On ViewThe Kitchen
January 7 – March 5, 2011
With an emphasis on performative installations, the screening of avant-garde film and emerging artistic dialogues, the Kitchen, now 40 years into its tenure, has long since established itself as a hotbed for experimental exchange. This month’s programming delivers on all fronts in a triangulation of seminal events: Dave Miko and Tom Thayer’s collaborative debut, “New World Pig”; Cauleen Smith’s three-channel video installation, “REMOTE VIEWING”; and Brent Green’s first feature-length foray into cinematic storytelling, “Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then.” While stylistically dissimilar, all three pulse with the off-beat rhythm of an outsider’s perspective, their aberrant environments finding collective voice in narratives culled equally from the actual and the imagined. Reality has a tentative foothold here. What pervades, rather, is an overarching message of escapism—a desire for release from the torturous demands of the real world, the pain of memory and living that haunts our sense of self as much as it haunts the images that comprise the individual works. The result is akin to the German Klartraum, or lucid dreaming.
In the simplest terms, a lucid dream is defined as one in which the dreamer is aware of their unconscious state. Such waking manifestations of the subconscious are often characterized by vibrant, kaleidoscopic colors and a hallucinatory intensity that make it difficult to distinguish between real and unreal. Dave Miko and Tom Thayer’s site-specific installation, “New World Pig,” taps into such repressed hypnagogic reveries, with five stop-motion animated storyboards catalogued in two, three, and four dimensions.
“A New World Pig Allotropic” (2010-11) acts as the cornerstone of the duo’s collaborative efforts and, at 27:10, is by far the longest of the videos in duration. Here, phantasmagoric images slowly fade in and overlap each other as a simple and archetypically ambiguous tale unfolds in hyper-color intonations: A hunter kills a wild pig in the forest, brings it back to his home to be slaughtered and dresses his dog, his companion throughout the venture, in the skin of the animal. This Jockum Nordströmian-like figure then proceeds to tear down his house and build an altar of sorts beneath a barren freeway backdrop, only to burn the structure to the ground in the film’s final moments. Desolate landscapes, punctuated by waves of flickering static, eerily populate other works in this lo-fi canon, “Nostrum Rostrum” and “Camber Clamber Squinch Winch,” (all 2010-11), speaking directly to Thayer’s use of outmoded video techniques and proclivity for commonplace collage materials such as rough-hewn cardboard.
Thayer has made a name for himself creating elaborately-rigged shadow puppet theater displays and collages; his most recent exhibition of such work showcased at the Derek Eller Gallery earlier this year. Miko, on the other hand, is a Yale-trained painter with a penchant for minimalist gestures in enamel on aluminum panel. The two would seem to make for odd bedfellows but what they’ve unearthed with “New World Pig” is esoterically absorbing; a dialogue of sorts between and across disciplines that mines the depths of both artists’ potential and inserts a fresh perspective into the contemporary debate waged over two-dimensional validity. Here, Miko’s minimalist nods, customarily calculated and pensive, take on a new life, activating the background texture of Thayer’s lo-fi video work with the delicate crackle of a slow burning flame. Conversely, Thayer’s collagist assemblages evince a new-fangled subtlety within the context of the painter’s thinly veiled aluminum sheets, all calculatingly hung at various eye levels throughout the space. Together, the artists achieve a meta-painterliness that translates into an act of world-building—one that is pensive, considered, and eloquently enchanting in its fusion of digital and folkloric two-dimensional forms.
Cauleen Smith’s adjacently exhibited “REMOTE VIEWING” offers a reluctant score for Miko and Thayer’s project—a church bell, the hum of military helicopters flying overhead, ubiquitous murmurs of wind and water—unintentionally aiding in the paintings’ dramatic effects: the hunter’s actions amplified, the death of the pig pronounced by Smith’s triptych ode to absence and loss. Smith’s self-proclaimed filmic intentionality, present in the form of a “violence of erasure,” constructs holes that the 2-D works indelibly fill. Indeed, the California native’s video-based ouevre is imbued by such metaphorical tropes of absence and transition: the excavation of a sand-blasted church site and subsequent burial of the abandoned structure; the gridding off of a remote field with neon line, as if the land lay in wait for an unnamed developer to arrive. Each act speaks to the sense of alienation and loss that is the inevitable byproduct of a trauma of displacement—one that results in an erasure of identity and financial (and emotional) bankruptcy.
Brent Green’s “Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then” typifies another agenda all together. As opposed to a reductive methodology, the self-taught Green functions at the polar end of the spectrum, having hand-fabricated the entire set of his feature-length film in the backyard of his rural home in Pennsylvania. Loosely based on the real world story of Leonard Wood, an eccentric man-cum-urban legend who achieved mythic status after the death of his wife compelled him to obsessively augment his home, Green constructs a love-story of epic proportions. The film was screened at the Kitchen with a live performance by the artist on February 17-18, 2011.
As Arthur Schopenhauer said in the early 1800s, “Dreams are brief madness and madness a long dream.”