9/5/16

GRACIELA CASSEL: INTO THE LABYRINTH



Art grounds us in an experience that achieves the imprimatur of truth by combining appearances with layers of artifice. Nowhere is this more evident in an art form such as film that relies heavily upon the senses. Graciela Cassel’s films explore the phenomenological dimensions of urban space: the labyrinth of structures both physical and ephemeral. A city presents itself as a massive and endless procession of edifices either near or far, of streets either pristine or decrepit, and of an endless train of strangers who may, in any given circumstance, emerge from anonymity into intimacy with us. Every distance and every dimension of city life offers up myriad possibilities for future experience. This is why they are easy to romanticize, and why they also contribute to a mythology of creative means. Each of her films begins with a central motif, either a real object or place, or some sensory experience that she is attempting to replicate or synthesize. The situation of spectatorship begins to alter the nature of the motif or event itself, so that our experience is likewise transformed.

Cassel presents the city as a vast array of non-sequential aesthetic events that rely on our ability to receive the real as unreal. Any common spot, cinematically portrayed, has the potential to accrue layers of meaning that only the artist-as-auteur can provide. In one work we begin looking up at the elevated subway platform of Queensboro Plaza, where trains cross the East River between Manhattan and Long Island City in their way to points distant in Astoria, Sunnyside, and beyond. The transit system in New York is immense, over a century old, and Byzantine in its operations. It can come to embody a community of its own, a system of streets not unlike those on the ground, that constantly move people around from one place to another. One can spend hours getting from one place to another. But most people have a routine that takes them to or from home, work, shopping, restaurants, bars, movies, gyms, etc. Time spent in transit can be either spent in introspection or denial, enjoying the mass of persons around us or focusing on our own problems. The transit system is a symbol of the city life it aids, enabling its citizens to interact or ignore what stands as the communal culture itself. A city can be defined equally by its uses, by the spaces that allow us to move within it, and Cassel projects the metaphorical and metaphysical aspects of these spaces. The extension of vision through projective media exemplifies the possibilities of understanding how perception changes the object, place, or event actively perceived. Repetitive vision does not merely reinforce logical constructs, since we are concerned with both existence and essence. Water towers, subways, and elevated train tracks contain the phenomenological complexities that Walt Whitman once called “multitudes” because they reflected the forces within his own self; having been such a product of the city, he saw no difference between his body and the body—the organic life, the pulsing centrifuge of humanity in extremis. Cassel likewise shows us how the exterior life of the city can attain mythical levels of association.



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Every sequence in Cassel’s films offers up a different example of how the everyday interfaces with the ephemeral, and how the function of the film is to project the viewer into a world of labyrinthine proportions instead of translating that world into normal terms. The viewer actively participates with the fabric of the depicted reality, learning to breathe new air. Three of Cassel’s recent films present the best models for the exemplary exposure to such aesthetic forces:
     City Life (2012) is primarily a detournement of the subconscious as reflective of the images of elevated subway platforms entering and leaving Manhattan through Queensboro Plaza, where the straight and stacked main track presents a dense layering of alternating presence, and departing outwards or arriving inwards, mostly at night, the various trains are transformed from practical conveyances into lines of light like a slowly moving comet across the sky or an electric moving through dark water. 
     Accelerate (2013) is a play on motion, though the concept of velocity its title suggests remains only suggestive. The images are all culled from the subways of the city, its tunnels, lights, and the architecture of the trains themselves playing off a spectral view in which the trains themselves seem to merge with their surroundings, creating a cavernous and brooding presence. The film ends with a scene of and endless train of cars shooting on and off the Triboro Bridge on the Astoria side at night, each form like a drop of quicksilver. 

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     In The Sky (2015) is a romp in the upper reaches of the city, its roofs, where a secret world is revealed, an elliptical metropolis, punctuated in a most idiosyncratic way by those sentinels of the historical past, water towers, whose use is still prevalent but hearkens to an era, or a century, when the non-united city was so disconnected that not only were there five boroughs but each neighborhood was a county unto itself, and water was guarded building by building. The precincts or wards of the past have all but disappeared and the endless column of buildings creates a frame on the lower level equaled only above by the limit to which our imagination cannot follow. Water towers become animated, floating, or leaping in sections from the solid ground up to an airy firmament, and the birds sing to accompany their flight. 
     Without human agents in view, but only the subjects of their sensory experiences, filled to a degree of overload, Cassel’s films are evidence of an experience we can cumulatively share. Each one depicts not a single scene but myriad points of view merged and morphed into an event that defies simple description. Cassel has said that he work is about portals and labyrinths. They are about an experience that transcends utility, becoming a metaphor for transformation. 
     Cassel alternates between recognizable surroundings and the deeper or less discernible characteristics of a world in which everyone and everything is constantly in motion; the spaces defined by seemingly eternal structures: elevated train trestles, interboro bridges, water towers lining an endless ridge of roofs; and vast subterranean spaces. She drawn us to the tangent between space and idea, where a map unfurls that matches the exact universe we know without being the same environment but instead its doppelganger. The entire fabric of the known has been altered, we have in fact moved into new territory, a maze of discovery that never ends. We are blissfully lost and thank her for it.





