By Victor Maldonado
For its inaugural exhibit STORE presents SHIFT, a concept driven visual, performance and installation art exhibit about the myth of the clash of civilization, creating nuance in an age of easy dichotomies, the mass ritual of self-design and experiments in liberation, presenting the shifting values of a free society in the “Age of Terror” and after the fall of “Wall Street.”
A PNCA Intermedia Department, Theory & Practice course, all the projects in SHIFT are the culmination and debris of the projects of Art, Ethics & Transgression students studying the ethics of influence, production and distribution in contemporary society. The variety of work, all from 2010, on display makes explicit the mutual and apposed desires associated with how we define aesthetics, identity and social systems. Embedded in the architecture of free choice, associated with super-capitalism and consumerism, the artists in SHIFT created work designed to engage in a context-necessary, content questioning, give-and-take borrowing from fields outside of art including genetics, economics, radical pedagogy and city planning.
Questioning aesthetic alienation and auguring the return of the senses, Austin Adkins, “Untitled (Motion Detector),” greets STORE visitors as they approach the front door. Adkins is interested in recognition without prejudice, deploying an “As Seen On TV” driveway motion detector. Adkins repurposes a domestic security tactic as a strategic challenge to our understanding of prejudice in an environment of fear where each of us is consumed with ones own safety.
Continuing his theme of tracking with “Urinal” but now counting on our ability to recognize what’s in front of us, Adkins presents his cover of master surrealist and conceptualist forefather, French artist Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” (1913), a mis-installed urinal on a pedestal. Adkins’ “Urinal” functionally circulated his own urine and makes problematic nature of private processes of studio practices placed in public spaces.
Installed in close proximity of Adkins’ “Urinal,” for it’s display case appeal and to build on the analysis of influence and how we feed ourselves, Tana Becker’s sculpture “First Meal” also begs our senses to read between the lines, in Becker’s case, empty meals more fit for the shelf than for the stomach. Left ambiguous to disguise permutations of common origins Becker’s “First Meal” takes on the irony of caring amidst the unfeeling architecture of control. Each of the meals presents the distinct desire of a subject at the mercy of their context.
With “Eye Projector” Marshall Birnbaum presents a mixed media installation comprised of simulated movie posters in the form of paintings, shattered glass reflectors, hanging lights, a dematerialized book and a broken monitor. Birnbaum pushes the textual skin of language lifted from the neighboring movie theaters, beauty shops and renegade exhibit spaces. Birnbaum’s “Eye Projector” mimics its microenvironment, half camouflaged and fully mocking, in the process of assimilating the illogical nature of shifting meaning.
Rebecca Peel’s short video “Captive” serves as public evidence of exposure to the elements at the doors of Pioneer Place Mall. Peel’s “Captive” places the artist’s body, dressed in black from head-to-toe, in a prone position making her both vulnerable and entertaining. Mannequin-like in her static pose Peel’s draws the casual passers-by into engaging a fallen body with concern, disdain and play. The overlaying meaning of media and message, captive viewers and captured video footage confound comfortable perspectives.
Where Peel’s “Captive” makes use of the slip in public language and codes of conduct Andrew Meeker’s panoramic archival pigment print “Surveillance” stretches and stitches his take on documentary photography’s necessary relationship with formal staging and fiction. “Captive” makes use of photography’s ability to act on the viewer to unpack its varied details and levels of focus. Similar to the phalanx of monitors, associated with behind the scenes security desks, Meeker displays his piece in our line of sight making of us security guards to the variety of private spaces designed to appear public.
“Bootlegged Culture” by Mark Martinez translates and confounds the influence of video games, which according to the artist is “a multi-billion dollar industry and form of entertainment extremely popularized by Nintendo in the mid-eighties.” Gaming culture, for Martinez, defines a common “second nature” among its practitioners and defines the extent of aesthetic alienation associated with unfeeling, unknowing eyes exposed to violent and profane vagaries and vulgarities building on the over-exotic “other.” Beyond the marketable design of the packaging and kitschy content Martinez mixes methods of reproduction with his silver and gold ceramic sculptures of game cartridges housed in a coat-as-rack readymade for the black market. What Martinez seems to peddle is an understanding of the deepening conditioning and nostalgia associated with each generation of format that video games have taken over the years. Increasingly what was confined to one room and one monitor now can connect players across great distances all connected in a virtual reality built on the architecture of code.
