Melis van den Berg’s “Untitled” fills the entire first gallery at the White Box (70 NW Couch), shoving gallery director Elizabeth Lamb’s desk into a corner under this massive cardboard structure that looks like a model of a flying saucer. It’s dramatic, formally beautiful, appropriately architectural for this gallery in the building that houses U of O’s architecture program. “Untitled” is all about the space of the gallery, what’s in it (it includes, is propped up on, gallery furniture), and how we interact with/in it. Lamb is practically under the thing, a kind of cruel joke. She invites me to crawl underneath “Untitled” and look at it from inside which you should definitely do. It reminded me of Nan Curtis’ works that reference children’s forts, though on a happier note.
Let me set aside for a moment the stated rubric of this exhibition of four recent graduates of London’s Slade School of Fine Art:
ONTOLOGUE explores the intersection between awarenes of being for the artist and the audience. … the artists confront cinema, the material properties of objects, and time and semiotics, thus opening a dialogue about phenomenology and consciousness.
And let me say something that we don’t often talk about when we talk about art. I thought about this when I saw Jacob Kassay’s installation at Car Hole, but I didn’t use the word: delight. We don’t use it any more than we use the word “taste.” Both are considered unserious, aren’t they? But there it is, simple delight, in a show that cloaks itself in philosophical jargon. From van den Berg’s invasion of the front gallery to curator Joshua Kim’s “1:17,” puddle and oversplash of what looks like silver or hardened mercury (I know that’s not possible) but is in fact Gallium (who knew? delight!) on the floor, the show has work that is surprising, work that raises interesting questions about a number of things but perhaps not the nature of being, necessarily.
“1:17″ immediately brings to mind Serra’s lead splash pieces. The title makes it clear that it is a record of a performance or a test, an “I wonder what would happen” as gallium is poured on the wooden floor for one minute and seventeen seconds. (Kim apparently poured the gallium at the opening.) What would happen to the gallium if the temperature of the room changed?And the little flecks of shiny silver that have splashed out across the floor make it unclear where the piece stops (How close can you get?), impacting our experience of the gallery space and how and where we move in it. This piece makes me curious to see more of Kim’s work.
In the darkened black box, Sepideh Saii’s “Behind the Scene” two-channel video work based on footage from “La Vie en Rose,” a biopic of Edith Piaf. When Piaf finally takes the stage, the film is projected on Saii who we hear singing a tune hauntingly, veering in and out of tune. That she chooses this ultimately triumphant moment in which to insert her presence into the space of the film demonstrates that Saii is interested in more than an examination of the real and the cinematic portrayal of same. I haven’t seen her other work using a similar strategy, but I’m guessing that this is part of a larger, serial imaginary self-portrait. I would love to see a live performance of a work of this nature by Saii.
Finally, Benedict Youngman’s “Before and After” is sculpture, photo, and found object, the results of a “residency” on a ranch near Tillamook. Start with the pile of hexagonal plaster tubes on the floor. In context, the stack visually references stacked lumber, the obvious reference as it sits beneath “before” and “after” photocopies of black and white photos of a forest and a clearcut wheatpasted to the gallery wall. And the obviousness, hammered home with the title of the work, is a bummer because there’s so much more here, not least because the stack also references basalt cliffs. The hexagon recurs in a plaster sculpture photographed on the ranch grounds and a cast shadow in another photo. A hexagonal structure being one of the strongest/most sound, the shape here could be metaphor for the robustness of the rural, suggesting that the before and after of the photos might be switched—that the after could in fact be the new growth of trees post-clearcut making the binary that urban dwellers think of when we think of logging into the cyclical that rural Oregon knows it to be.
Thanks Joshua Kim for introducing these artists to a Portland audience.