Monthly Archives: November 2009

Local exhibit: Negative Spaces / Positive Places

Jeremy Stern’s show, “Negative Spaces / Positive Places,” is up at the Sierra Arts Gallery in downtown Reno. Stern, currently an MFA candidate at UNR, is presenting a series of modified maps. The modifications are mostly subtractions.

In A New USA: Intertate Highways as New State Borders, most of the place names are blotted out with correction fluid (one glaring exception: the Great Salt Lake is still labeled). The networks of interstate highways remain, now traversing anonymous territories (the white-out clumps up in mild relief, a topographical gloss). In other pieces, Stern has cut elements out of the maps, so that a dialogue is set up between the swiss-cheesed surfaces and the shadows that are projected behind them, onto the wall. Place-names have been meticulously excised (I’m assuming with an x-acto), the recognizable outlines of states or countries still held together by the circulatory networks of roads, now hanging like a multicolored lace, set against the latticework of its own monochrome shadow.


Some larger pieces are made of maps with more modest excisions, the maps then turned over so that their blank backs face the viewer — who can still see glimpses of reflected bright map-colors through the windows of the cuts.


There’s usually a certain melancholy to artworks that deliberately foreground erasures: an evocation of something lost, suppressed, irretrievable. But Stern’s maps don’t trade in melancholy — in fact, the subtractions reach for a certain clarity. I wondered if the work was a reaction to information overload, the way our experience is buried in data. Probably because I’d recently seen Garnet Hertz’s presentation on his OutRun project — which in its prototype phase used data provided by Google Earth — I began to think what it would be like to drive over the country using a GPS auto navigation system stripped of all road names and place names, orienting yourself via a network scrubbed clean of language. Would it allow you to situate yourself more profoundly in space, being aware of the overarching pattern of the streets, rather than “localizing” your consciousness from one street name to the next, narrowing your perceptions to the next left or right turn?

There was an article I came across a few weeks ago, that was partially about the ascendency of GPS navigation in shipping; one side-effect is that many mariners no longer know how to use a sextant. Besides being eminently useful, sextant navigation strikes me as being inherently poetic: in order to find your location on the globe, you look to the stars. You find out where you are, not just on the surface of the globe, but in relation to the wider galaxy, caught between the intersection of starlight and horizonline. What is lost, with GPS, is an orientation that is literally celestial. GPS data is more instant and more accurate, but it’s also more shrunken, less eternal. Both GPS and the sextant allow you to say “You Are Here,” but with GPS “Here” is a much smaller place.

Stern’s maps seemed attuned to this sort of interplay between where you think you are and where you actually are — where borders of habit and borders of infrastructure make their own negotiations. His fastidious cutting is devoted the strangeness of “Here.”

(all photos taken by Anthony Alston)

Jeanne-Claude has Gone

Jeanne-Claude, Christo’s Collaborator on Environmental Canvas, Is Dead at 74

Published: November 19, 2009

“Jeanne-Claude, who collaborated with her husband, Christo, on dozens of environmental art projects, notably the wrapping of the Pont Neuf in Paris and the Reichstag in Berlin and the installation of 7,503 vinyl gates with saffron-colored nylon panels in Central Park, died Wednesday in Manhattan, where she lived. She was 74.”

Read the article (including a wonderful slideshow) at the New York Times.

–Erika

Analysis of Symbolism in the Film Robot Monster

Babs’ post on symbolism in “The Wizard of Oz” reminded me of a mild folly from my undergrad days. At some point during my senior year, I got hit right between the eyes with what felt like an epiphany. I can’t put words to it now, but I was overcome by a sensation of everything in life suddenly making sense — I was suffused with an intense feeling of clarity and calm.

It was a delicate feeling, prone to immediate erosion, but in the wake of it (in the penumbra of its afterglow, I guess), everything I saw on television or the movies, or read in a book, seemed to be telling the same, transparent story: the story of the soul’s alienation, in its usual state of fragmented individuality, and the attempts of the soul to break the bonds of its idiotic solipsisms, to join up with a wider, more universal soul. Commercials, daffy duck cartoons, whatever passed in front of my eyes seemed to have all of their metaphorical machinery pointed at this essential narrative.


