IOWA CITY ARTS REVIEW
THE INDEPENDENT QUARTERLY NEWSLETTER FOR ART IN EASTERN IOWA
CATCH YOU ON THE FLIP SIDE
A REVIEW OF JOSH DAILY, By Kyle Peets
“I AM” PRINTS BY ELIZABETH CATLETT
A REVIEW OF ELIZABETH CATLETT, By Cheryl Robinson
LAWRENCE WESCHLER, on art and science as ways of knowing
A REVIEW OF LAWRENCE WESCHLER, By Heath Schultz
A REVIEW OF EMILY NEWMAN, By Benjamin Gardner
JANIS FINKLEMAN, THE PULL
A REVIEW OF JANIS FINKLEMAN, By Brian Prugh
CHRISTINA MUZZIO, for the Love of Making A REVIEW OF CHRISTINA MUZZIO, By Brian Prugh
CATCH YOU ON THE FLIP SIDE A review of Josh Dailey’s MFA exhibition By Kyle Peets Josh told me in a recent conversation that his MFA exhibition, “Catch You On The Flip Side,” was about how he doesn’t want to talk about his work. Shortly after seeing the show and in that same conversation with Josh and with the slanted confidence of some beers I decided that I was going to write a review of his show for no other reason than I liked it. So, I feel a little guilty talking about it. Sorry Josh. Urbandictonary.com defines, “Catch you on the flip side,” as a phrase that means, “I will see you later,” or, “I will talk to you soon.” They trace its etymological roots to several varying origins: 1) The DJs of the records, radio disk jockeys, who before playing a record would say, “Catch you on the flip side,” in order to let the listener know that the DJ intended on playing the entire album and won’t start talking again until they have to flip sides or change records. 2) Another etymological variant of the idiom comes from space. In order to save fuel, NASA developed a technique that used the moon’s orbit like a slingshot to bring the spacecraft back to earth. The astronauts would lose signal as the spacecraft circled to the other side of the moon and so would say before this happened, “Catch you on the flip side.” 3) The phrase can also mean death and what might happens afterwards, like “I will see you in that other place we go to after we die.” Urbandictionary.com offers this example, “Tarzan, if I don’t make it to the temple of Kuakuamakimuno I’ll catch u on the flip side.” Whether “Catch you on the flip side” means I will see you later, I will talk to you soon or I will see you in some afterlife, it all boils down the same thing: somebody is in the process of leaving. This is a truth for all MFA exhibitions—the person who made the work is in the process of leaving in some capacity, the school, studio, city, state, or country—and Josh Dailey’s recent MFA exhibition, Catch You On The Flip Side, is the first I’ve seen that actively acknowledges this fact. This acknowledgment comes with a sense of the comic and the colloquial that is similar to the artist’s demeanor. If the viewer knows the title before seeing the show, the interaction begins on a less formal and more relaxed note than if such a statement, “I am going and won’t see you for a while if ever again,” were to be sucked into the heaviness of an overly academic or ponderous title. The mood of the sometimes dry and awkward gallery atmosphere is lessened from the very beginning by the title’s loose nature and is sustained by the work itself. The work was made by a combination of the printmaking processes: intaglio, chine collé, inkjet, in addition to spray paint and graphite. The overall color palette is subdued blues and beiges with some uncanny red and pink incidents. The prints have a formal seductive swagger. Most of the prints contain a figure that is the same subject throughout the entire series. The subject is skeletal to the point of an archetype. But it could also be Josh. The figure is for the most part represented in the form of a bust with a slight downward stare, as if looking at the bottom left or right corner of the paper it was printed on. Again, in most of the prints the character at large is accompanied by short texts that sustain the playful voice of the title. Here are some examples of the text: “Argghh!!! My face!!!” “Who will save the universe?” “Yo yo yo, how’d that critique go?” and, “I have my reasons.” Iowa City Arts Review
