Jeremy Boyle and Mark Franchino: Untitled I at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts

Untitled I, curated by Adam Welch, is billed as the first collaboration between artists Mark Franchino and Jeremy Boyle now on view at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. Aside from a couple collaborative pieces, a tree house on stilts that emits chirping sounds and a drawing of it, the rest of the show is individual work.

Mark Franchino’s series of graphite drawings are carefully rendered vignettes that hover in the middle of paper pinned directly to the wall. On these pages, ladders, pallets, lawn chairs and bits of architecture form intimate scenes. Drawn in two-point perspective, palettes hover beneath openings in would-be ceilings and tree-houses float like homey UFOs letting down rope ladders. Primarily a sculptor, Franchino knows materials and he renders the objects well, but these are more than formal studies. The depopulated drawings suggest a human presence even when there is none, like a recently evacuated scene. Chair 1 & Chair 2, for instance, depict a couple of those older-model lawn chairs made with woven striped nylon. In the first drawing, the chairs are set up as if for folks to sit and drink ice tea. In the second, one chair lies on its back as if someone might have flipped it over as they stormed away. Dumpsters 1-4 convey less narrative and act more like a catalog depicting ways a wood-shingled dumpster might be used in a playground or as a living space. Each delicate drawing in the middle of the page threatens to be overly precious, but here the paper anchors them. If the unmarked white paper seems too open and empty, it is palpably so, and like the sculpture in the middle of the gallery, slightly threatening—a raft in the middle of a frozen lake.

Jeremy Boyle’s work has a wry sense of humor. The materials come from the world of circuits, musical instruments, speakers and data, held up for us to join in his sense of wonder. Resistors on a circuit board are labeled in ohms, cheekily adding up to 2013, while works on dense, shiny fields of graphite spell out pre-internet acronyms. These turn out to be telegraph abbreviations, such as the weirdly specific smtbop (send me ten barrels of pork) and hyfmo (have you filled my order). Unlike their contemporary counterparts, such as the tiresome LOL & LMAOs, these toss-away historical text messages hold my attention because they are suspended in such lush silvery black material.

In AA battery collection, three rows of batteries are arranged by color, reminiscent of a beer bottle collection. While a disposable battery collection might be absurd, many of us probably have a similar collection rattling around the back of a drawer in pre-recycle purgatory. Placed on a custom wooden rack, the battery can be admired as a tiny scientific miracle with the potential to store and convert energy. Similarly in plug/plug, both ends of a looping twenty-foot extension cord plug into the same outlet. With two positive male ends, it’s a closed circuit that also suggests trapped unspent energy and it is one of his most succinct and successful pieces. In noise (spectrum), red noise, black noise, green noise and so forth come from a stack of rainbow-colored speakers. The whoosh of noise cancels out other sounds, creating a semi-dead zone. Like a dead battery or a plug loop, it is another potentiality held in stasis by its opposite, but while I like the tower, I find this visualization of the sound name a bit too literal.

Overall, the show is clean and beautiful with a pervasive sense of humor and play, but I’m not sure how much the artists gain from their proximity to each other, or even that they have best figured out how to collaborate. I avoided the tree house until the end, I suppose because it seemed more inaccessible than inviting. While presented as a collaboration (and title track of the show), it reads more like two artist’s work than as a merger or inventive blend. Small speakers hang from rainbow colored cords and chirp from time to time just a few feet from the wooden fort, but the dissonance I was hoping for between the materials–high tech noise versus hand cut shingles–wasn’t there. A tree house is a place to escape, to play–a place to invent new worlds and watch one go past below. Maybe tellingly, this tree house doesn’t have a door–its would-be entrance is blocked off. Propped up on pipes and cinder blocks and cut in half at the ceiling, it is hard to imagine climbing up and in. If Franchino and Boyle aim for an Untitled II, they’ll probably need to let go of some aspects of their own work and get inside.



Jeremy Boyle and Mark Franchino: Untitled I is on view at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts until April 7, 2013.
Images courtesy of the artists. Photos: Adam Welch

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