6/17/16

A BEAUTIFUL NOISE / THE ART WORK OF AMY SANDS



REVOLUTION V (2015), Monotype, serigraphy. and lasercut on three layers of rice paper, 29 x 29 inches


The art of Amy Sands presents models by which we may interpret the primordial structures and charismatic energy around us. A certain approach to artistic creation belies a felicitous understanding of what is most essential, misunderstood, or obscured in nature, and redirects it to our aesthetic comprehension. Printmaking is about process, and each of the names that are given to the types of prints carry with them the association we have to a particular process and its resulting product, which carries with it the aura of action that preceded it. Yet complexity can enter into the welter of intentions that aid in the conceptualization of these works. If the artist has ideas about her final product that carry over from other creative disciplines, such as sculpture or lace making, then the proliferation of stylistic motifs will dominate the work’s appeal, and will diverge from the assumption of traditional print making practices. This sort of dynamic is actively present in Sands’ work, and her ability to conceive it and progressively transform her medium will not only challenge the viewer but will alter how we think about art. Individually and cumulatively Sands builds an esthetic that envelops the viewer with a connection to medium and its manifestation of specific beauty.
 
To speak of printmaking in general is not to immediately understand how Sands interprets it. Sands does not merely construct a base image from which to create repeated impressions. She makes works that promote an ephemeral quality, with serigraphs and mono prints often combined in the same composite work. Her impetus is to create a layered effect that disingenuously plays out the ephemeral aspects on all of two or three sheets in concert with one another, leaving the viewer to question the constructs by which we judge surface detail—when in fact what she is after is a sort of visual noise.

REVOLUTION VII (2015), Monotype, serigraphy, and lasercut on three layers of rice paper, 15 x 15 inches

The attraction to circles in Sands’ recent work possesses a range of available metaphor. Most notably, these forms were for the most part absent in early bodies of work, which attempted to achieve degrees of ephemerality within a deepening field of backgrounded hues, yet to fill in the middle and fore ground with naturally opposed tonal and graphical forms. Her newest work focuses upon the tonal qualities which illuminated past bodies of work yet were perhaps passed over by viewers in an attempt to read surface markings, dense and diverse as they were, rather than take in the work as a whole. Her new work is a Revolution in more than title. The paper, left to its raw state and dramatized by minute lighting, creates a dissolving silhouette with romantic undertones. The work is achieved in some cases by lasercutting the immensely fragile rice paper so that stacks of similar sheets press into the blank spaces, creating a crush of material, though it’s only where the lattice of each sheet interfaces with the fugitive sources of illumination that its full effect transforms the experience for the viewer. An incandescent quality animates these works, and is especially present in Revolution V, VII, and VIII, in which the use of layered sheets of rice paper creates an effect that glows upon the wall like the lost light of a distant star. The effect of combining, within the same series, works that emit an otherworldly illumination with ones that present the filigreed, seemingly dexterous details of handmade embroidery, compels the use of mere esthetic attention to come out of the shadows.

REVOLUTION VIII (2015), Monotype, serigraphy. and lasercut on three layers of rice paper, 15 x 15 inches


Beauty is elusive despite being constructive in these works. There is a timelessness to circular forms, what in some cases takes on the fossilized appearance of a sand dollar, while in another example her use of laser cuts made through color-infused paper implies the filigreed stitching of lace curtains or stained glass windows. The use of illumination—of real time, durational light, ephemeral, that is to say transient and even fleeting as in nature, is essential to a quality aesthetic encounter with Sands’ work; though given its vulnerability, this would additionally foreshorten the life of her materials. Yet to see them only on a computer screen or in a catalogue is not to give justice to what is strongest in them. The extremely minute aspect of her materials and their reliance upon chromatically charged elements, releasing a cumulative effect through the free flow of forces such as light and wind, like blood or water, projects a quality of charismatic personification, as if nature itself were speaking with us.