The combination of the naked character and the text offers two possible readings: these are the thoughts coming from the character or these are thoughts coming to the character, embodied or disembodied, the character’s or somebody else’s. Who owns the words in the text? If they are thoughts, ideas or emotions, whose are they? These questions lead to a bigger one: where did that embossment on your brain come from and how will you deal with it because it’s there and it isn’t going anywhere. No. Love. Lost. This text accompanies the blank rectangular embossment of one of my favorite prints in the show. And maybe this is the way that we should deal with the embossment left on our brains after anything like an MFA program. No. Love. Lost. It could be read as a one-sentence statement, “No love lost,” or of course, as three separate statements, “No. Love. Lost.” If the viewer reads it as three separate words it can become like three chapters where the only optimism is sandwiched in between the pejorative No and Lost. It then becomes a statement that, because of it semantic malleability vibrates between something positive and something negative. Language is a shifty little beast. It can work as a utilitarian means of communication and it can also fall short. So what happens when it may be problematic for artists to talk about their work when they are in a critique-based institution, like the MFA, where talking about your work is tantamount to the work itself? I like talking about my work and understand the benefits of being able to do so, but that is for my work and my process. This might not be the case for all the various approaches and ways of making work. Josh puts it this way, “What I put into my work is never fully reflected when I talk about the work – that may be a result of a methodology that isn’t fully compatible with written or spoken language. I’m often left wondering if there is any real advantage to talking about my work. How can that advantage be proven? Should I talk and write about my art just for the sake of convention?”
Argghh!!! My face!!!
Printmaking is a violent process. In the intaglio process for example, copper is dug and carved with a sharp needle, covered in strange chemicals, dunked in nitric acid, etched, inked, then run through 500 pounds of apposing pressure. The materials are subjected to a series of medieval punishments as they pass through a series of physical gestures and transferences on their way to some kind of substrate. Sometimes the process of printmaking leaves unwanted marks on the paper that some artists choose to edit out. Josh has chosen to leave the physical evidence of the chine collé process by leaving the piercing marks that surround the edges of every print. The holes act in the same way as the blank embossment. They represent the history of a process that has ultimately and irrevocably altered the material, for better and worse. No. Love. Lost. As a first year MFA student, sometimes I feel like a piece of copper. In looking at an MFA exhibition as a first year and thinking about how it will be to be in the process of leaving before actually leaving, and trying to metabolize everything I have experienced and loved and learned and lost during those three years, I get to bend time a little. I get to experience a double perspective, like words and images together, like Tarzan’s buddy on his way to a possible death or like an astronaut about to slingshot around a moon. And this attitude or perspective of looking back at something before you have even experienced it or reconciling any past or future experience that has left you altered extends beyond the MFA experience. You can be embossed by anything anytime everywhere. At this point it may help to think of the words of the School of Art and Art History’s most famous MC, Sunny B Side... “Just allow me to stay conscious. Please.”
Josh Dailey, Argghh!!! My Face!!!, 2013
Iowa City Arts Review
“I AM” prints by Elizabeth Catlett Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, February 16-May 26, 2013 By Cheryl Robinson
Elizabeth Catlett’s Iowa-owned print retrospective of 28 prints is aptly titled, “I Am,” spanning the sculptor-printmaker’s professional life from 1940-2011. The prints presented in this exhibition showcase both her considerable formal skill as a printmaker as well as the conceptual concerns embodied in her figurative style. One of the strongest set of works responded to a 1937 poem by her friend, Margaret Walker. Walker and Catlett were roommates at The University of Iowa and lived off-campus because “students of color” were segregated from living in University housing. Catlett’s visual response or tribute to her friend’s work did not come until 1992, 55 years in the making. The poem is striking in its aggressively political character:
For My People blundering and groping and floundering in the dark of churches and schools and clubs and societies, associations and councils and commitees and conventions, distressed & disturbed & deceived & devoured by money-hungry glory-craving leeches, preyed on by facile force of state and fad, and novelty, by false prophet & holy believer...
