Tag Archives: Zephyr Gallery

Arts

Accomplishing Failure

In her essay, “Against Interpretation,” Susan Sontag calls into question the stability of the ways in which the likes of history, art, and theory are understood. To interpret something, Sontag argues, is to comprehend it, and she posits that the process of interpretation typically spurs from a network of social myths and beliefs. “Interpretation is not (as most people assume) an absolute value,” Sontag states.

Interpretation must itself be evaluated, within a historical view of human consciousness.

For many artworks, even those that are born out of experimentation or spontaneity, to be interpreted is to be considered successful in some sense. But how would an artwork behave, look, and exist—and how should it be interpreted—when failure is the predominant driving force in its creation?

Failure in Progress, Zephyr Gallery’s latest exhibition featuring works by five regional artists, expands the conceptualization of failure and all its implications, specifically the presumption that failure is temporary or liminal and rarely a sought out conclusion. The exhibition, curated by Jessica Bennett Kincaid, stands as an opportunity to evaluate what it means for an artwork to succeed or not, and how failure can be utilized as an aspiration or primary component in making a work of art.

Melissa Vandenberg, Conflagrate, 2015, sparkler burn on Arches paper, 22” x 30”. Courtesy Zephyr Gallery and the artist.

Allusions to failure are ubiquitous in Melissa Vandenberg’s Conflagrate (2015), a drawing—or perhaps more accurately, an imprint—of the American flag singed onto a piece of paper by sparklers. Some burns are so severe that holes in the paper have formed, or certain charred areas are so vast that the rigid contours of the flag’s stripes have vanished. Failure is prevalent through the use of materials: the act of burning something is inherently detrimental, and the drawing itself lacks many of the standards common in depictions of the flag such as color, geometric accuracy, and, most noticeable in Vandenberg’s work, stars. This particular rendition of one of America’s most striking emblems is filled with void. Additionally, the combination of iconography and material is charged with political and social connotations. Vandenberg submits a symbol of national unity in a destructive manner to imply that American stability is an illusion maintained by such images. Conflagrate, much like the conceit of Failure in Progress, suggests that deficiency is always present and, in some cases, inescapable.

Josh Azzarella, Untitled #125 (Hickory), 2011, 120:00:00, HD video, 5.1 sound, 1 custom computer, Edition of 3.

Deficiency is further explored in a black box on Zephyr’s upper-level, which projects Josh Azzarella’s Untitled #125 (Hickory) (2011), a video excerpt of the Wizard of Oz beginning when the tornado first enters the film and ending when Glinda the Good Witch greets Dorothy in Munchkinland. In Azzarella’s version, the segment has been extended to last five days, or 120 hours, inevitably blurring the clip due to limitations of technology. In developing the work, Azzarella layered his selection on top of itself multiple times, delaying the start time of each so that every frame is present at any given moment through the duration of the work, some more perceptible than others. The end result is a vague retelling of one of the film’s most pivotal scenes—Azzarella obscures familiar imagery to the point of illegibility.

It is the technological components of Untitled #125 that most pertinently incorporate notions of failure, but the references to failure permeate the content of the piece as well. For some, failure is an intermediary stage on the path to success. Similarly, the clip of Dorothy entering Oz is a fleeting yet crucial shift within the film’s narrative. Azzarella has completely fixated on this point, allowing the transitory moment to run on end, paralleling the thematic persistence of failure throughout the gallery.

Josh Azzarella, Untitled #142 (Bob Coe from Wasco), 2013, 2 HD video channels (4:00, 3:18), Seamless, endless loops, 10.2 surround sound, 2 custom computers, Edition of 3

Like Untitled #125, Azzarella’s Untitled #142 (Bob Coe from Wasco) (2013), a two channel video work playing edited loops from Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, centers on the moments surrounding the main action. Both screens in Untitled #142 display two characters from the film facing each other, standing with their backs near the edges of the screens. The characters bustle in place but their feet never move, effectively halting Hitchcock’s plot. Azzarella’s works in Failure in Progress compliment others well, including Vandenberg’s Conflagrate, which shed light on the ways in which fragments of popular culture are capable of holding divergent, conflicting meanings.

