Friday Night Highlight: Travis Russell Collaborations

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Bravo St. Louis! On the eve of Super Moon, Cherokee Street got it together. In conjunction with the Southern Graphics Council International [Printmaking] Conference (SGCI) hosted by Washington University, 50+ exhibitions, open studios, flash mobs, food trucks and more filled ten blocks of Cherokee Street in South St. Louis City last Friday, making for an unforgettable evening. I can only hope the momentum of that one-night event will continue. Then I can stop asking, “Why can’t they at least coordinate their openings?”

A bright star for me that evening was Travis Russell, who I first saw showing collaboratively with Cameron Fuller at Good Citizen. The title of this endeavor, Saturday the Birds Fell from the Sky, was inspired by just such a weird event that happened recently in Arkansas. The exhibition, however, was largely referencing things in St. Louis, from the nearby run-down Bavarian Inn to a Forest of Brancusi, which looked more to me like the logo for Super Park (a parking garage across from the St. Louis Lambert Airport). What I enjoyed most was how the show unfolded in unexpected ways. On two walls, large abstracted halftone screens of derelict brick buildings form a neon gradient of pixel-paper. In the back, Castle GraySkull houses a car stamp that can only be seen inside the blacklit room and paper with a wood grain pattern that can only be seen outside that space. With theatrical lights, a continual eclectic soundtrack and the undeniably psychedelic Staring at the Sun projection above the door, this fully immersive environment collapses the past and present with a paranoid future. Or, possibly, even a positive future, where derelict buildings make colorful wall hangings and cars, such as the central sculpture El Dorado, are made of re-purposed cardboard. This artist pairing was a great choice by gallery director Andrew James for the SGCI conference weekend. Russell and Fuller present the best of St. Louis artists making art about St. Louis, including this city’s sometimes problematic obsession with the past.

Next stop with Travis Russell’s work was at All Along Press in collaboration with Steven Brien and Elysia Mann. Here, the east window display case literally forms a diorama entitled Deceased Was the Widow of Henry Mosby, which is said to be, “exploring the truths and myths of everyday life in the parishes surrounding New Orleans, LA.” In monotone grays and blues, a man finds refuge on a block of wood surrounded by swamp rats. A ruined boat dock of more halftone screens emulates your perspective from a nearby ramp. Here again, time is blurred between a stylized distant past and a more recent event, Hurricane Katrina.

Further down Cherokee Street in an empty lot next to Firecracker Press, Travis Russell collaborated again with Cameron Fuller and their printmaking students to produce one part of St. Louis Fair Trade Project, a multifaceted interactive group of installations featured by the conference. Scattered with cardboard totem poles and St. Louis-themed woodcut printed flags and wheat-pasted banners, this final group effort illuminated for me an aspect of Fuller’s otherwise fantastic work from the Great Rivers Biennial last year I had previously found opaque. Text at the Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) mentioned the “Collection of the Institute for the Perpetuation of Imaginal Processes,” only slightly further explained in Fuller’s exhibition guide interview as something created to provide “more opportunities to collaborate with artists close to me.” But, seeing these recreated Pacific Northwest-style relics, carried over from the CAM exhibition, in that empty lot made clear collaboration with close artists (Russell and others) is a central force in Fuller’s work that had been greatly downplayed by the Museum. Perhaps this fluid way of working among artists is too slippery for a major institution to represent because seeing these joint efforts in a range of venues on Cherokee Street that evening simply allowed the collaborations to shine.

Saturday The Birds Fell From The Sky at Good Citizen will be on view until April 9, 2011.
Deceased Was the Widow of Henry Mosby will be on view at All Along Press through April.

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