This prints are not as graphically aggressive as Walker’s words are, comprised mostly of domestic scenes. But all is not well in this collection of prints. There is one post-lynching scene placed below an image of a wedding, in a multi plate print that seems out of place with the other illustrations. It is a black and white etched plate unlike the lithographs that comprise the rest of the series, suggesting a dark undertow beneath an apparently calm surface of events in daily life. The show concludes with her most explicit political pieces. She celebrates figures from the Black Panther group and militant black revolutionary movement. In these later large prints a multi-plate technique which can reveal a machine gun in the same frame as a Party leader without placing it in his hands. She lets us finish the piece and in its piecemeal presentation reads as a document or a certificate of sorts, with a different space from her earlier portraits. Perhaps the artist was also in a different mind space by the end of her long and productive life of critical examination.
Elizabeth Catlett, Sharecropper, 1968, University of Iowa Museum of Art
Iowa City Arts Review
Lawrence Weschler, on art and science as ways of knowing By Heath Schultz
On March 6 Lawrence Weschler gave a lecture with the aim of illustrating how “art and science are parallel ways of knowing.” He began by quoting Nabokov: “a good writer needs precision; and a good scientist needs imagination” — a quote that characterized much of the talk, which proceeded as a tour of worldly high culture, from Vermeer to poet Thomas Lynch, landing finally on the philosophical quarrelling of Robert Irwin and David Hockney. Weschler notes that art and science have not always been discursively distinct. He argues that in the 16th and 17th centuries, aesthetic and scientific thought and representation were part in parcel, citing the wunderkammer or ‘cabinet of curiosity’— a display method familiar to the 16th century — in which paintings might be displayed next to an animal skull or seashell. Regimes of knowing that we now refer to as ‘natural history’ and ‘art history’ were not distinguished in modes of exhibition. Weschler pursued this thought by discussing a painting by the young Rembrandt entitled “Lesson in Anatomy” from 1632. In the painting, a professor explains the musculature of a dead man’s dissected forearm to what we might assume are both science enthusiasts as well as financiers of the painting. Anecdotally, Weschler informs us there was a good chance Descartes may have been in that exact room, studying anatomy and working on what would become Discourse on the Method from 1637, a book Weschler suggests was seminal in the establishment of the distinct discourses of art and science. Weschler’s talk was aimed overall at bridging the gap between these two apparently distinct discourses— art and science aren’t so different, he maintains, but they have differing intellectual navigational systems. The artist is guided by reason, the scientist, by logic. The difference being that reason is an internal and intuitive guide system. One stops working on a painting when it “feels right,” and thus, the problem the painting presents is ‘solved.’ Logic, by contrast, is an external system that guides research. Mathematics, science, physics, etc. – are all guided by their own logics, which dictate the correct answers to a problem. In each case, the solution at hand is verified either by the artist’s intuition or by the dictates of scientific logic. Peppered throughout the talk and always running parallel to his thesis, Weschler provides acute and poetic observations on artworks. One example I recall was reflection on a trend in Vermeer’s paintings, Weschler offers: “have you ever noticed in all of Vermeer’s paintings all the actions of his models require them to stand still? Which then allows them to move.” He was referring to a woman Vermeer painted who was pouring milk; frozen in reality in order to perform the task, the milk is able to move freely on the canvas, spilling into the vessel on the painted table. A beautiful observation, I’ll readily admit. But my stubborn political self, the part of me that wants justification for why I should care about Vermeer in 2013, isn’t satisfied. I quickly began to wonder whether this talk was anything more than bourgeois indulgence in high culture, cloaked in vague philosophies about the “stuff of life” that defensive and elitist Art Historians are always going on about. Are these not the same tired reasons why this or that painting always claimed to be relevant?