Alex Serpentini, Almost Something, 2017, survey responses visible through augmented reality interface, dimensions variable. Courtesy Zephyr Gallery and the artist.

Alex Serpentini, Almost Something, 2017, survey responses visible through augmented reality interface, dimensions variable. Courtesy Zephyr Gallery and the artist.

Collective memory is again at the fore in Almost Something (2017), an interactive virtual work by Alex Serpentini that activates when visitors maneuver an iPad to face various directions in the gallery space. Serpentini creates a program that projects disclosures of personal failures on the walls of Zephyr, depending on where the holder of the iPad chooses to move it. The admissions are frequently striking, and invoke experiences with college courses, romantic pursuits, and rugby teams that reveal insecurities and loss. Discontent is ever-present in Almost Something, which is at once the most aesthetically minimal and arguably the most powerful work in the exhibition due to the straightforward presentation and nature of its subject matter.

Gautam Rao, Everything Happens for a Reason, 2017, aluminum, steel, dimensions variable.

Outside in Zephyr’s courtyard, Gautam Rao’s Everything Happens for a Reason (2017) is amongst the most playful works in the exhibition. Rao offers what seem to be six regulation road signs: the shapes, aluminum, and colors deceptively operate as everyday warnings to stop, merge, or the like. But it quickly becomes apparent that Rao’s diamonds and octagons are instead covered with twisted lines or contradictory arrows that would prove unhelpful for drivers. Everything Happens for a Reason, as its name suggests, simulates the threshold dividing success and failure—these signs represent those endeavors that fall short of routine objectives. What’s more, Rao’s outdoor sculptures test our perception in a manner similar to the artist’s Sorting Cube Revised (2017), a modified version of a children’s learning toy that requires trial and error to complete.

Andrew Cozzens, End Game, 2017, mixed media (wood, electronics, motor, clay, time), dimensions variable.

There are many compelling reasons to view this particular exhibit on numerous occasions, not least of which is Andrew Cozzens’s End Game (2017), a series of six platforms lining the gallery’s widest wall, each holding a ceramic vase. Every platform is connected to a timer that, upon counting down to show all zeroes, triggers a lever, collapsing the platform so the vase plummets to the floor to crash and shatter with disorder. The timers are set in intervals that equally divide the exhibition’s duration into sixths.

Andrew Cozzens, End Game, 2017, mixed media (wood, electronics, motor, clay, time), dimensions variable.

Cozzens, fatally, demonstrates the ways in which interpretation is, in some cases, dependent on the notion of time. As for End Game, failure is both unavoidable and the goal. Success and failure are achieved by the same outcome. Indeed, Failure in Progress, with an exceptional array of artworks that contemplate insufficiency in varied manners, asks visitors to rethink their learned modes of interpretation. Failure is hardly a desirable feat, but the five artists currently showing at Zephyr have discovered methods of pursuing, facing, and adapting to setbacks with success.

Failure in Progress is on view at Zephyr Gallery in Louisville, KY until December 30th 2017.

Arts

When Less is More

Stephen Irwin spent most of his life making impressions—ask those who frequented Sparks, the now defunct Louisville nightclub that Irwin co-owned in the early 1990s. According to a September 2008 feature in Butt Magazine, Irwin was something of an enigma: “…modern artist, local celebrity, trash, heart-attack survivor, pacemaker carrier, bitch, and a confidante to Louisville’s ladies of good taste.”[1] While Irwin’s personality seems to have left lasting imprints in the minds of others, his artistic practice was rooted in erasure. Irwin produced a large portion of his oeuvre through cutting-out, rubbing-off, or whiting-out body parts from vintage gay pornography magazines. Through obscuring parts of—or entire—ready-made erotic images, Irwin rendered them even more seductive, inviting viewers to question preconceived concepts of pleasure, desire, and pornography. Zephyr Gallery’s current exhibition, Project 11: this, this is for you, considers the conceptual and aesthetic legacies of the late Louisville-based artist and helps understand his reductive practice.