For artist Cecily Scott code, in the form of knowledge and visible language, is what is at play in her mixed media piece “Take My Hand.” Comprised of a digital pigment print, photocopies, and display binders “Take My Hand” is inspired by the challenge of dealing with the symbiotic, seemingly parasitic, relationship between definitions of self and society: class, sexuality, religion and gender. With “Take My Hand” Scott enacts a salon style hand-to-hand combat where, though we may lack the solidarity associated with “common senses,” we may still build on our sense of common decency in the fight against loneliness – humans’ enduring natural enemy. For Scott it is society’s need to camouflage and protect the individuated self from a de-contextualizing dehumanization systemic deferral of aesthetic responsibility to one another in the face of radical evil. To recognize our own and each others’ pain in an intimate and sensual manner is challenging when individuals are set against one another forcing distance between self-designed differences.
Within the confines of what once was the manager’s office Nic Tammens and Allison Brook each present video pieces pushing contemporary applications for appropriation, questioning the limits and validity of intellectual property.
Lifting cues from Marxist critique of private ownership Tammens’ “Capital Vol. 1” is a personal point-of-view video shot from chest level with all the queasy feelings associated with shaky camera work. Assuming a tourist disguise with camera in tow Tammens acts against the explicit limits of capital as fixed property as if denouncing consumerism implicit laws of shopping for knowledge in bookstores. What is the value of knowledge when it is for sale? Does it insure its protection and stewardship or does it enact an unnecessary hurdle for the knowledge to be more accessible to those, like Tammens, who are fed by the ink within the pages? When ideas become property and that property can only be designated in simulacra – what is the consumer really buying, the truth or the packaging? Is the truth of capital it’s ability to be packed, re-packed, re-purposed and reused by its many markets? What is the value of user-generated content and how does it transform our notion of self-value? Can the individual be free when everything has a price? For Tammens that fact that looks can be deceiving is precisely the breach around the security of capital and ultimately what allows knowledge to be extracted. The commodity is pure abstraction.
In Allison Brook’s “Shoplifting Video,” a headless body swipes label-less tin cans akin to those favored in post-war America in the age of progress and food-preservatives. With “Shoplifting Video” Brook is able to stage the process of her own influences as a young woman and artist. Brook was interested in exposing and creatively exploiting the curiously stringent evidence to prosecute shoplifters. In “Shoplifting Video” we witness not the proof of theft but the reach of influence and our need to be sustained by what we know despite what our eyes tell us. After all – without out proper labeling, food can be deceivingly inedible.
In the age of free will and over-speculations, where anything can happen, as can be the case in large, dense, multicultural cities where you are bound to run into easily conflicting values and codes of conduct, self-agency and resilience become necessary skills to have. (maría)petra fortes-schramm relays the politics of power and self by taking on classifications of “whiteness” in contemporary American society. Far away from the diversity of a city, suburban life seems to middle every classification and permutation of individuals into a common middle class. fortes-schramm's video installation “White People” is produced to challenge the status quo and the inability of individuals to confront notions of identity and power. fortes-schramm's video projection presents a series of compromised interviews where physiognomy and sound don’t mix well and make a problem out of identity. fortes-schramm’s subjects speak for themselves but represent and reveal the artists long held emotional and ideological maturation around an affinity and repulsion for whiteness.
Taking the theme of self-design and the translation of the soul of a person from a protected, private interior space, to a superficial and public façade is Katy Knowlton’s delegated project “Work Hard. Get Loose.” where she incorporated individual projects by Cole Miller with his neon and acrylic “Willie Nelson,” Morgan Murphey’s Josheph Cornell-like mixed media shadow box “Helen Frankenthaler,” and employing nefarious business cards and email accounts, Sally Gotfredson’s “Down to Fuck”.
For her part in “Work Hard. Get Loose.” Knowlton’s “Things that make me happier than you” presents the confusing details and anxious transitions from the values of her family to the cognitive dissonance a circle of friends can create when forming our individual moral beliefs.