Admittedly I may have missed some of the relevance of such detours in Weschler’s thesis, but my take-away was this: what we understand as the ‘artistic way of knowing’ — an integral form of knowledge Weschler argues was central to all inquiry predating the discursive separation of art and science — offers a ‘way of knowing’ that can expand culture’s imaginative capacities. Scientific innovation, as it relates to culture, then, can benefit in previously unimagined ways should it adopt what we have come to understand as an ‘artistic way of knowing.’ But what, exactly, is the point of all this? If an artistic way of knowing were re-united with a scientific way of knowing, how would it escape subjugation and recuperation by a technocratic ‘scientific way of knowing’ dictated by corporate interests? Its militarism, gross consumerism, patents on medicine, planned obsolescence, corporate-funded universities, agro-business, exploitative labor, and on and on… Can one really go on about Rembrandt and art and science, implicitly endorsing artists’ embrace of the hard sciences, without noting the obvious and problematic technocratic culture we live in? And what about that lingering, seemingly immortal classism so present in the dusty halls of Art History? It is persistent in its uncritical embrace and indulgence in high culture as a more sophisticated mode of inquiry, which apparently releases it of the responsibility to engage with less rarefied problems. And what about the university’s place in all of this? With the active recuperation of the humanities into technologically driven capitalist enterprises, why would one make such claims without any regard for the broader implications for bringing art and science together? We’ve seen the hollowing out of humanities programs across the country, and of the university more generally, in favor of more lucrative programs. It was only a few years ago that our own arts program at UI was entirely re-structured to favor a more administrative (authoritarian) decision-making program that favors marketable technologies over non-lucrative ways of knowing and making. That the UI’s most recent hires in the art department have had a focus on technology and fashionable (to businesses) software programs is no coincidence. Is it really any surprise that we hear so much about cross-disciplinary collaboration with hard sciences in the wake of all these broader shifts in the organization of the humanities? And is it really such a surprise that we’re inviting a headline speaker to tacitly embrace such re-structuring through apoliticism? The problem with rhetoric of bringing an ‘artistic way of knowing’ back together with a ‘scientific way of knowing’ in today’s political climate is that while it would seem to ‘justify’ the arts in the university, it does so at the expense of their ceding to technocratic business interests. By saying that scientists could benefit from a more ‘artistic way of knowing,’ Weschler fails to address the ways in which science — as it is practiced today — has much broader and violent social and political implications than those displayed and fawned over as the wonder-eyed mode of inquiry romanticized by Weschler via Rembrandt. For me, this is a question of resisting capitalism, but for others it might simply be a question of maintaining art’s autonomy from corporate interests. Either way, the stakes are significant.
Iowa City Arts Review
SIGHTINGS Review of Emily Newman exhibition at the FLUXX Gallery, Des Moines By Benjamin Gardner
Emily Newman, Effects on Non-Leisurely Objects, 2009
Emily Newman’s exhibition at FLUXX is invested in what happens in our peripheral vision—the fleeting moment when a paper bag might actually be a small mammal, the perceptual mixing of images (what is reported to our brain), objects (the three dimensional-ness of that image and how we can navigate within it), and meaning. If there is a rabbit in my peripheral vision, I might walk more slowly so as to not scare it away. If it is a brown paper bag, my reaction is obviously much different: I might walk over and pick it up for proper disposal or reuse. The way that Newman’s work does this, however, is by asking the viewer to look on an instinctive level that is counterintuitive in the gallery setting. The work in the exhibition unfolds precisely when one looks with an “out of the gallery” eye—the looking and thinking that we do while driving, walking, and multi-tasking. The work unfolds within the context of the ways that we see objects and assign meaning to their form. I cannot help but think of the notion of trompe l’oeil while looking at this exhibition--not in the sense of art historical category, but rather in a direct “fooling of the eyes” that Newman has embodied in her work. The work removed me from the gallery by reminding me of my daily perceptual glitches and asking me, as a viewer, to contemplate the multiple ways in which the sculptures, photographs, and drawings can be perceived. In the sculpture Misperception of Objects on Carpet, for example, not only do the three sculptural forms sticking up from the carpet have their own image/objectness, but their cast shadows also create an additional image of each; were the viewer looking only at the shadows, those shadow-images could reference an entirely different form. The forms that cast the shadows don’t fit within the domestic space of the carpet: whatever form we might