“Mixed Feelings” is a curious name for Jason Van Anden’s sculpture. His two robotic figures at VertexList are unequivocal: they laugh incessantly. Circuit boards displayed on the gallery walls show the circumscribed paths of their internal activity while small motion detectors mounted under their chins help them interact with their surroundings. Their computer-monitor heads bob around on stick necks while their waists rotate giving them a complete, if unstable, survey of the room. Their skin is papier-mâché rubbed with graphite. Both have prominent gluteal clefts and sagging breasts designating them as female. They are, in utterance and appearance, quite hideous.
Aron Namenwirth’s colorful paintings provide the two grotesqueries with something to look at. The fact that a painter would let his work be seen in such a disruptive environment is telling. Establishing a contemplative atmosphere is not his primary concern. Instead, Namenwirth shares Van Anden’s interest in social critique. He’s entitled his painting show “Nonlinear Collateral Damage.” Titles include “green is for greed,” “walmart the cancer within” and “the end of democracy.”
Namenwirth has been working with the grid for some time, but this most recent offering seems stricter in its application. In earlier work, a secondary geometry sometimes detaches itself from the primary grid to float to the foreground. There are no such lapses at VertexList and the sense of a coded image, always present in Namenwirth’s work, is all the more conspicuous. It furnishes both an impetus for the paintings and their link to Van Anden’s sculpture.
Abstraction is a façade to Namenwirth, and the grid is a means by which power obscures its Machiavellian movement. Like the TV censor with his black strip or the government agent with his shredder, Namenwirth understands abstraction as the form truth takes when twisted from its comprehensible, information-bearing nature. Abstraction is not a transcendental end, but a technical means by which truth is deformed. Representation becomes the goal in which the integral image is reconstructed and the truth made accessible once more.
Van Anden’s work suggests that identity, rather than information, is obscured by technology. His sculptures are proxies for people. They are the size of people, they are more like people, and they express themselves like people. They do these things only partially and with an awkwardness that characterizes (for the time being) a machine’s imitation of man. Van Anden toys with mimesis to hint that in contemporary society humans are not just like machines, but are machines. Art’s symbolic power allows for this perceptual reversal. The robots’ behavior suggests that our own expressive poses amount to little more than simulacra of emotions circumscribed to such a degree that they become comic.