Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Art of the Finger on a Cold Window

Tracy Featherstone + Krista Connerly

Judith Brotman 

Dale Jackson

Last night I went to the U-Turn Art Space's opening reception for "The Mechanics of Joy," a show featuring the works of five artists:  Tracy Featherstone + Krista Connerly, Judith Brotman, Dale Jackson, and William Howe.  The show is a dreamy collapse of mechanics into poetics or maybe the other way around, and the whole experience of seeing it is like witnessing someone trying to write a villanelle on the inside of his/her skull, and instead of using actual villanelle language he/she uses whatever is around his/her subconsciousness:  fragments of cardboard and plastic, transmission fluid stains, sleeping bags, lost shapes and sympathies from childhood, vague but intense moments written down on wrinkled pieces of newsprint.  Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera...

Each work teaches you how to worship what you think has been sent to the figurative and literal landfill.  In this phantom zone provided by U-Turn you learn how to reconfigure what "ephemeral" and "fever" mean when laced together.  Claes Oldenburg kind of gets at this in his Pop-Art manifesto from 1961, "I Am for an Art."  In the piece he goes through a litany of meanings of the kind of art he "is for," including "an art that imitates the human, that is comic, if necessary, or violent, or whatever is necessary," and "an art that is smoked like cigarettes," and "an art that a kid licks, after peeling away the wrapper."  Oldenburg is on a verbal safari for art that leaves itself behind and finds its truths and pleasures beyond what art is supposed to be, even though it still is in a gallery looking and acting like art.   

All of this art-hating-itself-but-really-loving-itself, however, gets at something serious and maybe even a little divine in "The Mechanics of Joy."  The precision of placement, the way objects and language both mock and harmonize with one another give the show a sharp simplicity that foregrounds the mystery of engineering without the safety net of practicality:  Judith Brotman's intricate and angelic sculptural fragments and figments hold court beside Dale Jackson's non sequiturs about (among many other issues) "what could cause Speed Racer to go off the road."  The beautifully utilitarian puppet-show featured in Tracy Featherstone and Krista Connerly's collaboration leans up against a telephone-pole beside the ghostly print pollutions by William Howe. 

This exhibit is a machine that travels unique distances without ever leaving the lot.  There's a celebration of absurdity without any explanation or political rant:  just what it is, here, in the gallery, a moment of mechanical thought idling into a weirdly innocent vision of joy.  

One more Oldenburg's "I Am for an Art" quote, and I'm out of here: 

"I am for the art of things lost or thrown away....  I am for the art of crayons and weak grey pencil-lead...and the art of windshield wipers and the art of the finger on a cold window, on dusty steel or in the bubbles on the sides of a bathtub."