4/16/16

OUT OF THE DARK / THE PAINTINGS OF RICHARD M. RIVERA

The act of painting is one of revelation. It does not happen all at once, like a miracle, though that is its effect. If successful it affects the viewer so completely that they are transformed from the inside out. Aesthetic recognition connects a manifestation of the texture and matter of reality to a reasoned understanding of what the world is about, who we are within it, and how a force such as art can alter both, while remaining resolutely unique. It takes time to adjust to the aesthetic at work in an advanced artist’s oeuvre. Artists often connect to an aesthetic that may be removed from the contemporary scene, yet they choose their approach because it represents the dynamic most central to their world view. From a time before the invention of history, when mankind was in its infancy, with limited comprehension of the universe, there was still an inkling that possibilities existed beyond their reach. The night sky revealed tiny sparks of light, campfires suspended in a sea of blackness, like their own campfire defining the safety of home.   
To peer into Richard Rivera’s paintings is like having an intimate view into the mysteries of creation. Daily life does not appear here, nor do politics, art trends, or social attitudes. We are faced with matter itself on a quantum scale. Rivera is an artist for whom the mysteries of existence take the shape of scientifically specific elements common to the universe. Why imagine the essential abstraction originating out of the mind when it surrounds the Earth in all directions infinitely, in a multiplicity of forms and  energies, and is open to individual interpretation as well as having been objectively studied by a range of scientists. Rivera is fascinated with darkness and what can be found there. We are talking specifically here of what Gene Roddenberry called “The Final Frontier,” of the space all around Planet Earth, stretching to infinity in all directions, and not merely the unknown recesses of man’s imagination—though like either scientifically defined or fantastically inspired versions, his own work takes both imagination and time to confront. The active depiction of visual obscurity might seem in opposition the quality of revelation, yet if we consider that knowledge is to be deciphered or sourced rather than merely read; if we understand that comprehension is as imperfect as the senses; and if we can feel our way around an art work and not merely reduce it to ideas or commonsensical platitudes, then it can open up to us and expand both the world and our way of looking at it. This is what Richard Rivera intends in his fascinating, dynamic, and obscure works. 

THE DREAMER AT REST Oil on Sintra, 60 x 48 inches

We find that each of Rivera’s paintings are, in their own way, a different kind of animal. Some resemble organic or subatomic forms photographed through a microscope, or viewed through a periscope deep beneath the surface of the ocean, where native flora and fauna exist in the absence of sunlight. They contain some recognizable forms such as silhouettes of animals, faces peering with a sidelong glance out from behind the frisson of his brushwork, and objects such as a man fishing in a boat, a train car, and many others that mutably merge with the background, floating back and  forth between clarity and obscurity, eyes and fingers slipping into view now and then. There is little attempt to make anthropological forms, though it’s nearly impossible for the aesthetic attention of the viewer to engage with a morass of detail without instinctually organizing it into forms that serve a metaphorical, and subsequently narrative logic. If we can place a thing, however fragmentary and forlorn, into the void, then we can imagine its story.
Consider ‘A Dreamer at Rest’—looking at the picture we see a literal briar patch of active forms, all issuing from a void in the center. The dream itself is indiscernible, full of shifting forms and colors, yet we can imagine that the dreamer at rest is a person fulfilling their conscious life. Dreaming is sometimes a pleasure and sometimes a burden but it is an activity by which we are subconsciously connected to a world in which nature extends beyond reason. The dreamer “at rest” is a person not dreaming, yet the dream—the palimpsest of meaning in metaphysical manifestation—remains constantly active, creating new dreams, giving birth to life that we can only see and communicate with when our eyes are closed.
 A QUANTUM CREATION CONNECTION Oil on Sintra, 60 x 48 inches



A similar dynamic is at work is ‘A Quantum Creation Connection’ though in this case we are regarding less the unconscious and more the actual matter of cosmic events. Rivera regards the universe as not merely an immense void but as an incubator in  which “dark matter” is literally alive. Just because mankind feels it has evolved to a position by which it can perceive and judge all the levels within and beyond itself, it may yet be willfully ignorant of levels of creation that are taking place now on an infinite scale not only beyond the horizon but at subatomic levels within our own atoms. Evolution is a process with its own intentions in mind.   

A final example among the many present in Rivera’s work is one in which the metaphor seems to ground it decisively. “The Emergence of Life” presents us with a monochromatic scene that resembles a grainy black and white photograph of an archeological dig in which Pterodactyl skeletons are sheathed in layers within fossilized rock, their long beaks filled with teeth and their eye sockets staring blankly past the extinction level event that forever froze them in the evolutionary chain. The discovery of these remains was one of the flashpoint moments in our reckoning with the erasure of times past. Not only did it make clear a lot about prehistory that was not known, but it gave us a sense of how completely the event that ended all life was proof that we are still living on the edge of darkness. The Earth floats within a seething cauldron of potentially devastating energies, a space for potential change that could alter the sum total of mankind’s fate at any moment. The universe is immense, beyond complete reckoning. But Richard Rivera gives us clues for how to peer into it, how to live in the dark with courage and joy.     
THE EMERGENCE OF LIFE Oil on Sintra, 60 x 48 inches

BIO AND INFO

David Gibson is a writer and curator native-born and bred in New York City, the New York Art World, and the greater world extending in all directions. He and Jennifer Junkermeier recently curated the exhibition “Beauty’s Burden” at The Ernest Rubenstein Gallery of the Educational Alliance. He is availlable to write essays for artist and gallery websites and catalogues.