Applying systemic approaches to life can serve the individual but also poses a danger for the forfeiture of self-guidance. The language and attitude of self-empowerment, theoretically applicable to those around us, and making use of it for positive self-creation is what Zachery Sea’s “Sea Color Method” presents the active and curious participant. Taking form as both a general philosophy handout and precise paintings applying Sea’s color theory, together the components of Sea’s work elude easy association with one another by inhabiting multiple planes. By making paintings based on an autodidact approach to color Sea seemingly upsets the characterization of abstract paintings as non-illustrative through his handling of his ideas around color, gesture and place. When confronted with a fresh perspective are we more faithful to our faith in the models and fundamentals of the learned past or to the phenomenology of our individuated senses of taste?
Unpacking the value of the mall as a site for prices, Alexandra Leeds’ “Free Store” presents zines, apparel and domestic objects with no charge to the visitor and available for the taking. With “Free Store” Leeds offers objects that are not intended as art in an attempt to make use of the objective of art, to build meaning through analysis and discourse, rather than the monetization and ownership of objects if art. Leeds will continue refilling “Free Store” throughout the run of the exhibit to connect with visitors and to facilitate an experiment in a kind of “gift-economy” during the season of giving.
Taking prime location at STORE Kristin Derryberry’s “(De)Humanize the Imperviable” cloaked cashier’s counter is both a literal and metaphoric enactment of the artist as culture worker, menial laborer and abiding sales person. As a long time employee of big name stores Derryberry has been embedded with a theater of war and is interested in playing journalist and exposing the conditions of service industry employment. Derryberry brings together the sculptural concerns of the fetish object, staging the retail space as performance space for the projections of our collective desires. Performing within the veiled space of the register Derryberry’s intention is to define the mutual affinity and conflicts between art and commerce, self-identity and self-value.
Nathan Coyne’s “Governator,” a variable edition of stuffed and printed Arnold Schwarzenegger dolls, depict the California Governor as another persona nears its twilight, first as a heroic body builder, versatile mainstream actor and popular Republican politician. Coyne brings different degrees of care and attention to detail to his various “Governator” dolls by shifting the amount of pressure and finish from copy to copy. Each miniature Schwarzenegger, similar but slightly more or less grotesque, questions both Schwarzenegger’s evolution and Coyne’s devolving skill set and work ethic. Each mutable icon, more or less shoddy than its neighbor, creates it’s own kind of reality and its own ability to test the authenticity of images and the power of our faith to believe in blurry images.
For Gustavus Beck it is the relationship between niche fashion trends, savvy graphic design and marketing to create the condition for artificial value to be sustained. With his own brand of “Gustavus-Genes by Gustavus” Beck’s is an installation piece closer in nature to product display. Beck takes on the role of relaxed designer and manufacturer of distressed jeans, that he produces one at a time, while long boarding around Portland or his native Alaska. Beck is interested in playing and exposing the confidence game necessary in a capitalist system. For Beck, the extent to which you know and trust the environment you’re in defines the extent of what you will buy and believe.
In Samuel Lundsten’s video “In Defense of Pragmatism” the artist himself extols the virtues of having a pragmatic approach to life, conflict and decision-making. Lundsten’s sober plea to resist radicalism makes clear how the word radical has come to be defined and represented as extremism. “In Defense of Pragmatism” for Lundsten is a return to sanity in an attempt to cool the hasty division of aesthetics and politics.
Dismantling and understanding what divides graffiti artists and those who work to rid city spaces of graffiti is what Marshall Berg’s multimedia installation “Unseen Actions.” Creating a kind theatrical set for the drama associated with the broad criminalization of graffiti and graffiti artists’ resilient and adaptable creativity to find public venues for private visions. “Unseen Actions” makes use not of the division between familiar players but rather provides a kind of heterotypic site where roles can be reversed and identities can be revealed. Incorporating bait-and-switch strategies, Berg’s “Unseen Actions” synthesizes the language and perspectives of thesis and antithesis to create dialogue where non now exists by recontextualizing or inventing and presenting manuals for both the methods of graffiti removal and for the more quizzical “removal of graffiti removal.”
With “Untitled (Lost Time)” Insa Evans makes use of the unrepresentable and unreliable nature of our past and the memories that connect us in time and space. Using re-printed and framed pictures of herself from birth until today Evans’ photographic installation makes use of what is visible to create in the mind of the observer the possible projections applicable where there nothing is pictured. Seemingly lost, Evans’ piece encases and guards the unobserved past that has produced her.
