Looking at Suzan Shutan’s Work in A Contemporary Art Exhibit

The first time I saw art work by Suzan Shutan, I sensed a political reading.  Just in the way the works were installed, on both wall and floor, wrapping around corners, weaving mid-air.  I read the subject of “environment” before I even got near enough to note the material used, the titles of the work.  The seeping large shape of looped material poured out of and off the wall, continuing its path onto the gallery floor.  The visual read as suspended or slowed-down liquid flow, something rather beautiful and intricate and yet unsettling at the same time.

Once closer to the work, it became more apparent as to what I was responding to and why.  The material used to create these intricate woven constructions is tar roofing paper joined with industrial glue.  The roofing paper is wholly visible as roofing paper, as tar paper used for roofing, as direct as is the gluing process holding the loops together.  No attempts are made to alter the material as it reads industrial, bitumen, asphalt, oil.  Integrated within these loops are sporadic holdings of vibrant areas of color composed of lokta paper, another durable resinous paper; a material time-honored for its role in the preservation of sacred texts.  Shutan’s treatment of both kinds of paper are the same; both are looped, crocheted-like, and incorporate varying sizes.  The transition from wall space (conventional viewing area for 2-d work) to floor space (traditional sculpture) is the art category integrating, or, “the straddling of both worlds” Shutan speaks of.  But we also read the symbolic in the integration of material within its equally significant method of display. 

Where we find Shutan’s work in the evolving discipline of art is somewhere between the Public Art social (an example might be Serra’s Tilted Arc) and the Earth Art political (Carl Andre’s Stone Field Sculpture or Christo’s pink islands of Biscayne Bay).  Her past work (inspired by artists Andy Goldsworthy and Maya Lin) shows a connection to the environment and to the society and back again.  The pieces engage in the language of Earth Art, Land Art, when artists were abandoning the conventional space in order to get their political messages out there.  Here is where today’s world enters in – and, where I find Shutan’s oil-industry loop pieces to have the potential for moving our cloistered art world back into the real one.

 

If Shutan’s works such as “Ooze” and “Drift” were exhibited outside the gallery, as public art pieces – how effective would their language be?  By exhibiting inside the gallery space instead, given the context of this space, this venue for showing art – and observing the artwork’s activity within it (seeping, moving, gradually spilling over) the work lends itself in metaphor and maybe broadens the meaning to include the very art world her pieces find themselves in. 

Our environmental dilemma is echoed in these intricately designed loop constructions which take aim at the gradual formation of “cultural debris in our industrial enterprises” and, maybe, at our mutual acceptance of the closed-loop commodification and commercial sale of art itself.   

Since Shutan’s Ooze and Drift are exhibited inside a gallery, seen alongside other artwork – we need to figure out how we read it given its context.  The other work may allude to landscape, environment, the natural world and, in their making, be somewhat similar in the gluing and pasting of paper.  This is the common ground that works wonderfully, but might it lead us to one large reading of “environment” and miss the tension or address, comment or menace of Shutan’s work?  Does the political to be found in Shutan’s work get lost in the formalist visual magic?

So, when we take in the totality of the show, do we connect the art on the walls as a unifying theme and register a kudos for curatorial practice, or, only do this in an ancillary way and leave with what Shutan’s art is trying to say?  Does it matter?  Is what we take from the work leading us somewhere beyond the incredible visual, the wows of the making?  How do we feel after leaving this space?  Informed? Quieted? Appreciative? Alarmed? 

Would Ooze and Drift be more effective in communicating Shutan’s valid concerns – if placed in the arena of public space – where our taking-to-the-streets-in-political-protest is our best method of communicating where we stand as a society?  Placing the work outside the EPA headquarters in DC? Oil refineries?  Gas stations?  Or, bumping up the ante and oozing out into the gallery space itself – but not in a subtle manner, (relying too much upon metaphor) but literally, overtaking the adjacent works?  (Would the artist(s) exhibiting their own work cooperate for the greater cause?) Seeping out of the gallery itself?  Covering like ivy a Koch Brothers philanthropy-sponsored building? 

