Anodyne
Friday, April 08, 2005
 
Not Christopher Williams

Brochure text for my friend Chris Williams' exhibition at Xeno Gallery across the street. Not the LA-based conceptual artist of the same name, though frequently mistaken for him.

Chris Williams In & Outside The Studio
by Christopher Brayshaw
(AM radio edit)

I first met Chris Williams when I moved into Mount Pleasant in June 2000. A year or two later I saw an exhibition of his paintings at Cuppa Joe's 4th Avenue store, deep in Kitsilano's dark heart. I recall their striking figurative content (guns, fetish & goth culture) and their flat "graphic" look; though painted, their designs would have worked just as well as silkscreens or lithographs. Last year for the East Side Culture Crawl there were some more paintings (guns; a naked man's prostrate silhouette; collaged newspaper headlines concerning the US-lead invasion of Iraq) and an accomplished pencil drawing of the historic Lee Building, home of the artist's apartment.

The drawing was more detailed and more thoughtfully developed than the paintings; Chris' personality shone through what basically amounted to a tongue-in-cheek self-portrait. I remember telling him at the time how much I liked it, and that I hoped he would continue to develop his work in this straight forward autobiographical way, a hope definitely fulfilled by his new exhibition at Xeno.

Williams found Xeno Gallery's tiny hallway divided in half by the gallery's previous occupant, the artist Lisa Prentice. In one room he has recreated his home office with its desk, task chair, computer keyboard and monitor, whose screensaver presents an informal snapshot slideshow of Williams, his partner, and their extended community of friends. Scattered around the desk and computer are bills (student loan collection documents; a cable bill), dental x-rays promising painful and expensive surgery to come, a pinboard covered in notes and exhibition announcements. a skateboard, and, on the afternoon I visited, Williams' jacket, slung casually over the chair.

A door divides the 'office' from an improvised 'studio' space in the rear, where, on opening night, Williams will be painting, and where, for the rest of the exhibition, some of his finished pictures will be placed in storage, while more recent works, including some still in progress, will be hung or propped against the wall.

The Xeno installation elegantly and humorously defines the quandary of any young artist who was not able to develop a commercially viable practice during their time at school. It's easy to find the time for art while still a student, and less so after graduation, when adult life's demands relentlessly bear down, focusing your attention not on aesthetics, but on economic survival. The insultingly neutral language of the student loan collection notice or the service fee on the cable bill are tools designed to redirect your attention from economically unproductive pursuits – skateboarding, playing music, socializing with friends or painting – to a sustained (and, needless to say, subservient) engagement with capitalism's machinery.

Williams' installation acknowledges that one's identity as an artist is often subsumed to the more immediate demands of other roles: friend, lover, professional coffee roaster. Often, the identity of artist is reserved for nights and weekends, or relegated to the solitude of the messy studio, where the door is always closed, blocking out bosses' demands and creditors' calls and enabling you to focus, however briefly, on "aesthetic issues." Some artists come to treasure the quiet space of the studio so much that they permanently retreat into "art for art's sake" and excursions into fantasy realms that serve as a thin veneer of solace over the frequently difficult and painful world outside.

Williams does not choose this route. His studio door is always open. The paintings and the student loan documents are separated by a hair's breath, just far enough apart for each to accentuate the other. The office/gallery dichotomy proposes a life that is not always easy – no shortage of problems in art or in the world outside! – but one that is ultimately navigatable with the care and humor that Chris Williams brings to both sides of his art practice.
Thursday, April 07, 2005
 
Rockin' out with Mr. Jonathan Richman and seasonal affective disorder in the rain:

Love Me Like I Love

la la dum da da da lum
la la la da dum dum da dum ah oh ah oh
I want people to love me like I can love
want people to love me like I love

I want to open up my lunch box
and find a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in there
just like when I was 6 years old and someone loved me
oh loved me oh loved me like I love

bum bum bum
da da dum dum da da dum dum
la la la, la da da da , da da, da dum

all right
love me like I love
love me like I love
well now when I was 6 years old I never dreamed
I would grow up to feel lonely, to feel lonely
oh love me like I love

bum bum bum
da da dum dum da da dum dum
la la la, dun da dun da da da, da da da da he
da da dum dum da da dum dum
la la la, dun da dun yeah oh yeah

love me like I love
i said love me like I love
well now when I was 6 years old I never dreamed
I would grow up to feel isolated, isolated no
love me like I love

da da dum dum da da dum dum
la la la, dun da dun da dum da da dum
dum da da da
da da dum dum la la dum dum
la da dadun, dun da da dun la da

all right
I said love me like I love
love me like I love
yeah
yeah love me like the way I can love
when I was 6 years old I didn't dream
that I'd grow up to feel all isolated, no
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
 