Project 11 uses Irwin’s process as axis; the selected works revolve around the nexus of erasure, sensuality, and playful seduction. His altered images often elude classification—one could even argue they fall somewhere on the Dada spectrum through their reliance on the readymade. Zephyr’s curatorial team selected works that date between 2003 and 2010, encompassing Irwin’s late career. While the exhibition is largely comprised of his two-dimensional images, the inclusion of the artist’s braille installations—in addition to the ethereal Vessel Series (2008)—provide additional layers of physical temptation.

Installation shot of Project 11: this, this is for you at Zephyr Gallery, Louisville. Image courtesy of the artist and Zephyr Gallery.

Lurking on the back wall—and directly across from Zephyr’s front door—is Irwin’s The Unbearable Whiteness of Being (Wifebeater) (2006). Like the majority of Irwin’s altered pornography works, only select body parts survive the Wite-Out process. In Unbearable Whiteness, a green tank top was enlarged and printed on vinyl wallpaper. Although seamlessly adhered to the gallery’s flat wall, the image’s small folds and creases provide the illusion of bodily presence and movement. Irwin has erased the sex act, but teases viewers with its remnants—a phallic torso that both welcomes and resists an eroticized reading.

Unbearable Whiteness acts as mediator between two of Irwin’s magazine series; to the left—and exhibited for the first time—is Love Parade (2006-2007), a succession of book pages whose figures have been completely coated in Wite-Out. Love Parade was an electronic dance music festival in Berlin that hosted thousands of partiers from across the globe, and often provided a convergence point for those on society’s margins. Irwin took its catalog as muse, covering the photographs of Love Parade’s participants while leaving their corresponding quotes untouched. The right wall houses his Circle Game series (2009)—individual magazine sheets installed in constructed grids whose contents have been etched away by the steel wool’s coarse tentacles. All that remains are floating peepholes through which arms, faces, buttocks, testicles, and oiled nipples are barely recognizable. These seductive skin-toned bubbles magnify and tenderize their respective body parts, reducing the pornographic image to pure texture. Zephyr’s first floor also displays Irwin’s “melting” magazines and suspended Skrinky-Dink faces, in addition to a two unique works-on-paper in the back gallery reception area.

Project 11 provides rare access to some of Irwin’s ethereal installations, each carefully reconstituted for Zephyr’s second floor. Vessel Series invites viewers to mentally re-construct the magazines’ naked bodies, as their silhouettes have been abstracted to create wall drawings of inanimate objects. Irwin selected cutouts from vintage pornography magazines, and used steel wool to rub the magazine’s ink directly onto a wall. He would then flip the same cutout over and repeat his process, eroding the magazine cutout while completing the second-half of his wall vessel. Because of the vessels’ curvatures, it seems impossible to decipher who is doing what to whom, or to themselves. You Are Loved (2009) and You Already Know How This Will End (2010) contribute an additional layer of resonance to Project 11, as they are braille wall installations made from steel-wool shavings and embedded magnets. Temptation abounds: any attempt to physically read their messages would immediately result in their destruction.

One of Irwin’s works is only visible after-hours, and like Irwin’s erasures, it reduces a form to what he considered “essential.” this, this is for you (2008) appears at night—its soft, ghost-like silhouette begins to take shape on the gallery wall at dusk. The effect is created through clear vinyl lettering placed on Zephyr’s front window, and is relatively invisible during the daytime unless one makes a conscious effort to locate its faint outlines. 

Image courtesy of the artist and Zephyr Gallery. Photo by Sarah Lyon.