These are some questions worth addressing.  And, yes, these specific pieces might not physically hold up outside in the elements, but the ideal is certainly worth considering in getting the artist’s message out there where it needs to be.

How we got to this point in our art object making and exhibiting might be another thing to ask.  With “ooze” and “drift” – words that signify slowly, almost imperceptibly, maybe we get our answer. 

2021

art vs an artwork:  aka – the thought’s the thing

 

 

Don Quixote

 

The artist thrives in the unique state of being able to see things beyond surface appearance, and presents to the rest of us such a translation in an equally unique vision.

 

Art is both verb and noun.  It is an act of thinking and receiving.  It is a sinking-in of information which prompts us to consider our place in the much larger world.  Art prompts us to recognize meaning in an artist’s object, a playwright’s dialogue, an actor’s performance, a novelist’s writing, a poet’s verse.

 

Art is not something which one can visit without having some sort of thought-process, some act of thinking immediately following.  This is where the art happens; with the thought—the thinking-about – usually in response to [the] contradictory nature of what is observed.  A contrast in size, shape, material within an environment prompts us to think in symbolic terms, and, here, we begin to venture into the realm of Art.

All of this makes me consider Melville’s description of art in his poem of the same name, for he posits just this with his lines: “A wind to melt, a flame to freeze, sad patience, joyous energies – such unlike things must meet and mate” and, also, Wilde’s “Art can make an almond tree blossom in winter, or make snow fall upon the ripe cornfield”; …. or Blake’s “Joy and woe are woven fine, a clothing for the soul divine” or, in Berger’s sharper prose “the wooden bird is wafted by the warm air rising from the stove in the kitchen while the real birds are outside freezing to death!”

These are all effective definitions of what art is – for they all contain within them an engagement of opposites, an irony, a new angle in the way things are seen.  This is art.  Art jolts us out of our accepted narrative, and makes us consider the veracity of that narrative, and, then, has us question our nominal acceptance before we came to our newest point of questioning.

This is why we need the art, artists = to keep us from slipping into a world where there is no contrast, no quest, no questioning, no new view presented to us, no way to really see our world and our place within it.

Whether through Alice’s Looking-Glass prompting us to look at the society of Victorian England or Don Quixote’s Chivalric-Lens in realizing Spain’s place in the advancing modern world, both of these works, (especially) and, all works of literary fiction, works of successful art lead us to a significant and greatly-appreciated truth.

 

July  2019

 

 

 

 

that venue for showing art

caa show announcement

Regarding the static painted visual art piece on a wall, or, the static sculpted object on a pedestal, what are we to read beyond the object’s own “art-object-ness” in a recycled environment of reference and quotation? Can the object we now make be successful at translating our meaning given its expected reception in a now seemingly all-too familiar field? Is the gallery context itself somehow inhibiting as it moves from exclusive space visited by students of art and other artists to the David Byrne familiar with Eric Fischl painting art’s own art-going morphology?

Is it like the phenomenon of digital accessibility —- with too much equaling too ordinary and expected for us to even blink an eye no matter the possible strength of the work residing? Can the static art object give us the reading it means to in its current context of “being art in a gallery”? or, have we become too savvy an audience, too familiar with how the system works for the art object itself to move beyond the space it relies upon for its translation?

Is Visual Art stuck in its own necessary replication, unable to move beyond the “look” of what we know art on a wall to be, to move beyond the entrenched orthodoxy of this look, this paradigm? Does the gallery space by default, due to our familiarity with it – create for the artist a space impossible for understanding the actual work?  Is our awareness of “looking at art” getting in the way?  Has our method of looking overwhelmed the actual art (if there is any) to be found?

Not unlike a Kafka character caught in truest dilemma, the balance for both lies between the method used (gallery space = traveling circus ) and, the very awareness of the method by both the artist (when placing work in such a prescribed space) and the viewer (upon experiencing that space).  Both require an isolation without self-awareness, and, given our method of viewing art – (which includes taking along our image-conscious selves), neither of these seems possible.

Sept.  2018

                                          cropped-monop-bd-edit1 

Maybe the art on the walls in galleries should be distanced and removed from the real world in terms of its delivery, discussion, and deal with large open swaths of generalized concepts like spirit, balance, harmony and nature, allowing for the connections to be made by sense and feeling rather than study and cultural relevance —- for that is how we may have come to define art anyway.