This epiphanic episode occurred just a few weeks before a presentation was scheduled for a capstone course at my school (World College West, sadly no longer in existence), in which the student was supposed to sum up their worldview. For my final presentation, I decided to give a summing up of my worldview through the lens of the movie “Robot Monster,” a film famous for having one of the most incompetent monster suits ever committed to film — an ape suit and diving helmet combo. Rumor has it that George Barrows, the guy inhabiting the outfit, was given the role because he owned his own ape costume, thereby saving a little costuming budget. A fair representation of the production values can be glimpsed in the trailer, below.

“Robot Monster” seemed particularly open to that master narrative of the soul’s desires. I gave what I thought was a pretty good deconstruction of the symbolism of “Robot Monster,” bringing in various philosophical concepts, like the notion of Plato’s cave (the monster, who’s named Ro-man, has his headquarters in a cave, where a sinister alien bubble machine squats in a corner, emitting a constant stream of sinister alien bubbles), and I think ranging across the Freudian unconscious and the reptilian back brain lurking behind the cerebrum, helped along by the stock footage of pet store lizards with spiky dorsal fins glued to their backs, growling in slo-mo, aspiring to dinosaurness.

I passed the class, though I think not by much. On my final evaluation, the Prof summed up his thoughts with a line that I think I can recall close to verbatim: “When Mr. Lanier is done with intellectual fingerpainting, he may be worth having a conversation with.” The jury is still out on whether I’m done with intellectual fingerpainting.

Here is Ro-man in a philosophical mood himself, asking that eternal question: “At what point on the graph do ‘must’ and ‘cannot’ meet?”

Cyborgs, Dandelions, and the occasional circular saw made out of wood

We had a great turnout for the opening of the “Cyborgs and Dandelions” show yesterday. The student gallery club did a bang-up job, taking acres of artwork, and making it look elegant against the walls. The winners were, in first place, Karl Schwiesow, represented by a metal and wood sculpture called “Cube,” and a sculpture of a saw built out of plywood. He’s currently at Lake Tahoe Community College:



Second place went to Roger Walker, also from LTCC, with a suite of black and white photos:



And third place went to Jesyka Hayworth, yet another LTCC student, for her print “A Terrible Habit”:


Unfortunately, I can’t include pics of works by all the artists, just because the show is sufficiently full that, to include everybody, the blog post would run a fathom or two down the scrollbar. So to get a comprehensive view, you’ll have to check it out yourself. What follows is an abbreviated taste:



















Lastly, here are a couple unrelated bonus pics — on the way back to my car after the show, I passed through Patterson Hall, and was surprised to find the far end of the dining hall engulfed by a giant grey inflatable. Someone told me an astronomy class was holding court inside there. I’ve yet to corroborate, but since I haven’t heard rumor of any SNC collaborations with Christo, I’ll take him at his word.


Analysis of Symbolism in the Film The Wizard of Oz

If you’ve never read or watched The Wizard of Oz or need your memory refreshed, here’s a quick sum-up of the movie:

The film follows 12-year-old farmgirl Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) who lives on a Kansas farm with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, but dreams of a better place “somewhere over the rainbow.” After being struck unconscious during a tornado by a window which has come loose from its frame, Dorothy dreams that she, her dog Toto and the farmhouse are transported to the magical Land of Oz. There, the Good Witch of the North, Glinda (Billie Burke), advises Dorothy to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City and meet the Wizard of Oz, who can return her to Kansas. During her journey, she meets a Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), a Tin Man (Jack Haley) and a Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr), who join her, hoping to receive what they lack themselves (a brain, a heart and courage, respectively). All of this is done while also trying to avoid the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) and her attempt to get her sister’s ruby slippers from Dorothy, who received them from Glinda.

The said above, the entire story of the Wizard of Oz is an allegorical tale of the soul’s path to illumination – the Yellow Brick Road. In Buddhism (an important part of Theosophical teachings) the same concept is referred to as the “Golden Path”.

The story starts with Dorothy Gale living in Kansas, which symbolizes the material world, the physical plane where each one of us starts our spiritual journey. Dorothy feels an urge to “go over the rainbow”, to reach the ethereal realm and follow the path to illumination. She has basically “passed the Nadir” by demonstrating the urge to seek a higher truth.

