Conrad Atkinson: Collaborations
Todd Siler: A.R.T. Strings

by Don Goddard


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Sculpture Installation
Todd Siler.
Installation of sculpture.
Photo: Emily Poole
Courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York
It is necessary to reduce the phenomena of the world, to picture them, in order to apprehend them, a process that most literally and latterly characterizes our construction of religions. Whether the process is automatic or not is impossible to know. It seems likely that there are assigned (learned) values that cannot be disentangled from things themselves at the beginning of any given perception. Any picture, or product of the human brain-body, most intentionally a visual or other work of art, a scientific or philosophical proposition, is full of cross-generational urgencies, from place and time, id, ego, and superego. There would be no life if its profusion were self-canceling, because meaning imbues everything, every axis of complexity; it cannot be avoided.

All meanings are hidden, in the image, in the language, in the equation, no matter how obvious and open they may appear to be. And so we examine those things for meaning, however decorous they may appear to be (though the décor has a way of stopping us). The photo aluminum sculptures Todd Siler put up in the center of the gallery, dated 1975-2004, are clustered like a forest of obelisks--a cemetery--that constantly get in our way and convey changing meanings as we move through and around them. They twist and turn in space, like Brancusi's Bird in Space, revealing images distorted, at the edge, as we, moving through the world, and the universe, see them out of the corners of our eyes, and our brains. One place melds with another. On the back of a soaring fragment of Munch's The Scream is a tangential scene of Explosions of Infinite Dimensions. Behind the New York Stock Exchange is Nuclear Cooling Towers. Bound to Sweating Mosquito Life is The Deep Taproots of Global Terror. Different kinds of connective meanings--emotional, cosmic, political, biological--all made physical.

 

 

Seven Patterns Nature

 

 

Rethinking Aspects Small


Spotting Seven Patterns
Todd Siler.
Spotting Seven Patterns of Nature in One Pattern, 2000-2004
Photo: Alan Zindman
Courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York


On the surrounding walls is the context, mixed-media paintings on synthetic canvases of varying shapes, perhaps cut out of or pieced together from some larger context, from Believing 'Nothing is New Under the Sun,' or Seeing Everything Anew? to Releasing Our Powers on Unprecedented Scales. They could be states of mind--Grasping Synapses, Surging Anxieties--but they seem to have gone beyond that, into conditions held in common, and some, like the long earth-red Spotting Seven Patterns of Nature in One Pattern, appear to represent a form of geologic history, of striated rocks crushed together over aeons of time, with tiny photographs of landscapes caught within them like fossils. The photographs have a double identity, as image and reflection. They begin to orient us within the larger worlds of the specific paintings and their accumulated presence, and they also seem to be tangible, visible consequences of forces within the paintings, infinitesimal moments of stasis, landscapes or groups of people as beginning and end, cause and effect.

The events in this gallery room, having become and still becoming, are connected through our perception of them. Nothing is exactly amorphous. Though the obelisks and paintings are shapes on their way to formation, they have not arrived at final forms, any more than have we, their interlocutors. None of this mediation would happen without the light that (makes photography possible), reveals buildings, streams, a child on the beach, the night sky, underwater life, but it is the dark light of a canyon, or within the earth, or beyond it, and everything seems to move toward both darkness and the light within it simultaneously.


Rethinking Aspects Earth
Todd Siler.
Rethinking Aspects of Earth, 2000-2004
Photo: Alan Zindman
Courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York


Conrad Atkinson's light, on the other hand, is luminous, as it is in the work of the artists he engages: William Wordsworth, Vincent van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, and the light of their landscapes; Pablo Picasso and the bursting bombs he alludes to in Guernica. The path is better lit, but no less difficult or treacherous. And the nexus of viewer and art is quite similar; one is forced to recognize certain facts, ideas, and events revealed in a way that it is painful to avoid or deny them, rather than the other way around. Meanings normally concealed by our habit of viewing art as something apart from life are deliberately reclaimed. The collaborations are introduced by wall texts that describe Atkinson's connection to or meetings with the aforesaid artists (all of them dead) and their agreements to redo certain important works, all of this in rather vulgar terms that jolt them into the present.


Wordsworth Suit
Conrad Atkinson (b. 1940). Wordsworth Suit, 2003.
Red pinstripe Savile Row suit with metallic gold digitally produced embroidery, 60" x 24".

In the case of Wordsworth the collaboration, or in this case the adaptation, is with a countryman (both were born in West Cumbria, England) who was passionately concerned with nature, with ordinary human activity and speech, and with the politics and economics of his day. The main item is a red pinstripe suit embroidered in gold thread with images of insects and plants, touted as the very suit worn by Wordsworth when he and his sister Dorothy strolled by the field of daffodils about which he later wrote a poem. According to Atkinson's text ("Suit"), "The suit contained pollen from the English native wild daffodil Narcissus pseudo-narcissus," which is now threatened by genetically modified hybrids. How proudly he, or we, would wear such an encrusted suit, tailored in Savile Row, still hiding what has not quite disappeared in the pockets of our civilization. The suit is close to us; it might fit anyone, or no one.

Few Bits Guernica
Atkinson.
A Few Bits Like Guernica, 2004.
Inkjet printouts with watercolor of scars depicted in artworks in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Courtauld Institute with gray acrylic paint outline that corresponds to the actual size of the "Guernica" painting, 138" x 308".

Likewise, there is the Suit Worn by Manet Whilst Painting "A Bar at the Folies-Bergère" and Passed on to Van Gogh for his "Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear." The bloody ear from that self-portrait Atkinson has had embroidered several times in gold along with images of a wound on a sixth-century B.C. Greek vase by Euphronios. The ear has been unbandaged to emphasize the fact that Van Gogh actually did cut his ear off, and felt the pain, if one wants to look closely at the painting, despite the fact that he was wearing Manet's suit (or perhaps because of it), pointing out once again the oversensitivity of artists. A Few Bits Like Guernica then becomes a compendium of the wounds that have pervaded Western art since the beginning of the Renaissance, "inkjet printouts with watercolor of scars depicted in artworks in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Courtauld Institute," the wounds that Picasso left out. The huge rectangle within which these wounds appear is the exact size of Guernica, but obviously it is not big enough.

Donald Goddard © 2005


The exhibition was on view December 2-24 at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, 31 Mercer Street, New York, NY 10013.

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