What renders Project 11 particularly meaningful and successful is its careful consideration of Irwin’s works. Pornography—as it stands in our current sociopolitical climate—is often wrongly associated with shame or crudeness. In a previous exhibition catalog of Irwin’s work, Gérard Goodrow misinterprets the artist’s reductive practice as an attempt to free “the depiction of nudity in art from the clutches of pornography.”[2] This reading dismisses pornography as “less than,” conflating sex and pleasure with heteronormative, conservative, or religious standards. Through the lens of Jonathan Katz’s “Art and the Sexual Revolution,” we can consider Irwin’s works as not a separation of nudity from pornography, but a solvent for “physical and social differences.”[3] The artist’s choice of material—1960s and 70s pornography—is a return to the 1960s climate of sexual freedom, when “…art offered simultaneously an intensification of, and suspension from, real life and the often-invisible social forces that govern our lives.”[4] Project 11 presents Irwin’s works in the context of his process and material, allowing seduction and pleasure to traverse time and culture.

Project 11: this, this is for you runs through through March 19th.

[1] See Vince Aletti, “Foreword,” in Stephen Irwin, exh. cat. (New York: Invisible Exports and r/e projects, 2014), 5. Stephen’s feature appears in Butt Magazine, 24 (September 2008).

[2] Gérard A. Goodrow, “Replacing Obscenity with Obscurity: Stephen Irwin’s Vintage Pornography,” 27.

[3] Jonathan D. Katz, “Art and the Sexual Revolution,” in Sexuality, ed. Amelia Jones (Cambridge: MIT, 2014), 65

[4] Katz, “Art and the Sexual Revolution,” 63

Arts

Insight in the Details

Walking into Louisville’s Zephyr Gallery for Project 7, curated by Julien Robson, one is immediately met with a shelving system of black notebook binders, arranged in such a way that they form a wall framing a single doorway. It is here, by stepping through the annals of the artist, that one enters the Archive. This collection allows the viewer a glimpse into the art and artifacts of Louis Zoellar Bickett, a well accomplished Lexington-based artist who has been collecting and cataloguing so-called ‘mundane’ yet fascinating objects from his daily existence since 1972. He calls us to reconsider the notions of voyeur and collector through the presentation of his Archive.

In the liminal space past the bank of binders, the viewer stands face-to-face with a screen showing the artist’s head. Here, Bickett’s mouth slowly opens and closes, silently screaming the names of 9/11 victims (9:11, 2007). A sobering moment, this piece also serves another purpose: it is an orifice that swallows the visitor deeper into a more personal and revealing space of the artist. For it is past this screen, the viewer may either climb the stairs to a room filled with self-portraits and collected specimens, or advance past the screen wall to Daddy’s Bedroom (2001-present). Both paths proceed to place the viewer in a role of voyeur. For now, let us climb upward. At the top of the stairs, 10,000 selfies lie hidden away within an iPad, exposed to the gaze of the viewer one at a time, and under the viewer’s control as one flips through them, ad infinitum. These intimate headshots, showing varying degrees of severity and levity, bring to mind a statement regarding voyeurism by Annette Messager, “I want the viewer to have the impression of discovering terrible secrets when what is involved is a ridiculous image, even if this image always touches us in the end.” We are indeed touched, and intrigued, and encouraged to continue to explore. (At the same time, does this work not challenge us to question popular reality tv, over-sharing via social media, and how we view ourselves and others?)

The adjoining upstairs chamber reveals larger, almost overwhelming self-portraits on facing walls and specimens to either side. The images maintain an ever-consistent pose on the part of the artist, yet with interchanging hats (Every Hat I Own, July 31, 2008) and religious texts (What I Read – The Holy Bible, What I Read – The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an, January 4, 2008). The specimens, located on the two remaining sides of the room, encompass both personal and environmental documentation. The eye-catching Backbar (A Piss a Day in 2003) brings to mind Duchamp with a Kentucky twist. Within 365 liquor bottles, many of them bourbon-branded, is encased urine of the artist, all with varying degrees of color, teasing the viewer that the liquid might be potable. The Archive boxes which housed these bottles surround them, an ever-present reminder of the catalogued nature of the items. Across the room is a cabinet with glass doors, filled with glass jars, reminiscent of a wunderkammer, or cabinet of wonders. Hermetically sealed yet allowing transparency for easy observation, the Roman red wax-sealed jars hold soil and water samples from places such as Eudora Welty’s grave, the Appomattox County Courthouse (VA), and the Gulf of Mexico. Is it not through both introspection of self and of experience with the outside world that one constructs identity? Louis’ Archive certainly addresses both of these perspectives – in this room and in the bedroom below.