Dorothy is then brought to Oz by a giant cyclone spiraling upward, representing the cycles of karma, the cycle of errors and lessons learned. It also represents the theosophical belief in reincarnation, the round of physical births and deaths of a soul until it is fit to become divine. It is also interesting to note that the Yellow Brick Road of Oz begins as an outwardly expanding spiral. In occult symbolism, this spiral represents the evolving self, the soul ascending from matter into the spirit world.


Read More Here…

Cubic Cubed

Gregg Fleishman’s show, “Cubism,” is up at the Tahoe Gallery through November 17th. There’s something stubbornly literal about the title. The show has nothing to do with the illusionistic representation of three dimensions on a two dimensional plane. “Cubism” in its art-historical flavors — analytic or synthetic — isn’t the purview of the work. If the type of cubism could be tagged here, maybe “functional cubism” would do. Fleishman is interested in the architectural possibilities of cubic forms, their adaptability and modularity (and also their beauty, but I suspect that, for Fleishman, their beauty is a direct extension of their adaptability and modularity).



Fleishman, in his artist’s talk, revealed a mind at absolute ease in the manicured wilds of geometry. Not everyone is able to sensibly incorporate “icosehedrons” and “archimidean solids” into their patter. And I get the impression that those words don’t just tumble out of his mouth when he’s giving a speech. For him, I suspect they amount to an everyday argot. His vocabulary has the recklessly technical clarity of a specialist or an autodidact — and it’s sprinkled, too, with the autodidact’s propensity for new coinages — like “rhombicube.”

(“Rhombicube” has a nice ring to it, especially when set against the term it’s meant to simplify: “rhombicuboctahedron.”)






As mentioned above, the modularity of the forms Fleishman works with is a big part of their appeal. The architectural structures he creates seem to multiply outward, from an implacable recombinatory logic. A shape multiplies, like an apartment growing out of an expanding crystal formation. There’s a self-sufficiency of means, as the structures hinge together via tab and slot systems. On a graphical level, I was reminded of M. C. Escher, who used the six-paned window of the cube to free the eye from gravity and unitary perspective. On a procedural level, I was reminded of Albers and Sol Le Witt, in their patience for playing variations on a theme — using a finite number of elements to point toward infinity.





In the gallery, I was particularly taken by the work’s tendency to re-frame itself. Portals and windows cropped interiors or other structures in gratifying ways.


The work isn’t just “art stuff” — it’s designed to be deployed, used, inhabited. Fleishman intends for his larger structures to be used as housing for disaster relief (so the modularity and self-sufficiency aren’t just aesthetic gestures). His studio in Culver City is close to a school, and he’s designed charming playgrounds for it. He claimed the play structures were “incidental” to his practice, but honestly, the playfulness of the use seems perfectly wedded to the playfulness of design.

More recently, a structure of his was erected at Burning Man — Black Rock being, as he framed it, a place in need of sudden infrastructures.






Below are a few pics taken the night of the reception and artists’ talk. The night of the reception, there was a bit of a playground vibe to the gallery. Students climbed up the large structure, and tried to piece together elements of some of the smaller structures, while Fleishman looked benevolently on, sometimes giving hints.

When Fleishman asked how long it took for the gallery crew to put together the large structure in the gallery, Russell said (if I’m remembering correctly) “four or five hours.” There was a beat and Fleishman said “That’s too long.”






The last pic is Sheri, beaming over her latest acquisitions: some tiny squiggly chairs designed by Fleishman, scaled to the size (if not the comfort) of a mouse. She already had one in her collection, but couldn’t resist a couple more, especially because they’re cheaper now that Fleishman is using computers in his production workflow — no longer cutting the serpentines by hand.

This Thurs at the Reference Gallery: Cyborgs and Dandelions

This Thurs, Nov.10, is the reception for a new show in the Reference Gallery: “Cyborgs and Dandelions.”


It’s a non-themed, juried exhibition hosted by Sierra Nevada College’s Student Gallery, and it will feature student works from Lake Tahoe Community College, Sierra College, Western Nevada College, Truckee Meadows Community College and Sierra Nevada College. The reception runs from 5-7, and the show itself runs through December 10.

Here’s a link to the facebook event page.