Posts tagged ‘Karen Enters’

Well, excuuuuse me! “Bad Manners” at the Museum

Marilyn Lysohir’s “Bad Manners,” 1983.

Bad manners? I asked myself. The name of the work, which is part of the ASU Art Museum’s newest exhibition Bad Manners and selections from the ASU Art Museum collection, clearly struck me as more of a question than a first impression. Walking into the gallery and still too far away to read the accompanying text panel, I was bewildered. The work, a ceramic installation piece by artist Marilyn Lysohir, initially appears to be anything but “Bad Manners.”

Far from crass or revolting, as the name might imply, the installation is intricate, even delicate. The complexity of its construction is a thing of awe. At the very center of the gallery, so that everything, even the viewer, must revolve around them, sit four life-sized ceramic figures. Two men and two women are dining at an elegant table complete with tablecloth and decorative candelabrum. They lack heads but are pristinely dressed. The men wear slacks, ties and sports coats. The women are presented as elegant and proper in garments buttoning primly all the way up their necks and along their wrists.

     

The table itself is another wonder. Somehow not bowing under the weight, it is laden, if not overflowing, with a plethora of exquisite, glossy ceramic food. A whole roast chicken, a vibrant red berry tart, spaghetti and several elaborately decorated cakes stand out among a vast array of other dishes. Far from the sloppy connotations of “bad manners,” each individual piece is beautifully crafted. Beyond that the tender, painstaking care required to assemble such a detailed, complex installation is striking. “Bad Manners” seems like a misnomer.

However, up close and upon inspection, my first impression was proven very wrong as the distant appearance of elegance disintegrated. These aren’t mere headless figures. Looking under the table, the true extent of their inhumanity becomes apparent. The men seem ordinary, disguised by their slacks, but in the space between the women’s hemlines and fashionable pumps there is nothing but air. Then it dawns on you (or at least me): These aren’t figures at all; they are hollow, empty suits of clothing. A second inspection of the table reveals more incongruences disgusting in a scene so falsely elegant. A deviled egg sits atop an artfully decorated chocolate cake. There is a slice of pizza in the salad. Corn on the cob is haphazardly placed on a bowl of spaghetti and a hot dog lounges insultingly on the elaborate frosting of another cake. With each newly noticed unfortunate detail a nascent sense of dismay and revulsion grows. As much as you might want to look away, the conscientious care of each individual ceramic piece and the installation’s assembly draws you in. The work becomes both terrible and exquisite as you stare in fascinated horror.

Bad Manners stands, a glossy stark polemic against our increasing consumerist society. The four empty suits of clothing symbolize mindless consumption: the overloaded table critiques gluttony and excess. Through this work, Lysohir cleverly poses the fundamental question of what is really necessary in life. We undeniably look at excess with envy when we desire the glamorous lifestyles afforded to successful actors and musicians. The excess awarded with fame and fortune is alluring. How else can we explain the (unfortunate) enduring popularity and never-ending string of participants appearing on shows like the X-Factor and American Idol? Normally the best we muster is negligible guilt when we are reminded that we throw food away while people in other regions of the world live without even clean water. Bad Manners doesn’t provoke any guilt; it instills a sense of sheer repugnance at the excess it presents. It awakens a lingering sense of shame exacerbated by the initial pleasantness of the scene as we see ourselves seated around that table. The longer we look, the more hollow the suits of clothing become. They will never receive any satisfaction from the feast laid out in front of them, and no amount of food could ever fill their empty forms.

Bad Manners is a sobering experience, but it delivers its blow with an odd compassion. As much as it revolts, shocks and shames us as we recognize our own greed, these same feelings reaffirm our humanity. It is our very ability to realize and feel such dismay that defines us as more than just hollow suits of clothing. We don’t need to be empty.

-Karen Enters
ASU Art Museum intern

Images courtesy of the artist.

Bad Manners and selections from the ASU Art Museum collection is on view at the ASU Art Museum through Sept. 1. More information here.

August 8, 2012 at 9:27 pm Leave a comment

A funny thing happened on the way to Diablo…

Above: Juan Downey: The Invisible Architect at the ASU Art Museum. Photo by Craig Smith. 

I was taking a quick break, heading up to the third floor to visit the infamous Diablo, when this thought occurred to me. The first floor gallery of Downey’s work is a segue to the second floor gallery of Downey’s work.

Now, bear with me here, I’m definitely not claiming you can’t appreciate one without witnessing the other, but it’s enjoying the individual parts instead of the whole. The move from the first floor gallery to the second floor gallery is like taking a step forward in time. It’s a transition, an evolution really, from Downey’s earlier experiments in performance art to his work as a pioneer video artist.

While the gallery on the first floor contained mostly drawings, sketches, and diagrams, the second floor, containing Video Trans Americas, is a multi-media mash-up of video and drawing. TVs are arranged in pairs across the floor while Downey’s art, again only graphite and pencil on paper, is displayed on the walls. As I walk around the gallery, each set of TVs stares like a pair of tireless eyes, watching you while you watch them.  The monitors flash images, snapshots of Downey’s journey. For several minutes the landscape rolls by, shaky and unstable, sometimes seen from the window of a car, sometimes from the side view mirror. A woman sews, pulling thread and needle through a piece of fabric with painstaking effort. Children play soccer in the street while protesters march across yet another screen, vehemently waving signs and banners.