Returning to the moment in which we were swallowed by the artist via the screen in 9:11, we now continue into Daddy’s Bedroom. One cannot help but be enthralled by the ‘curiosities’ that fill this room, creating a sense of intense intimacy and social critique. Who is this ‘Daddy’? The term is called into question as signifying both a father-figure and an older man in a gay relationship. The visually depicted definitions coexist and overlap in layers of constructed meaning through the objects collected. But let us take a step back and look at the room as a whole – there is a 1940s red twin-sized bed, a nightstand, a desk, a bookcase, a small curio cabinet, a dresser with hutch, six chairs of varying sizes, multitudinous framed pictures, books, more jars of environmental specimens, and assorted artifacts such as prescription bottles, garbage contents, trophies, and the ashes of a beloved dog; all belonging to or related to ‘Daddy’ and all carrying specifying tags of the Archive. Through the readymade items themselves, subtle details construct identity, whether through a book of Mapplethorpe, a soil sample from Oxford, Mississippi, a drawing of David Bowie, or a pair of glasses labeled, “becoming someone else.” Some items are noted as “momento mori” such as an etched mirror and photographs. Other photographs have slang terms written across the lips of the subject, serving to challenge speech acts of racism and homophobia. The collective result of all of these items is to place the viewer in the place of voyeur and to challenge societal prejudices, all while documenting the experience of life from an individual perspective which is at once transparent and varied, personal and historical.

Louis Zoellar Bickett has encompassed three main areas in his work: it is at the same time autobiographical, a document of history, and social critique. Depicting both an introspective perspective and objects from one’s surrounding environment, history is documented from Louis’ lens. But what is the documentation of history besides a subjective recording of events anyway? No human can ever be purely objective. Here, we are seeing history through both Louis’ lens and our own, layering our own perspectives and better seeing his as well.

So what of a collection such as the Archive? It is an ever-growing, ever-developing being; it is also a means to create a presence beyond one’s mortality. As Annette Messager noted, “Collecting is a way of struggling against death. A collection is always more and more beautiful, bigger and bigger, always incomplete.”

Louis is indeed a collector, an archivist, and a preservationist of experience. Most importantly, however, through these roles he a catalyst for us all to rethink how personal and societal identity is constructed.

Arts

Louis Zoellar Bickett: The Archive

Louis Zoellar Bickett: The Archive, Curated by Julien Robson

April 3—May 30, 2015, Zephyr Gallery, Louisville, Ky,

Louis Zoellar Bickett: The Archive was the seventh exhibition in an ongoing series of special curatorial projects at the Zephyr Gallery in Louisville, KY that examines the creative activity of regional artists, activists, designers, thinkers and tinkerers. Independent Curator Julien Robson’s turn at the reins presented a solo show of one of the area’s most prolific and unique artists. Previously, as curator of contemporary art at the Speed Museum, Robson was instrumental in formulating and cementing what many already believed, that Louis Bickett is perhaps the most inventive artistic mind in the area.

Robson’s exhibition at Zephyr was a compact, yet vital and succinct selection of work from Bickett’s immeasurable output. Upon entering the gallery visitors encountered a floor to ceiling bookshelf made from 2×4’s that spanned the width of the room. Filled with black ring binders wrapped in plastic, this bookshelf, monumental in the small gallery, serves as a self-made monument in memoriam to Bickett’s own life. The binders comprise The Cultural Memorabilia Volume Project, an ongoing mixed media collection of documents from the artist’s life from 1972 to the present that includes photographs of friends, family and strangers, along with daily receipts and letters. It is a detailed record of the day-to-day experiences of his life. The shelf was not set against a wall, but rather was cleverly constructed in the middle of the room in order to function as a fulcrum.

When passing through the doorway in the shelf one entered an exhibition that skillfully presented a portrait of this artist as an archivist, timekeeper, and documentarian.

