Sunday, December 4, 2011

"Nothing Would Sleep in That Cellar"

I went to the opening of a show at Museum Gallery/Gallery Museum last night, in its new space in Brighton here in Cincinnati, and as soon as I walked in I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere.  Which is a good thing.  "Buy an Hour," a two-person gig starring artists Jacob Isenhour and Will Tucker, comes complete with a one-page Xerox explanation about the genealogy and purpose of hedge-apples, the credentials of the artists, and some abstract notions about "discipline, regimented labor, and deterministic time systems."  But all that is truly just hokum when you experience this show in the flesh.  Words spin and melt away like your dead grandpa's pills tossed into the commode, and you are at once confronted with a feeling of awe, comfort and nausea.  The gallery space has been transformed into what happens when boredom meets ambition, when all the crap left behind at construction sites intermingles with nature's dross and the desire of a couple of really serious artists to grapple with re-imagining what "country living" actually means, and can do to you. 

The art on the walls and floor is beautifully curated and oneirically off-kilter.  All of it is lit in a mishmash of lighting reminiscent both of a barn in a horror movie and a one-act play about loneliness in a small town.   A strand of gangrene-colored hedge-apples are tossed onto the floor like a giant's horrible, tacky jewelry.  Hybrids of potted concrete and rotting hedge-apples with sticks sprouting from the top anchor the whole gorgeous mess, and catercorner to the hedge-apple necklace are two spinning pickle-buckets, making a noise kind of like hamsters on amphetamines.  On the walls are blond-wood framed detritus, beautifully unfinished yet completely "there" paintings/collages/whatever captured from demolished rooms. 

Serendipity transforms into perception in this show.  Both Isenhour and Tucker re-purpose to the point of no return, and beyond even that -- conjuring a backwoods laboratory where hedge-apples morph into heroin-tumors, and "crystal-meth" is just another word for nothing left to lose.  The gallery space is a limbo of objects and waste, a place between Heaven and Hell where you go to wait for bad news, and the only solace is that you are indoors.  Industrial, sleek, bluesy, creepy, working-class, and very distinct, "Buy an Hour" is one of the best shows I've seen around here in a while. 

I kept hearing Theodore Roethke in my head as I walked through.  One of the greatest 20th Century American poets, Roethke's works often celebrate the dank and dark place where man tries to find peace in nature, and nature doesn't actually ever return the favor.  His poems about ditches and graves and journeys into the wild represent a dangerous world of objects and emotions preserved in a silence you can only hear when you're not there.  I'll end with one of my favorite Roethke poems, which for me is a replacement for the perfunctory "Buy an Hour" Xerox:
Root Cellar
Theodore Roethke
Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,
Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,
Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.
And what a congress of stinks!
Roots ripe as old bait,
Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich,
Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks.
Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.