Thirteen Paragraphs and A Footnote On Adam Harrison's 365 Sketches
(extended remix version)
by Christopher Brayshaw

1. "In the presence of extraordinary reality, consciousness takes the place of imagination." (Wallace Stevens, Opus Posthumous)

2. In January 2005 Adam Harrison was still my editor at Terminal City, and we were in touch by phone or email several times a week. An artist embarking an ambitious, year-long project could reasonably be expected to tip a sympathetic friend off, but I had to find out about the 365 Sketches on the web, of all places, and from a fellow critic. Peter Culley spilled the beans in his blog mid-month, and I, along with many other curious readers, patiently waited for http://aharrison.com to load up. Then what? On the day I arrived, an image of a young man in navy blue swim trunks perched on the edge of a hot tub, water boiling around his knees. Puzzled by the picture's informality and intimate air – who did Adam think he was, Wolfgang Tillmans? -- I clicked back and forth, bringing up (in no particular order): a faucet leaking into a heavily rimed sink, a broken light bulb, an electrical cord tangled across a terracotta patio, a heaped-up pile of dirty snow, and a few others. Forward and back again. Foam patterns in the still water along a fountain's edge. Dead, drooping flowers, their orange petals almost indistinguishable on my poorly color-calibrated browser from the cardboard box containing them. Forward and back a third time. The snow again. The light bulb with its fine patina of grey dust and its snapped black wire, encased in a clear glass bubble. The faucet, a drop suspended from its tip like the tear on a seagull's nose, ready to fall.

3. The word "sketch" implies that any artwork so designated comes before, and is thus less fully finished than, the work it serves as a plan or model for. "Sketch" applies equally well to drawn or painted works, although, with regard to Harrison's project, the historical precedent that seems most relevant is the painted oil sketches of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century artists working out of doors. Quickly painted in order to represent atmospheric effects or the complex play of quickly changing light, these plein-air sketches were not treated by their creators as independent works of art, but were considered technical exercises meant to test and sharpen their skills, and often preserved for later consultation and analysis in the studio.

4. In his groundbreaking study, Before Photography, Peter Galassi argues that the plein-air sketch formed "a loophole in the traditional artistic practice, which allowed a generally unacknowledged but formidable shift in artistic values to develop. Thus, although lacking the status of high art and rarely receiving full artistic attention, the landscape sketch - particularly the landscape sketch in oil - became around 1800 the primary vehicle of a tentative but profoundly original sense of pictorial order, based on a heretical concern for the visual aspect of the most humble things." According to Galassi, such sketches present "a new and fundamentally modern pictorial syntax of immediate, synoptic perceptions and discontinuous, unexpected forms. It is the syntax of an art devoted to the singular and contingent rather than the universal and stable. It is also the syntax of photography." In other words, a new way of seeing and depicting nature, already present in the plein-air sketch, made photography thinkable.

5. Photography's inherent technical inability to deploy what Galassi calls the synthetic option of perspective (seen, for example, in the work of painters like Uccello or Piero, in whose images the "visual pyramid" – comprising the point of view and a delimiting frame – is first established, creating a "static neutral container" in which to organize the remaining elements of a picture) led photography inexorably toward the "analytical option" of perspective, in which "the world is accepted first as an uninterrupted field of potential pictures. From his chosen point of view, the artist scans this field with the pyramid of vision, framing his picture by choosing where and when to stop." The important difference between the synthetic option's deployment in photography and painting is, of course, that the sketch paintings of artists like Manet, Corot, or Degas were conceived of, quoting Galassi, "through long experiment and only gradually acquired a dominant role. In photography, the camera's inability to compose rendered the old standards nearly obsolete from the outset." Galassi does not investigate the kinds of depiction that are photography's proper business, perhaps believing that this task is better left to photographers. Harrison's sketch photographs take up this project, systematically using photography to interrogate the medium's own representational legitimacy, a task I conceive of, based on my reading of writers like Clement Greenberg, Thierry de Duve, and Jeff Wall, as fundamental to artistic modernism.

6. By making and displaying photographs at the rate of one per day, every day, for a year, Harrison seeks answers to questions almost Zen-like in their simplicity. What kind of depiction is a photograph? What are its representational limitations, if any? And to what extent can these limiting conditions be pushed back, altered, or disposed of? Each new photograph is a partial answer to these questions, partial by necessity of being a sketch and therefore, by definition, "giving the essential features without the details" (Random House Unabridged Dictionary). Harrison's project is a matrix of possible answers, with each daily image representing one or more data points. Do three months' worth of data points cluster, providing anything more substantial than provisional conclusions? For me, they provide three kinds of answers, structural ones, thematic ones, and ethical ones, which I will now discuss in turn.