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Artists were once our sole image-makers.  Their work, (whether political cartoon, lampoon, editorial illustration, architectural design, photograph, painting, sculpture, carving on clay) assumed a role of communication via a select few.  Artists of guilds, patron-hired painters of renown and reputation, professional orators and writers, critics and draftspersons were the ones who gave to our mass audience its cultural signifiers, its innovations within disciplines, and the communication of thoughts, information, and ideas.  The circle of influence was small and exclusive; its contributors, for better or worse, employed by patronage, power and privilege.

Today, with our media platforms allowing us a far wider range of respective contributors, we have universal image-making running alongside the artist’s.  In addition, we have Visual Art’s seemingly tenuous relationship to its once-inseparable theory; (Greenberg’s Modernist Theory which both promoted painting as it simultaneously, and, accordingly, penned its eulogy);  the artist working well within an established discipline pushing tenable Modernist’s boundaries.

Today’s Visual Art seemingly floats without a discipline, and its Modernist Theory, in retrospect, [a discipline criticized itself for its elitism and reduced scope during its time] seems now a welcomed breath of intellectual discourse sorely missed.

hals1
detail:  Berger/Hals 

A language without a discipline in which to speak it (advance it) is where we seem to find ourselves:  wanting our cake (the mooring of Visual Art to a valid language no longer found in theory and scholarship but by virtue of the exhibiting and marketing of the art itself) and, eating it, too – asserting that anything found in these spaces is art, regardless of its challenge to the form, its historical progression, (technical development or any advancement in form) made within the language itself.

(blog post update:  wanting our cake and eating it too = Art Basel Miami Beach_

 

 

So, we have a language that needs to be understood in order for the art to exist, and, the space for that language to exist needs to be open-ended and understood.  If either of these fail in communicating, what do we have?

For the most part, the contemporary art gallery exists in its own subset of isolationism by insisting that the language used here in this space is a mystery, is supposed to be one not quite understood, arcane, and, at its furthest, incommunicable.  It is a place to go to be inspired, awed, moved by the art objects we see before us.  We are there to look at and experience (almost meditatively) objects before us that are presented as art, no matter the success in translation of the language being used.

It is noted that Elizabethan audiences understood the language of pun and aside, nuanced allusion, political and religious satire.  They understood the role of theater, the language of the stage.  I’m not sure we can carry this over to today’s gallery-going experience.  The deck is stacked against the innocent viewer wanting to get something out of the work displayed.  In the open-armedness of the inclusive-minded 21st century society – we have an improved increased interest in Visual Art – but many of the museum-like cordons [prompting us to maintain an awed silence] remain firmly in place.

With Visual Art today- the language is not only arcane but, gratuitous and random.  It seems to consist of an ‘anything goes’ — as long as it “looks like art”; the kind of art that we’ve come to know and trust.  The Copernicuses of art-making have had to become Geo-centrists by market-success default.  Revolutions are for flipping paradigms on their heads, and the market-controlled Gallery-to-Gala-to-Big Art Fair wants nothing to do with this.

So, to look at this whole established system — to look at  “looking at art”with some sort of silver-lining – maybe where today’s art is to be found is in the gallery space — but in the gallery-goer’s own sentient experience of ‘going to a gallery and looking at art‘.  Maybe it is the activity that is the important thing, the social interaction and the community participation and not the “getting anything” from the art, or, what the artist has tried to say with the art object.  Maybe it is the diversion itself; the contemporary gallery space really well-designed in successfully generating the collective sigh, gasp, or reflex and, maybe this is what we truly need.

(blog update:  contemporary art gallery as an experience, an event – cite Amanda Hess – “American Dream” shopping malls for the experience_

 

 

Maybe our art today is to be found in the ‘experiencing of ‘ it —  in all of its intangible, abstract and ineffable nuanced state.

 

Nov.  2016

Intro. to blog

I would love to begin my blog discussing the latest Star Wars movie and tie this in with [a] recent Guerrilla Girls appearance on The Stephen Colbert Show, along with the SNL ‘Undercover Boss’ sketch with Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, and, how these entertainment incidentals (the grist of our Postmodernist mill) tie in with where we are in our society with regard to Art and Culture.

