Analogue at The Luminary Center for the Arts
Humankind’s relationship with advances in technology has wavered between awe and suspicion, inspiring Utopian and Dystopian visions. Analogue, the new show at The Luminary Center for the Arts calls attention to unattractive repercussions of progress, with a Coke bottle filled with motor oil and shopping carts stuffed high with hollow space-filling structures. On the other hand, Analogue also venerates mass-products by individualizing them. The drywall structures that fill Ryan Thayer’s three shopping carts in my building has every convenience conform to the peculiarities of each cart, highlighting, for example, the differences in the carts’ corners: one sharp, two rounded to different degrees. The carts may be read as a critique of consumerism but the same forms also request respect for what we would otherwise pass over: the uniqueness of each cart; the attention whoever made them must have paid to each detail.
Like Thayer’s sculptures, Zoe Sheehan Saldana’s works particularize things usually seen as replaceable. In several works taken from her series Ersatz, Saldana collaborated with experts to recreate objects of mass consumption. In Paper Towels, Saldana worked with a paper mill to create completely ordinary looking paper towels from scratch. She has assembled life jackets down to the milkweed fluff that stuffs them in Life Jacket (Adult) and Life Jacket (Child), and worked with chemists to figure out how to make a matchbox full of functioning matches in Strike Anywhere/Strike Gently. These items are indistinguishable from their mass produced counterparts, but in finding out they were made by hand, they draw you in to minute details: the dimples on the paper towels, the typeface on the box of matches that says “close cover • strike gently”. It’s incredibly refreshing to know that a single human being made these objects from scratch, though like with Thayer’s pristine white structures in the shopping carts, the evidence of the hand disappears as the object nears perfection.
Caleb Larsen’s work uses recognizable materials to the opposite effect as Saldana. He capitalizes on the anonymity of various grocery store objects in One Person, Three Days-Survival Kit, which supposedly splays out all the stuff one person would need to survive over three days according to FEMA’s recommendations. With a full box of Cheerios, a whole jar of peanut butter, a container full of gummy vitamins, and much more, the array looks better suited to one person—three months, or one village—three days, but in any case, it makes the viewer aware of the absurdity of translating existence into a discrete set of branded commodities.
A lot of the work in Analogue is loud with branding (the place could pass as the beginnings of a grocery store) but there’s also enough to satisfy more minimally oriented viewers. Ethan Greenbaum’s sidewalk casts in Concrete look a lot like large hunks of sidewalk hung up like paintings, but their vaccuum formed plastic makeup gives them an unexpected lightness. Greenbaum eludes to the gravity of dominating earth and reforming it into concrete, the broken sidewalks suggest subjection. The heavy-looking thing that is actually light and hollow fits well with some of the questions raised throughout the show: do we perceive branded products as hollow; does recognizable mean passable?
John Early’s installation upstairs in the Luminary’s Installation Space, Terra Firma, speaks to some of the same issues as the exhibition downstairs. The piece leaves you on an optimistic note. The gravity of the row of groceries downstairs pushes aside in favor of a weightless rolling between ground and sky. The space is filled by echoing sounds from two speakers, one in front and one in back. A single pristine pine skate ramp leads from the floor to the circular window at the top of the gallery like an upside-down exclamation point. The space was formerly a chapel, which is perfect for this installation: a place where light means divinity and infinity, and the skateboard ramp can potentially provide access. Yet the wheel won’t actually get us up to the infinite, at best you might touch the window. The installation is a reminder of being bound to the earth. The sound vibrates in the space like an oscillation from building up to accepting the ground.
Analogue is on view at The Luminary Center for the Arts, in St. Louis, MO through July 22nd, 2011.
Images courtesy of The Luminary Center for the Arts.