By Mimi Cheng
through April 25
Nestled inside a non-descript academic building on the pristine campus of Delaware County Community College in suburban Philadelphia, curator Randy Gilmore has assembled a show that may well be a core sample of contemporary artistic practice. Even though the gallery is located outside of the city’s cultural epicenter, the show is closely attuned to its beat. With works by artists such as Vishal Jugdeo, Miljohn Ruperto, and Oliver Herring, Fragmented Realities is both visually generous and conceptually rigorous, challenging visitors to examine their own processes of interpretation.
Amanda Ross-Ho contributed two works called Untitled Still Life (I STILL HATE MONDAYS) and Untitled Still Life (I HATE THURSDAYS). They consist of two large, framed compositions comprised of laser prints, single earrings, thumbtacks, and map tacks on sheetrock. Some drips of paint, staples, and handwritten notations can be seen here and there.
Two possibilities present themselves: are the works artificial constructions of artistic ephemera, or are they actual slices of the artist’s studio wall? There exists the question of authenticity, or realness, as suggested by the exhibition title. The action of creating these untitled still lifes, of cutting, pinning, writing, and stapling could be viewed as singular artistic gestures. If approached in this sense, then the difference between authenticity and construction, original and duplicate, is whittled away. What is on the wall becomes a documentation of performance and residue of creative production.
Michael Williams’s drawings can be considered in parallel. Though he works primarily as a painter, eight of his small mixed media drawings and collages are included in the show. They are irreverent and sometimes silly, eliciting hesitant giggles. “Drawings”, he says, “almost always come before painting…with drawing, [there is] the ability to just toss the paper away if it doesn’t work out, allows the freedom to do anything and to do things without commitment, flippantly, by giving into whatever urge.”
Oliver Herring’s Areas for Action video and Daniel Wiener’s colorful Apoxie Sculpt sculptures, while quite different in form, share a similar sensibility. Both artists collapse distinctions between concept and medium: Herring documents his exhibition concept of time-based sculptures with live performers spitting, posing, and improvising actions, while Wiener’s sculptures retain a certain material intuitiveness and organic spontaneity.
There are also works in the show that skew familiar signs by distorting the narrative. Miljohn Ruperto, for example, created a seamless edit of a Youtube video by user sdlarcgirl, after whom the piece is named. The original footage was recorded at a Trinere concert, but after removing the audio, audience, stage, lights, and all other material references, we are left with a frenetic, anonymous image. In this instance, the familiar aesthetic of a camera’s free gaze is disrupted by the absence of material spectacle. Like a looping GIF, the piece is mesmerizing in its perpetual motion.
Vishal Jugdeo’s The Thing That Precedes The You is a film in which two performers engage in dialog in various settings throughout Los Angeles. While the piece can certainly be read as a movie, the components do not fit together to form a narrative. The dialog between characters has the familiar cadence and tone of a conversation, yet the words, phrases, and sentences are singular expressions of artistic angst, philosophical musings, and existential doubt:
“…are you from around here, or are you a stranger?”
“I’m just passing through. You can’t expect much from people who haven’t been forced into empathy.”
In an interview with the exhibition’s curator, Jugdeo says, “I’m interested in how one might exist in relation to [the work], to absorb the totality of its energies like a piece of music. When people encounter art that isn’t abstract on its surface, they often attempt to read it like text, and yet I’m interested in how the work holds together as a kind of composition. I want for people to be engaged, irked, or affected by how the thing exists, rather than by what it means.”
In a similar way, Eric Laska’s The Long Cable has multiple forms of existence. As an artist working primarily with sound, The Long Cable is a tangible manifestation of his continued investigations into the medium’s materiality. Formally, it is 500 feet of microphone cable that lies silently in a pile on the gallery floor. Within the gallery context, it is a static sculpture. As a functional object, it is a both a physical transport as well as a container for the non-corporeal phenomenon we experience as sound. But at 500 feet, it is much too long to be experienced in one perceptual frame, thus compromising its utilitarian existence.
Fragmented Realities was inspired by the work of French intellectual Maurice Blanchot. In his theorizations on literature, he differentiates between literature and the words we use in our regular, day-to-day conversation by offering the possibility that literature exists outside of the sphere of interpretation, while simultaneously drawing us into the process of interpreting it. If approached with this understanding, then we can accept that there is no singular way with which to interpret the work produced by these idiosyncratic artists, leaving only an open array of possibility.
Mimi Cheng received her BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2011. She lives and works in Philadelphia.