7. By structural I mean basic questions of form. To date, all of Harrison's sketch photographs are "straight" pictures, made with available light and a lens. This seems self-evident, but isn't necessarily so. This is one way to make photographs, but it is by no means the only way; it excludes, for example, lensless photography (Moholy-Nagy's photograms, or Corot's cliché-verres), photomontage (John Heartfield; Hannah Hoch), or appropriation and rephotography (Sherrie Levine or Richard Prince). Harrison's methodology even excludes, for the time being, images which are not in color. Even though some of Harrison's images appear to be borderline cases (I am thinking of Grey Picture (Cloud Study) and Hole From a Camera Obscura), they still obey the rules of the representation-of-things game. Grey Picture really depicts mist, and Hole From a Camera Obscura depicts the tiny hole Harrison presumably used to make the following day's Image From a Camera Obscura. In this way, Harrison challenges the way in which we approach objects, showing us that, sometimes, a faithful visual representation of a thing will not at first appear to be that thing (So, looking back at Boy in Hot Tub, which initially puzzled me, I now see how the slats of sunlight falling across the boy's shoulder are made visible by the hot tub's otherwise invisible steam).

8. The rules that appear to govern Harrison's sketch photographs to date in no way preclude lensless photography, photomontage, appropriative or rephotography, or black and white photography from appearing in his project in the future. It is, after all, photography's nature to depict things. A Moholy-Nagy photogram is a depiction of gears and cogs; a Corot cliché-verre is a depiction of a network of lines drawn with a sharp instrument on an emulsion-coated plate; and a Richard Prince cowboy is a depiction of a magazine ad detail. All three of these examples partially conceal the representations that comprise them; though they pretend to dispense with representation all together, that dispensation actually signifies representation's complex reinscription. Harrison has so far eschewed such conceptual slights-of-hand, perhaps because for him it is simpler to believe that depiction is so intrinsic to photography that it is not necessary to move beyond it, just as the flatness of a support was, for Greenberg, a basic limiting condition of easel painting.

9. Certain sketch photographs are related to each other – Fountain and Drained Fountain, for example, or Man Stirring Latte and Printing 'Man Stirring Latte,' January 13. These pictures play off of each other; they indicate that no image is ever meant to be seen in isolation. Things change over time, and photography is capable of capturing physical changes (a full fountain; the same fountain, drained) as well as ontological ones (a representation of an event; a representation of that representation). Photography is a neutral container, a Dairyland crate of a medium that can hold 2 percent milk, or buttermilk, or records, or used paperback books. For Harrison, this is not a "problem," just information.

10. Each sketch photograph represents of a thing or a situation. Some images refer to specific photographic genres, or to artists informing Harrison's choice of subjects and compositional decisions (late Manet, for example, in Flowers on Coffee Table or Tulip Stems' deliberate, knowing quotation of the Bunch of Asparagus, even down to the tie binding the stems; or Stephen Waddell's studies of urban strangers (Man Sketching On The Sidewalk; On A Sidewalk; In An Alley)). Finally, some sketches depict photographers taking pictures (Self Portrait in a Booth Designed by Matthius Bouw; A Photographer on the Ground) or people sketching by hand (Man Sketching again!), a process which, following Galassi, laid the conceptual groundwork for the medium Harrison employs to reflect upon that process from outside.

10a. Harrison's reflections on the historical roots of the sketch form enable us to see that previous theorists of the sketch, unable to conceive of its incorporation into and transformation as photography, were wrong to conceive of it as singular. A pencil or oil sketch is a unique work, but a cliché-verre sketch or a sketch photograph is not, particularly in the case of photographs like Harrison's, which first exist as digital files, simultaneously accessible to anyone with a browser and an Internet connection, and only then as editioned prints, objects which, though presented in a gallery and destined for private display, are still subordinate to the larger project and point back at it like extended fingers.

12. The medium of photography is a gift handed down to Harrison by history the first time he ever picked up a camera. So I come to my final point, ethics. There are no preconditions on Harrison's use of photography other than those his project will turn up or uncover, and no judgments harsher than the ones Harrison will make privately, in the company of what critic Robert Hughes calls the "unwearying tribunal of the dead": those artists whose works shape and guide Harrison's production even as his works, in turn, re-read and re-interpret theirs. So: modernism again, a historical condition I do not believe it is always necessary or worthwhile to transcend.

13. Under these circumstances, the Wallace Stevens injunction I began with acquires a special meaning. If the basic conventions of Western art production and receivership are, in a sense, fixed in place, then the only thing that can save a project like Harrison's from falling into conceptual repetition and, eventually, into mannerism, is the consciousness of the individual photographer, his perception of and uninflected presentation of the "extraordinary reality" of the everyday, a reality that Adam Harrison's extraordinary sketch photographs limn and make visible. Posted by Hello


 
For a while, I was trying to list and comment on every book I finished, which quickly proved overwhelming and futile. So here's a short list of every monograph-size book I've actually finished since mid-January, with particularly remarkable titles indicated in red.

