I’m reminded of that cringe-worthy aphorism ‘I can feel it in my waters’ standing in Dredgers on the Rail at Freedman Fitzpatrick, running July 26 to September 5. Those words allude to intuition living somewhere in the guts, blood (uterus I always imagined) and suggests matter has a consciousness of its own, a material intelligence or agency. If that is so, where is the line between our thinking minds and our guts, or any other bit of matter? This question is apparently still a subject of disagreement in the physics community; quantum physics is one way to think about the somehow conscious forms of Rochelle Goldberg’s sculpture ‘Bait Bite Switch’ (2015). Or of course object oriented ontology will be a familiar phrase to anyone who’s encountered a gallery press release in the last five years. More recently talk of the anthropocene has raised it head. The black iridescence of Goldberg’s lumpen ceramics recall creatures emerging from oil spill seas, or prehistoric somethings in the nearby Le Brea Tar Pits. In Goldberg’s ‘Is the Plastic Thirsty’ chia seeds carried by slurps of once-liquid brown puddles splay across patches of carpet. The chia made attempts at sprouting but where in other cities a lush chia carpet grew, in Los Angeles there are only withered sprouts —an apt reflection of the anthropocene era in drought-stricken California.
A spiky cloud, as though made of dangerous gaseous matter, parts to reveal uncertain symbolism in Julien Nguyen’s painting ‘Tamburlaine” (2015). A lily, a long-haired figure with blue eyes and a nymph-ish face float around a deathly creature on a deathly horse; perhaps it’s the great and terrible Central Asian ruler Timur, namesake of the painting, who claimed a huge kingdom through military daring in the 13th Century. The flicks and detail of Nyugen’s style will be familiar to fantasy fans and although I’m thinking of sci-fi paperback covers, historical precedents echo through the paintings too; the billowing hellfires of English Romantic John Martin or even the misty horizon–light of Claude Lorrain’s landscapes. The peaks and troughs of cloud become peaks and troughs of distant mountain ranges moving the painting between surface and depth, abstraction and representation, history and fantasy.
Body and its sustenance become one on a shipping crate in the form of ‘Scattered A Scattered K’, (2012-2015), a marzipan cake portrait by DAS INSTITUT with Allison Katz. DAS INSTITUT, a collaboration between Kerstin Brätsch and Adele Röder, as a moniker, is a way of causing independent identities to dissolve, to impact each other’s working methods, to mess with the authorial independence of a solo practice. Brätsch and Röder are rendered in the form of a two headed body, which melts and cracks and tumbles into patches of face, clothes and hair, in an aptly unrecognisable portrait. The nebulous, shifting marzipan suits the brush of Katz whose imagery, in her own work, is untethered and treads loose symbolism and narrative flirtation. The work, first exhibited at Family Business in 2012 and then in Gaylen Gerber’s 2013 exhibition at MCA Chicago, took its final journey up the hills of Griffith Park during Dredgers on the Rail, where it was ceremonially laid down like a pastoral offering by the gallerists wearing bug suits. This inedible glittery cake–sacrifice lies in a resting place overlooking a city of extreme consumption.
A tree trunk, so ‘tree-ish’ as though to remind us we’re in Hollywood, ends where a column of cement continues in Oscar Tuazon’s ‘The Natural Man’ (2015). The masculinity mentioned in the title is apparent in the will to match, compliment, overwhelm nature. There is in Los Angeles an incredible example of human pride and aesthetic determination in the form of cement rubbish bins shaped and textured to look like tree trunks. These bins for the paper we made from the trees, tell the story of the never-ending rearranging of atoms in all matter.
“It’s alright it hurts” says a drawing by late Mexican artist Juan José Gurrola, testifying to the always many–faceted experience of a body; pleasure, pain, deflection, shame, protection from truth, desire for truth. Looking at Gurrola’s five strikingly casual drawings of bodies amassed, perving or with eyes as breasts, you get the feeling that he was a stirrer of awkward social and professional encounters in the art world of the 1970s and 80s and was happy to agitate the sensibilities of others with his wit. Idiosyncratic personal humour is a vehicle for critique in these drawings abundant with insinuation and absurdity.
Margaret Salmon’s film ‘Oyster’ (2014), a lyrical observation of the life and death of the eponymous animal, and Mathis Altmann’s labyrinthine sculpture ‘The Kloake of Envy’, (2015) both move between the deep–unknowns and the visible surface. In this way Dredgers on the Rail foregrounds material and also cognitive viscosity, but more significantly, the dissolution of boundaries between these two categories themselves. Beyond the aesthetic outcomes, there are political implications to such fluidity. When proposing her concept of a new ‘nomadic subject’, Rosi Braidotti writes “The frame of reference becomes the open-ended, interrelational, multi-sexed, and trans-species flows of becoming by interaction with multiple others. A subject thus constituted explodes the boundaries of humanism at skin level.” **
Dredgers on the Rail group exhibition was on at LA’s Freedman Fitzpatrick, opening July 26 and running to September 5, 2015.
Header image: Rochelle Goldberg, ‘Is the Plastic Thirsty pt.1 & pt.2’ (2015). Installation view. Courtesy Freedman Fitzpatrick, Los Angeles.