expect is undoubtedly different than the crab claw or jawbone and teeth that are actually casting the shadow. The carpet is both familiar and out of place creating a sort of loop of perception and interpretation. Photography, too, adds complexity to the relationship between image and object; the camera pretends that it understands the three dimensional space which we inhabit but it only does so by an averaging of light and shadow. In the installation of photographs titled Pilgrimage and the single image Mistakes on Salt Lake, the image is a signifier of reality in a physical manifestation. The images, though a captured moment of reality, create ambiguous foreground, middle ground and background relationships. Rain on a windshield reads as foreground, but Newman uses the streaks of precipitation as a compositional element across the landscape. Both the semi-arid landscape and the streaks of rain across the windshield become subjects through an oscillation of visual focus. Additional image-reality relationships are formed in Pilgrimage by using two images, separated by a border, of the same scene. One of the most striking examples of this is a photograph of a grasshopper stuck straight up in the mud joined with the same image rotated 180 degrees. The two images, with rotational symmetry to each other, are joined by reflected light on the water and mud--an abstract yet recognizable form that anchors the two images in time and space. The photographs are also embellished with gold and silver leaf, linking perceived layers of space; in most places this embellishment works perfectly—snapping the viewer out of a believable space, but in a few areas it was more difficult for me to make the leap and see it as more than material addition. Newman’s exhibition transforms the gallery space by asking us to be cognizant of the work in a different manner. As viewers trained in art, history, theory, and making, we too often rely on symbols and theoretical content that links us outside of the gallery to give work meaning. Newman’s work engages perceptual attitudes from outside of the gallery--when I walk into a dark room, the sleep of reason (or visibility) produces nightmares and phantoms within the gallery. The ephemerality of the exhibition is fitting; we don’t always see Beauty in the Daily Pickup of dog feces, but aesthetic moments, images, and objects are a standard structure of our understanding of reality.
Iowa City Arts Review
Janis Finkelman, Installation view of “The Pull,” 2013
JANIS FINKLEMAN THE PULL Porch Gallery, March 4-11, 2013 By Brian Prugh At the center of Janis Finkleman’s MFA show is a kind of drawn sculpture: lines drawn on paper and meticulously cut out from the page, then assembled into a floating mass in the middle of the Porch Gallery space. These sculptural forms defined the space by breaking up the directional lighting and casting their multiple shadows on the wall. Finkleman has recycled this “drawn sculpture” – it appeared in another iteration in “Drawing Offline” at Art Gallery West in the fall – but here, though smaller, its presence expanded through cast shadows that interacted with the wall and the images in the drawings on the wall. The play of light and shadow passes directly into the space of the drawings, where linear forms similar to those in the sculpture move in and out of both the space of the drawing and the space created by the shadows. Figurative moments that emerge from the lines—sometimes explicit, sometimes allusive—reference bodily strain and tension (related to the artist’s weightlifting training). I think that the great success of this show is in the way that the space is so tightly knit together through the sculpture, lighting and shadows. There were only a few spatially distinct drawings in addition to the sculpture, but the unity of light throughout the space created a kind of suspended web out of which the figural moments emerge and into which they disappear again.
Iowa City Arts Review
CHRISTINA MUZZIO For the Love of Making Ark Gallery, March 4-11, 2013 By Brian Prugh Christina Muzzioâ€™s BFA show in the Ark Gallery was another surprisingly unified and environmental exhibition. Muzzio employed a teal vinyl floor to bring everything together, which created a kind of electric glow in the gallery and acted as a context for the mix of paintings. The show broke down into representational canvases (mostly still lives or market scenes), brushy abstract canvases and constructed objects. The entry point for me was the abstractions, which had an offhand, informal character that gave them an amazing lightness. Repeating forms and colors countered this lightness with subtly calibrated rhythms. The rhythms of the abstract canvases opened up the representational works for me, bringing the rhythms of those compositions into view and directing my attention away from the (strong and engaging) rendering and more muted color palette. They, too, share the playfulness of the abstract paintings and the awkwardly made objects. The show was an exceptionally strong BFA show, and brought the variety of threads of work inevitable in a BFA program into an engaging and fruitful dialogue. I look forward to seeing where Muzzioâ€™s work goes from here.
Christina Muzzio, detail from “For the Love of Making,” 2013
Iowa City Arts Review
co-creators: Brian Prugh anda Heidi Wiren Bartlett
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