As with much of the work in the show, including Daddy’s Bedroom, The Cultural Memorabilia Cabinet, and the self-portrait projects, Bickett’s work is generally regarded as one large archival project in progress. The ongoing construction of this archive can also be seen as an ongoing construction of Bickett’s own identity as an artist, a Lexington resident, a traveler, a collector, a sorter, and a creator of typologies. The work that Robson selected and its arrangement throughout the exhibition presented a clear narrative of an artist with a considerable and complex story to tell.

Bickett belongs to a notable class of artists like Fred Wilson and Mark Dion who have used the museum as muse in their practice. Robson deftly took advantage of this feature within Bickett’s work with the inclusion of Daddy’s Bedroom, which I feel is among one of the more crucial works in understanding Bickett’s archival process. In this bedroom installation, consisting of a vintage red metal-framed bed with photographs and heirloom objects neatly placed throughout a series of antique shelves and drawers, Bickett has systematically tagged every item in sight. The written label that accompanies each object describes various details about its significance and provenance, from whom and when it was acquired into the Archive. Lining the walls of this bedroom scene are additional relics chronicling the artist’s life combined with artworks created by close friends. The room, taken as a whole, serves as an open diary or, as Robson points out in the curatorial statement, an autobiography that will be complete only, “through the final tagging of the artist’s body in the morgue.” This connects well with the anthropologist turned artist Susan Hiller’s own observation of Freud’s personal archive. She noted the way he would display his collection as though it “was basically from a tomb, connected with a dead body or vanishing civilization.”

The 9:11 videocreated in 2007, was a wise addition, as it’s likely one of the more significant works in the context of both the exhibition and Bickett’s oeuvre. It presents a tightly framed image of Bickett’s face repeatedly opening and closing his mouth. Each time he opens his mouth a name of a 9/11 victim emerges. He completes the nearly 3000-person list in 3 hours, 33 minutes, and 52 seconds. It is significant because his work typically records his own experiences, but here he is mending his identity with those who experienced the tragedy and perished. As the individual names appear on screen it is as though he is saying, “I am a paramedic, a firefighter, a police officer, a business man, a business woman, a janitor, and a citizen from each of the 115 nations that lost their people.” This work continues with his themes of death and in memoriam, but rather than referencing his own life and mortality he creates a memorial to others. Within the lexicon of artworks inspired by the casualties of war it is his Guernica.

The show presented several images of Bickett in a series of self portrait projects: In the Dream I was Beautiful and Everyone Loved Me (10,000) Selfies (displayed on an Android Tablet) and Every Hat I Own (19 images displayed on a video monitor of Bickett wearing, for example, baseball hats, snow caps, ski masks, bandanas and a keffiyah). Robson made large format photographs of What I Read (The Holy Bible) and What I Read (The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an) both from a self-portrait photo essay of Bickett holding various selections from his personal library. Robson’s decision to present these two images as a diptych was a perfect demonstration of Bickett’s method of presenting multiple identities, revealing the totalizing nature of his self-portrait projects and the archival impulse that is central to all of Bickett’s work.

The show was fittingly punctuated by Backbar (A Piss a Day in 2003), an installation of 365 bottles of urine contained in wax sealed liquor bottles. Much like the daily food and other purchase receipts that Bickett keeps in The Cultural Memorabilia Volume Project, this work represents a kind of daily portrait of the artist. It isn’t simply the bodily waste of the artist, but a liquid record of his specific food and drink consumption for each day over the course of a year.

Bickett is systematic, sentimental and nostalgic. He and his work are inseparable from each other: dark, humorous, empathetic, compassionate, often engaged in exploring the area between propriety and transgression. He exposes the very nature of all archival materials as being found yet constructed, factual as well as fictive, public and also private. Through his feverish archival impulses he helps to preserve cultural memory, rescuing objects before they vanish, while also exposing the nature of the archivist’s fascination with mortality and death. All of this was well captured in the Zephyr show and was one of the best installations of the Archive that I have seen.