September 13, 2012 – October 20, 2012
By Eva Piatek
“Millions of people live in a world where they expect the luxuries which were previously only offered to the few. At the same time millions of others around the world struggle daily to create the platform that holds the fake luxury world together. Meanwhile the small elite who are genuinely rich and powerful float off into the distance in their own boat – and kick anyone off who dares to call it a cruise.
Our leaders tell us that we are all in the same boat.
But what will happen if our boat sinks? Will those same leaders be among the first to jump in the lifeboat and speed off into the dark telling us they have gone to get help?” – Adam Curtis
After a two-month hiatus, Rebekah Templeton Gallery opened its doors this September with Dropouts, a solo exhibition by Dan Schank featuring assemblages of cut-paper, pencil drawings, and gouache collaged onto panel. Combining imagery from utopian architectural models with post-apocalyptic landscapes, these works depict scenes of dilapidated cruise ships and broken fantasies of sea colonization in ways that are complex both stylistically and conceptually. Inspired by Adam Curtis’s essay on Knut Kloster’s ideological visions for the cruise ship industry and its potential to introduce affluent communities to the third world, Schank wanted to research any notions related to utopias-at-sea. His investigations led him to a libertarian organization that calls itself the Seasteading Institute, which aims to construct inhabitable islands offshore in order to escape the confines of government regulation. Calling these projects “hippie communes” that foster hedonistic self-interest rather than social justice, Schank explains that he sought to create a body of work addressing mankind’s tendency to drop out of society and become “an island unto itself” when we are no longer able to regard social relations as distinct from market relations.
Flags and other remnants of a conquered civilization populate Schank’s works, yet they are devoid of people, almost as if they were once present but later decided to drop out of the canvas. Most of the pieces, like Ride Lonesome and Anything Goes, feature empty lawn chairs that are emblematic of an escapism that permits ignorance and languid indulgences. Such imagery also acts as a sign through which absence signifies presence: either people have once lived in these hedonistic wastelands, or they still inhabit these spaces even though we do not see them.
The point here is not to tell a personal narrative, but to render a universe, which is another reason why Schank omits people from his works. These are ideological ruins where utopia turns into dystopia, as the romance of life on the ocean is not all it’s cracked up to be. Looking at Schank’s work up close, I found myself scanning the intricate patterns: some precisely drawn with a pencil while others are cut from scraps of paper. The differences in media create juxtapositions of color that reappear in each work. Grays and blacks coexist with tonal variations in one or two colors that prevent these scenes from appearing entirely dreary. The pinks and purples of Emergency Exit and Anything Goes, for example, add a touch of fantasy and hope that attracts rather than repels, allowing the viewer to see the potential for transformation that suggests a need to address our own societal ruin.
Oppositions are bountiful in Schank’s work, for example between the rigidity of architectural structures and the softness of his materials, with decorative patterns generally found on blankets and clothing. The floral and plaid scraps of paper used to “build” the depicted structures evoke a sense of comfort and nostalgia that contrasts with these otherworldly ships and buildings. Even the gouache skies seesaw between soft and hard, as they can resemble either clouds or military camouflage. Such juxtapositions warn against the danger of post-apocalyptic worlds created by our own neglect while simultaneously suggesting that there are things worth salvaging in our current societies, including our visions of a better world. If we can hold on to such visions and begin to act on them, perhaps we will be one step closer to being in the same boat.
Born, raised, and still here in Philadelphia, Eva Piatek is a jack of all trades but is currently pursuing her MA in Art History at Tyler School of Art. She enjoys dabbling in the city’s art scene, has had a few curatorial gigs here and there, and hopes to maybe open her own gallery someday.