Regardless of changes in media, the themes remain the same. Far from arbitrary, every detail plays some part in Downey’s grand design. I feel like Downey wants to trick us, the viewers, into letting our existing assumptions about what must be complex (technology) mislead us. Without reflection we focus upon the TVs and miss the finer points of Downey’s saga. I mean, in the presence of several sets of TVs playing different videos, who would think to look at the floor? However, the TVs only make sense once you do. What initially appear to be squiggly, winding lines of tape between televisions proves to be, upon inspection, a map: a map of North, South and Central America, the very region Downey travelled through while filming Video Trans Americas. The movie clips too, taken singly, out of sequence, out of context, seem disjointed and confusing. However these are not individual videos, but segments of a whole. Dispersed over the map sketched on the gallery floor, they are the text and the illustrations to the tale of Downey’s travels.

Think that’s all? Just a deconstructed video exhibition? Where’s the fun, the whimsy otherwise found contrasting the depth of Downey’s work? On the wall, directly to the right of the gallery’s entrance, Downey plays his trump card, and it isn’t even his work.

While filming Video Trans America, Downey and his family spent nine months living with the Yanomami in the Amazon. This bright, vibrant, color-pencil art is theirs. One day, after they had spent a significant of time watching him meditate and draw, Downey gave the Yanomami colored pencils and paper. And they drew, without any prior coaching or instructions. Now, this might just be me, but I honestly can’t think of a greater and more profound contrast. Especially because one of these drawings depicts an airplane flying over two brightly color structures with a rainbow in the background.

Where did the inspiration for that even come from? There is, in my mind, an almost unfathomable distance between a video anthropology discussing invisible energies, political discourse and the Latin American identity on the one hand and the color-pencil drawings of an indigenous Amazonian tribe on the other. But for all its magnitude, this unfathomable distance does not invalidate that both Video Trans Americas and the Yanomami drawings are not only culturally significant, but also art.

Actually, I’m honestly so flabbergasted right now that I’ve run out of words. So, while I’m sorry if I’m disappointing anyone, that’s really all I have for now. I can promise more to come though; I owe that much to Diablo. Due to my preoccupation with the second floor gallery, I never even got around to visiting him. So look out for blog post three, where Diablo will get the spotlight!

Karen Enters, PR Intern

November 22, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Experiments with robots, machines and conditions: Juan Downey’s Invisible Architect

Last week at work, I had to find and compile images (and the necessary credit lines, of course) for an online slideshow presenting some of the works of Juan Downey. The cool part? Once I was done, I got to go look at the works in person.

In case it wasn’t already obvious, I work at the ASU Art Museum, which is currently exhibiting Juan Downey: The Invisible Architect, the first U.S. museum survey of Chilean artist Juan Downey’s work. There are three whole galleries worth of his work here, one on each floor, but unfortunately I only had time to properly appreciate two.

Now, I might not be someone exactly qualified to comment on art (I’m a marketing and economics major, very boring), but Downey’s work is awesome. The gallery on the first floor contained some of Downey’s more technical pieces, sketches and drafts of his experiments in performance art examining the interactions between man and machine. I was amazed by the depth of the contrast.  Downey documents his inquiries into invisible energies existing in human-machine communication in the crisp, precise detail of an architect’s draft, but done with such simple mediums, color pencil and graphite.

Downey’s projects are complex investigations and experiments with robots, machines, and conditions. Yet, such seemingly intricate, technical undertakings are juxtaposed against the simple, even humble, but loving detail he used to document them. His sketches, as I mentioned, are done on paper with pencil, and while devoid of much color and punctuated with Downey’s scribbles and annotations, still retain a perfect feel and respect for space and position, nothing random, everything with a purpose.

Three pieces by Juan Downey: "Inside the Robot," "Follows People and..." and "...and Breathes Stuffy Air on Them," all 1970, all colored pencil and graphite on paper, all courtesy of Marilys B. Downey.

While interactions between man and machine and invisible energies seem as though they could easily be boring, high-brow and scientific, they’re not. Downey’s innovative sense of whimsy avoids anything detached and pretentious. My personal favorite is Downey’s transcription of Pollution Robot, decomposed into three pieces: Inside the Robot, Follows People And….., And Breathes Stuffy Air On Them.

If the names of the works are amusing, then Downey’s performance of Pollution Robot must have been even more so. In Pollution Robot, Downey hid himself within a robot box, followed people, and breathed stuffy air on them. I loved it, the lack of pretention in the names and the act, that Downey himself was in the robot following people, and the fact that in the robot, Downey’s main purpose was, rather than anything else one could imagine, to follow people and breathe stuffy air on them. It makes the complexity of the themes explored in Downey’s performance accessible and entertaining.

Unfortunately, I am now out of time and space, and I didn’t even get to mention the exhibition in the second gallery featuring some of Downey’s more traditional (but still far from it) art. But hopefully, that’s another story for another day, or another blog post for another day at work.

Karen Enters, PR and Marketing Intern

October 13, 2011 at 9:00 pm


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