Alex Dolan’s “Untitled (Link)” bounds between the weight and physicality of the small, squat, sculpture which offers the savvy and “plugged in” viewer the opportunity to view a digital representation, faster and more portable than reality could ever be. Dolan’s sculpture, as with much of his practice, creates the conditions for someone to make choices about the quality of exchange between parties.
Genevieve Costa’s “Retail Therapy” is the set-up and eventual record of the performance that accompanies it. Extending the spiritual plane of shopping that Costa explores in her “Sign Language Necklace” painting “Retail Therapy” is the context in which the artist can elevate the act of shopping to the act of creating art. Where Costa’s paintings experiment and test the devotion inherent in a long tradition of icon painting her performance “Retail Therapy” puts into question the role of faith in consumer society.
Continuing his earlier explorations into the aesthetics of influence and appropriation methods Nic Tammens offers Felix Gonzales-Torres style take-away in a Bruce Nauman inspired series of simple directions witch he re-wrote and re-titled “Noise/Sound Ecology.” Rooting oneself in language to strengthen our hold on reality and the constant chatter that most work so hard to ignore, for Tammens is the work of contemporary art.
Christine Babic listens in and transforms the incessant online prattle of Facebook status updates with her audio piece “Disabled Communication” by positioning online socializing within the context of a childhood tin-can and string telephone game. Beyond the criticism of the silly, idle and childish talk regularly witnessed on social networks Babic illuminates the breach of privacy of having a second, online, life. As living becomes increasingly digital are we creating the context for an inherent breach of privacy or is it what we’re expected settling for? In modern life’s progress-ridden
Adding to her exploration of liberation culture Alexandra Leeds’ “Behind This Door Lies Your Liberation” installs a theatrical adaptation for a philosophy to enact individual freedoms while also continuing to question underlying ideals around freedom and communal responsibility. Leeds provides all the necessary components for breaking down makeshift doors; axes, hammers, saws and hatchets.
Communal engagement define what is a heart of the Allison Brook’s “Wish Bowl” full of pennies, Hannah O’Sullivan and (maría)petra fortes-schramm’s changing room collaboration “Untitled (Changing Room) and Emma Monrad’s sometimes loud sometimes mute “What I Wished The Mall Played” variable DJ booth.
When all of the art students in Art, Ethics & Transgression first gathered at STORE earlier this semester it took sometime to get acquainted with a site distinct from the familiar buildings that comprise PNCA. Emma Monrad’s interest in how corporate culture and decision-making affected what was played throughout Pioneer Place presented a look into our new environment. By articulating the kind, volume and duration of “un-offensive” music, Monrad began exploring the “play lists” that Pioneer Place created and began to enact a semesters-long resistance to the strict guidelines usually applied. Through the inclusion of sounds, tones, beats and music usually excluded Monrad’s “What I Wish The Mall Played” helped inform and transform the nature of STORE to make use of the knowledge gained in the context of the classroom to embed and transform what surrounds us.
For their collaborative effort Hannah O’Sullivan and (maría)petra fortes-schramm’s “Untitled (Changing Room),” is installed as a kind of physical loophole staged to transform how we see the body we carry in our mind. By inducing a smoke-and-mirrors changing room O’Sullivan and fortes-schramm induce a space for mind-body dislocation with the hopes of realigning how we perceive ourselves. Finding your way into the reflective space of “self-reflection” shifts the usual underwhelming experience of the dressing room. Building on an earlier piece by O’Sullivan “Corpus Illustret” where there appears both joy and anxiety in hearing our own heartbeat and also the problematic nature of identification in fortes-schramm’s “White People” their current collaboration for SHIFT enacts a synthesis for both of the artists.
The final and most approachable collaboration in SHIFT is Allison Brook’s “Wish Bowl.” Here, as in her video, Brook is interested in active participation in reaching for what we want by supplying $10.00 worth of pennies for visitors of the exhibition to use when visiting the fountain not to far away. After all the pranks and jokes, the superficiality and self-consumption Brook reminds us to imagine and wish for the future we want.