Buffett, by Roger Lowenstein

Origins of the Crash, by Roger Lowenstein

Collected Essays, Letters & Journalism, v.1, by George Orwell

The Algebraist, by Iain Banks

Uncommon Places, by Stephen Shore

Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami

Oracle Night, by Paul Auster

The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron, by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind

Conceptual Art and the Politics of Publicity, by Alexander Alberro

Light, by M. John Harrison

Red Mars and Green Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson

In Nevada, by David Thomson

The Weather, by Lisa Robertson

October magazine, issue 110, all 150 pages of it, especially Claire Bishop's terrific "Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics."

The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson

But Beautiful, by Geoff Dyer

The Fabulous Clipjoint, by Fredric Brown

Books that defeated me between January and March include How to Write by Gertrude Stein, LA MOCA's Sam Durant catalog, and Adorno's Aesthetic Theory.

Currently reading (on alternating days): Chris Bonington's Annapurna South Face, Aime Tschiffely's Southern Cross to Pole Star (Century Travellers, now lamely retitled Tschiffely's Ride), and Benjamin Buchloh's Neo-Avantgarde and Culture Industry.
 
Grey Wednesday off.

Large americano and the New York Times.

2000 words of art criticism (Adam Harrison's 365 Sketches), in longhand, blue Bic stickpen on lined yellow newsprint pad, with brief excursions into Walter Benjamin ("A Little History of Photography"), Peter Galassi (Before Photography), Fred Orton (Figuring Jasper Johns, for a Johns sketchbook quote that turned out not to be there, but I didn't realize that until I'd skimmed the whole book), Paul Auster (Collected Prose, for a Wallace Stevens quote, which actually was there) and the Random House Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (limn, sketch).

Nap.

False Creek ferry to Granville Island.

Americano, and a maple iced ring from Lee's Donuts in the market, home of the best doughnuts in North America.

Retrieved an Ian Wallace photograph (limited edition: 11/25) from the Charles Scott Gallery at the art school. Lugged it home on the ferry.

Nap.

Walked to Book & Comic Emporium in search of the Century Travellers Series (Arrow Books, London, zillions of titles and terrific editorial taste. The Black Lizard Books of the travel world).

Bus to work.

2000 words of art criticism revision + typing it all into the frequently crashing office computer + computer rebooting + helping John run the till.

(I realize how much this sounds like a Doug Coupland-esque caricature of a hard day's work on the West Coast, but that's actually how this warm grey Wednesday went down. Just the facts, ma'am).
 
Mitch Hedberg, in memoriam:

"I was in downtown Boise, Idaho, and I saw a duck, and I knew the duck was lost, 'cause ducks ain't s'posed to be downtown. There's nothin' for 'em there. So I went to a Subway sandwich shop, I said, "Let me have a bun." But she wouldn't sell me just the bun, she said that I had to have something on it. She told me it's against regulations for Subway to sell just the bun. I guess the two halves ain't supposed to touch. So I said, "Alright, well, put some lettuce on it," which she did. She said, "That'll be $1.75." I said, "It's for a duck." And they said, "All right, well, that is free." See, I did not know that. Ducks eat for free at Subway! Had I known that, I would have ordered a much larger sandwich. "Let me have the Steak Fajita Sub - but don't bother ringing it up, it's for a duck! There are six ducks out there, and they all want Sun Chips!"
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
 

That little yellow guy gets around! Untitled (Balloon), cheerfully pilfered from my friend Evan Lee's excellent website. UBC art historian William Wood, Mosses From An Old Manse's Pete Culley and I are all busy writing essays on Evan's photographs for his upcoming "career retrospective" at North Vancouver's Presentation House Gallery this fall. (Yet another excuse for all the cut-'n-paste that repeatedly passes for "fresh content" here at Anodyne). Posted by Hello
 

Nice to know I'm not the only one to take stuffed friends mountaineering (photo credit: clubtread.com regular jimbo) Posted by Hello
Monday, April 04, 2005
 
tcj.com message board regular Robert Cook waxes unexpectedly lyrical:

"Where's your punk ethic, brah?! Get a lettering stencil and a fabric marker and make your own t-shirt, speak truth to power, baby!!"
 
Netdisaster.com -- inflict damage on your least-favorite websites, with or without sound effects. Just launched "Mars Attacks" on indigo.ca.
 

Tintin's shark submarine comes to life, courtesy a Cousteau grandchild (thx dru). Posted by Hello

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