But… I think I need to first identify my angle of approach in Getting Art : Now = where I simply want to discuss contemporary art in a way so that we all can try and understand it (why are Warhol’s soup cans so important?) and participate in the discussion no matter our level or background in art. How I will do this will be by looking at contemporary art shows at galleries and writing about the work shown. The art on the walls tells us a lot about where we are, and, who we are.

If the culture of a people is reflected in the art of a people, what is the 21st century artist reflecting with the visual works it comes up with?

The piece of pottery we look at in a museum of collected artifact – [with its ornamental bands painted in circular pattern] gives to us a glimpse of the culture that created it. The ornamental bands read perhaps as elements mimicking an aquatic nature; a people surrounded by the always-moving bands of water that surround them. The art object reflects the culture that creates it.

“And then I was thinking, what would the worker murals of today be like? They say we are a service economy now – that there are more people selling us hamburgers then making us steel and things. So would the huge wall murals of today be of the people sitting at computer terminals and the people at Burger King handing you your fries? Is there any way to make that look heroic? “Andy Warhol’s “America”; 1985

How is the world of Contemporary Visual Art adding or subtracting anything from the social fabric and does Visual Art have a role, responsibility, or play even a small part in making successful connections with the very same society that sponsors it?

Are those sporadically surfacing visual presentations of the contemporary gallery space doing anything to make us more aware of our current society, or, even better — is that what the assignment is for art? ———has it been? has it always?

Has art and its making become a therapeutic necessity for both artist and viewer; the isolated studio bubble for the artist’s inner peace, and, the contemporary gallery shows and exhibition spaces fulfilling the spiritual-community need like a coffee shop with Wi-Fi or a Y membership?
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My approach to Contemporary Visual Art would like to be one of discussing the work, the actual work on the wall, each piece individually, or, an artist’s direction granted to us by the whole. In doing this, maybe we can find some answers to some of the questions the art object raises.

The fact that so much is familiar to us about art and its making, and, the distance between artist and viewer lessening considerably over the past fifty years [with increased access to the whole idea of artists and making art], there’s a need for the Contemporary Art world to somehow blur the line between arcane language and elitist reading with that of a very savvy digitally-connected here-and-very-now society. This is our context.

With Modernism, we had the approach to painting (making a painting on a canvas in full regard to its tradition and history as a painting) tied to theoretical and practical advancement made within its own well-defined field. With Postmodernism, we no longer have the luxury of such a limited and tidy system of evolution. (Noted, BTW, only in retrospect.) We are no longer reducing painting until we reach the actual canvas material that’s painted on, in order to ‘end painting’, or, at least, to have tried to -Postmodernism -far more unmanageable in its scope. There’s so much here – and, we are swimming in it — our engagement now, (in Post-Postmodernism, Meta-Modernism or whatever term we are asked to apply) something that we have to use as our context for looking at any art object we now make.

The facet of contemporary art’s own tribal chanting of an Anti-Aestheticism attached to the visual art world’s response to Postmodernism makes for an interesting parallel with our conservative movement in our politics. This is what happens, socially, culturally, I guess. The larger we get  (our virtually boundary-less Google-search space) the more tribal we seemingly become; the more protective of our past only in response to an unmanageable present.

The new Star Wars movie (the one everyone is complaining didn’t give us anything new) gives us a glimpse of the culture that created it.  [The piece of pottery we look at in a museum of collected artifact – with its ornamental bands painted in circular pattern gives to us a glimpse of the culture that created it.]

The question we should be asking ourselves of Episode VII is not “why is it simply a remake of Episode IV?”- but, ……………what does remaking Episode IV actually say about us?
If all we did was add technological advancement to the original, is this not our art? Doesn’t this say a lot about our current culture? The fact that there is no new story-line, the fact that we are so eager to be reminded of the first Star Wars movie, to return to the mythical (we are all anxious to see Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher 40 years older) gives us a good indication of where we are culturally, and, where our next Star Wars installment might lead us.