious of belonging to me, of being my space in a house. There was a creature over my bed. It was a skeleton, and it was flashing colors, jerking wildly on unconnected bones, and it was making my bed. This is the first nightmare—maybe even the first dream—I remember. Of course I had this long before my natural anxiety latched on to everything plausible a naturally anxious person could be afraid of. What makes me tell you this is the eerie resemblance between Ricky Allman’s Domestic Dusk to my first encounter with oneiric fear.

For those of you who are still with me in the second paragraph: Allman’s exploration into the nightmare realm involves genetic modification, emotionally reactive technology, and colorful skeletons in impossible human poses. The paintings strike a comparison between the infrastructure of our bodies, and a city experiencing a sudden surge of technological resources. Closing in on the rich details of the paintings adds to the mounting stack of questions. Are we floating in space? What are the laws of physics in this dimension? Is that a body or a machine? Little is revealed in the minutia that cannot be grasped by taking the whole thing in at once. That doesn’t mean the details aren’t worth considering. Allman has spent enough time on them to reward the viewers approach. Every inch of the canvas is a traffic jam of information, potential opportunities to dive deeper into the microscope of Allman’s mind, to see exactly how this painting, these ideas, work at their atomic level.

Thrumming synth filled the gallery on opening night. Allman’s distorted speech joined a looping musical component, played live on keyboards and computers hooked up to pedals on the floor. A projection hit the two white walls behind the set up, dragging the audience through prairies and mountains and cloud spattered skies. The accompanying music was droney, panicked, and built complex relationships that looped and self-complicated. The more the notes repeated, the less predictable the track became. Such is the method Allman employs in his brushstroke too. Patterns are shattered by bursts of rhythmic color and sound.

On my second visit, the gallery was much quieter. The speaker between the angled walls emitted something in Italian, and then a loop of spaceship beeps that were quiet enough to tune out. Allman’s paintings and music capture a specific anxiety about the evolution of humanity and technology. (Experiencing the music and paintings combined, I couldn’t help but remember the film Koyaanisqatsi, that this is what it would would look like if Francis Ford Copalla took a bunch of acid and shot the film in 2090.)

Seven Simultaneous Sunsets must refer to the number of pieces in the show (five paintings, an installation, and the musical projections) and to Allman’s fixation on unacceptable earth phenomenon. In every piece, Allman imagines seven ways humanity could sink below the horizon of the imaginable, into the dark nightmare of the distant future, where genetic editing, technology sentience, and omniscient experience are the next stage of evolution. If we can build a better city, we can build a better body.

 

Ricky Allman

Seven Simultaneous Sunsets

At Studios Inc

Until October 14th

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Wide Angle

For his first solo exhibition in the United States, French photographer Nicolas Dhervillers introduces Kansas City to monumental landscapes on the bridge between modern day and history. Big, dramatic photographs contain cinematic magic imbued in the dark light of the landscapes. These require slow—preferably solo—viewing, and are best experienced at their full intended scale. Inspired by hard-hitting landscape painters, Dhervillers channels the emptiness of Gustave Courbet, the depth of Claude Lorrain, and the gray menace of Andrew Wyeth. The eye is naturally fixated on the human subjects, but the real subject looms dark and heavy in the rest of the environment. Albert Camus wrote in The Myth of Sisyphus, “Man stands face to face with the irrational. He feels within him his longing for happiness and for reason. The absurd is born of this confrontation between human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.”

The human inability to contain the world seeps out of the images and into the viewer. It is an intuition that translates from the art into every rational being, into everyone who has ever sought to understand the elusive, chaotic heart of the natural world. In the photo series “Detachment”, Dhervillers explores the figure as he faces vast and unyielding entropy, even when it coexists with modern developments. There is fog, dense greenery in the recesses of a wooded area, empty stretches on a gray road, and a single figure caught in an uncertain moment. It often appears to be the edge of winter.

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Many of the images clearly embrace contemporary visual hooks of a fictionalized cinematic style—a cabin goes up in flames as a 70s era Citroën coupe cruises away down the winding valley road. These hooks sometimes feel too clever, but can be forgiven if only because it does not diminish the pleasure of taking it in. Period specific clothes and modern technology make some of the photographs feel exempt from time—part today and part yesterday. The two men on the side of a shattered mountain certainly don’t belong in the same frame as a yellow backhoe, but it works, because this is theater. There are narrative threads to follow in every image, and sometimes the technical digital magic can feel heavy handed, causing the suspension of disbelief to crack, just a little. In this medium, and with such an emphasis on perfectly executed stage setting, any infinitesimal flaw in the digital process won’t go unnoticed by a searching eye.

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Nature, the world and all its familiarity, can leave us to our terrible solitude without warning. There is another passage from The Myth of Sisyphus that feels an appropriate philosophical descriptor for the work in the Dhervillers exhibition. It is this: “The world evades us because it becomes itself again. That stage scenery masked by habit becomes again what it is. It withdraws at a distance from us. Just as there are days when under the familiar face of a woman, we see as a stranger her we had loved months or years ago, perhaps we shall come even to desire what suddenly leaves us so alone. But the time has not yet come. Just one thing: that denseness and that strangeness of the world is the absurd.”

