Friday, February 12, 2016

The Tortoise and the Stare

by Drew Martin
Our experience of art is based on what the work shows us combined with the personal experience we bring to it. So when I entered the back room of the Kate Werble Gallery group show Duplify yesterday and saw a couple turtle shells split down their center with a piece of stainless steel, the formal presentation and comment on symmetry (and an “old” organic form/nature ready-made vs. the “new” shiny prefabricated material) was dominated by my remembrance of a recent article someone had sent me. It was about super-realistic 3D-printed decoy tortoise shells that are being sprayed with an off-putting substance, and scattered around the southwestern deserts in order to condition ravens (the main desert tortoise predator) to not eat them into extinction. 

I also thought about  the oversized tortoise shell I saw on a recent visit to Thomas Edison’s laboratories in New Jersey, which he had (along with elephant hides and animal hooves) to sample these materials for his (then state-of-the-art) experiments and products. Both of these thoughts altered the intended contrast set up by the artist (Andy Meerow) but enriched my own experience, which would have been less interesting without them.

This is also true of the work at the gallery by Émilie Pitoiset: two leather gloves – one posed holding the cigarette and the other fingering a coin. Seeing these, it is hardly possible for me to not recall Wisława Szymborska’s Muzeum poem, particularly the line The hand has lost out to the glove. Unintended by Pitoiset and Werble, the placement of these objects in a temporary show in a hip, modern gallery, with Szymborska’s words in mind is a brilliant stab at her nemesis – time and the victory of object over the owner  – and joins her in the concluding lines:

As for me, I am still alive, you see.
The battle with my dress still rages on.
It struggles, foolish thing, so stubbornly!
Determined to keep living when I’m gone!

Across from the gloves is a dress, of sorts: a multi-material conglomeration portrait on canvas titled Perched. It is a colorful and lively piece that satisfies painting and sculptural urges. Its hands, and other features, are a wonderful struggle of representation – a neurotic triumph over possible failure, and hyper-representation over realism. These hands do not fool use as hands but are an amazing representation of hands: restless, veiny, clawing.

I also enjoyed the untitled diptych by Ryan Mrozowski, which is a nice play of botanic shapes, where a silhouetting of half the leaves creates a masking of itself and has an op-art tension of what is camouflaging what. I too quickly walked past a “black on black” work and should go back so as to not dismiss it. And, I almost paid too little attention to a multi-channel video installation in the front room of the gallery until I noticed Watts Towers in the montage and engaged in a conversation about the piece with Margot, the associate director of the gallery. She explained the tokonoma reference of the work, which was not what came to mind for me but definitely made me think differently about the work and the show.