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Ideas of Order at COCA

[uds-billboard name=”order”]The Millstone Gallery is centered in the midst of COCA‘s expansive building in University City, its compact size and bank of windows overlooking a small garden and terrace striking a perfect scene for the small scale domestic interventions on display in the expertly-arranged Ideas of Order. Curator Jessica Baran conjures a productive disarray of domestic and found objects from St. Louis artists Gina Alvarez, John Early, Wonder Koch, and Peter Pranschke, finding small moments and intimate materials capable of ordering the everyday into a concise meditation on social and self-control.

The artists each have a tendency to collect, order, and preserve fleeting moments and pin them to paper, imaginatively reconsider them, or archive them for some private sense of study. The posture of the artists arcs among informal, playful tendencies, often finding material in what is at hand, naturally occurring, and fleeting. Peter Pranschke, a tireless artist who has carved out a unique terrain for his subtle installations, organizes miniature artifacts in a foam display case that has been sculpted and shaped by a turkey carver, itself leaving the jagged grooves and scrapes of a domestic tool wielded bluntly. Pranschke sees imaginative narrative possibilities in these arrangements, suggesting a recursive world created to be fully experienced only by the artist himself. They are playful, but are laced with a fragility of a world fussed-over and tenuous – the kind whose survival is dependent on its creator keeping interest in order to maintain a sustained sense of play. A child’s world, disordered and rearranged into mature, magnetic form.

Wonder Koch approaches her work with a refreshing literality: Red Flags are red flags and mass emails are semi-sincere attempts at communication. This lends the work both a vulnerable honesty and utter absurdity. A new arrangement of fabric and found twigs, Red Flags centers the exhibition on entering the gallery, suggesting that one can find “red flags” anywhere as a paranoiac impulse, cutting through the overemphasis on bland reuse seen in much recent found material work. One of the best moments in the exhibition, however, is found only in the catalogue text in which Koch responds to an email from the Obama campaign that asks, “Have you ever gotten to do something so cool you’re almost jealous of yourself,” setting off a personal and speculative meditation on loneliness, student loans, and self-jealousy with dorm room refrigerator pull-quotes like “What does my student loan look like through your bong water?”

Gina Alvarez has accurately described her creative impulse as similar to a bowerbird – arranging vibrant material in order to carve out a domestic space. Primarily a printmaker, her work digests itself, reusing previous work in an ongoing expansion of her practice. In this continual revision, Alvarez finds an abundance of ideas always at hand. In i’m headed to the, and the, the work has a deceptive density whose glittering distracts from easy absorption.

John Early’s lyrical works lend the exhibition a meditative pause, gathering light and shadow, material and absence. Heavy load and The other coast are reminiscent of Gebi Sibony’s sparse exercises, but with a warmth towards the material that exudes the time spent with it. In contrast to Sibony’s continuous search and accumulation, Early sought out only material at hand- foam panels, wood boards, and, ultimately, light itself and how it moved through his apartment. For the time being suggests an unstable state, its half-finished sketches and overhead projection feeling as if the artist has just left the room and may return at any time.

Baran describes the show more broadly as an exercise in productive irresolution. The desire for order within the domestic, the inevitable recursion of uncertainty back into the everyday. Viewing the exhibition feels a bit voyeuristic as if you are overhearing a private conversation; perhaps even as if the artists are accidentally talking to themselves. Each artist’s work laced with an interiority not easily seen, even on repeated visits. One can imagine the artists wishing to sneak back in to the gallery after hours to add one last thing, all idea of order one step away from collapse. When the work comes down, it will likely be recycled, rearranged, returned home. Many of our attempts at order are perhaps naïve and obsessive, but ultimately comforting– a necessary balm like a fidget while waiting on a phone call.

All images are courtesy of Peter Wochniak.

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