Indeed it is. For Nicolas Dhervillers to take on the conceptual weight of these philosophies while achieving perfection in his craft is definitely one of the quintessential struggles of humanity.

Nicolas Dhervillers

At Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art and Cerbera Gallery

Until October 21st

Vaguely New and Still Familiar: PLUG Projects in the Summer

A Review of Personal Space and Vague Perimeters at PLUG Projects

July 17-August 22, 2015

A spider sets up in the cracks of a satin porch. I lean, nose first, into the rosy light of sunset settled in the crevasse of a mounted object. I feel the crowd disappear, their conversations blur and muddle, and I listen to the spider move one leg at a time up the web, scraping the silk along the way. This is Amy Garofano’s “Satin Porch” on the wall at PLUG Projects on a stiflingly hot July evening. I’m escaping the oppression of a non-air-conditioned vehicle and tiresome conversation for this show, then a cold beer. The spider has added an appropriate element to Personal Space in the front room of PLUG Projects: the lived-in familiarity of a shared space. For me, that translates into old roommates in old houses and the diverse components of each: mixed textured objects and eras around the shared rooms, a personal yet chaotic vibe in a private room, an object before it was withered by a cat scraping her claws. Amy Garofano taps into this collective memory with her wrapped shapes and materials. Some appear more machined than others, like the pre-laid objects in mid-century modern homes that lack character only to the outside viewer, but are heavy with associations to those in the living space. Through her color choices, vague familiarity of shapes and patterns, and their inviting presence on the wall, Garofano’s study of the shifting contexts between perception and objects is more effective in person than it sounds on paper. What is gained from her work is a sense that certain moments of personal clarity occur around the most daily objects and locations that surround us. The collective memory is accessible with careful use of cultural banalities—like suede and empty brick walls. I found her work as she found inspiration: during a lull in the day where I was sensitive to the details of a space, if only as a brief escape from heat, conversation, and activity. Quite satisfying, even if I’m wrong, to think a complete circle had been reached. (The spider, I hope, was left unbothered.)

Occupying the same room, Cybele Lyles’s colorful prints are windows to changing landscapes that first appear to be still. A number of these prints echo their own form, as if the frame holds the image and the image holds more frames. This empty space appears behind thin layers of ink that add atmosphere to the empty frames and rooms. Moments of contemplation or reflection can often appear stagnant or wasted to an outsider, and this feeling is enhanced by mirroring landscapes that appear still but are in constant movement, like sand or a river. I was pleased by both Lyle’s bold use of color and restrained use of line and form—a rare combination among a certain breed of abstract minimalists. New worlds are made inside our world with calculated choices of color and shape, stemming from Lyle’s clear understanding of interior space and the natural environment. It is a high-quality blend of serene environments and the changing complexities of inner life, with each component reflecting the other. My only grievance is that most of this work is The Dreaded Untitled—my biggest pet peeve in the contemporary art world. Abstraction like Lyle’s has the unique power to affect without dramatizing a medium or subjective scenario, and therefore retains its potential to drive the audience into a near-subliminal state with the punctuation of a single word. Her deft skill in envisioning alternate environments and rooms that the audience can access is not rewarded with the final detail which would propel us into a new reality. An artist who can convince us of her own world with few materials and a short statement owes it to her creative career to provide a title of equal measure. This truly is a missed opportunity.

A room away, beyond a dark corner at the end of the front gallery, Annie Woodfill sets up her spatial interpretation of the room and the relationship her practice has within it. Vague Perimeters is a variety of things because it is A Space In Progress. While Woodfill’s ideas are well-formed and articulated in the statement, the construction of the space felt like a temporary incarnation of the massive themes she is working with. Everything in the space is in the process of opening or shutting, being measured and cut, coated or stripped. Stages of living “in between” moments are sources of inspiration, like strewn mail on a desk or an object intended for later use resting angled against a wall. Nothing is fixed, nothing is stable, and therefore an intimacy is developed as you traverse the room. I think of the first interactions with a space—the very, very first ones—as being the most intimate and loving to the architecture itself. No one is more in sync with a space as the one who erects the walls, applies straight lines where there once was organic chaos. Even in the stages before a new piece is added to a space—such as the materials found laying against the wall, found ephemera waiting for an accessed potential—the objects in this installation are being thought about very carefully, very concisely. I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere along Woodfill’s career, she began to build her own rooms, just to portray these ideas that form her obviously highly interconnected relationship to object and space. The invitation for an audience to enter this developing area can be difficult. Either the audience will pass through as they tend to do in spaces that appear under construction, or they will find themselves trapped in the scary grey area of being asked to consider the transitional environment in question, and not really understanding what is being asked of them. It’s a hard theme to work with—having a practice that is so enmeshed in these kinds of spaces and choosing elements of it to bring to a gallery—but Woodfill is on the right track with her deliberate and subtle assembly. Most notably, for me, the indication came upon looking up at the ceiling, where a single line of painter’s tape had been extended right up the corner of the wall and leapt across a material void to be reconnected with some existing structural part of the building. It is a buried, yet loaded choice that reflects the depth of her conceptual faculties and adherence to the artist statement. If choices like this evolve to their full potential—which I see as becoming a bit more loose and humorous—Woodfill can be sure the audience will feel welcomed and engaged in a space where vague is beautiful.