Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Self-Satisfied with Utah Ties @ CUAC.

Anybody who finds Salt Lake City’s art scene soporific will find a welcome reprieve at Central Utah Art Center (abbreviated as CUAC, pronounced quack), where a small but feisty group of artists exhibit some much-needed pluck in the show Utah Ties. While the front gallery displays more conventional works grounded in graphic languages, works in the back gallery come alive with enough chutzpah to ruffle more than a few mission suits.

Maddison Colvin’s video ‘183rd Semiannual General Conference 01 (Apostles, Prophets) layers video footage of speakers from the Mormon ‘conference’, which brings thousands of faithful to congregate in downtown Salt Lake City twice a year. Sound and visual footage from the conference sermons are made near-transluscent, and superimposed onto one another, creating a highly layered effect. While one face dissolves into another, a visual consensus emerges. Absent of any racial, gender or generational diversity, they signify a patriarchal monoculture, as they dissolve into the same puppet-like mold. The result not only displays a cumulative side to tradition, but the monolithic and inflexible aspects of LDS church leadership. 

Emily Fox’s King Panties pins twenty-three pairs of women’s underwear directly onto the gallery wall. (Used but clean, we can only assume they come from Utah’s great emporium of objets trouvé, the Deseret Industries Thrift Store.) The display brings to mind Pipilotti Rists’ Massachusetts Chandalier yet the garments demonstrate a greater range in size, from the implausibly minute (think Barbie) - to fully-figured. As the display charts the arc of a woman’s expanding girth, the journey bridges juvenile fantasies of doll’s play to the vicissitudes of real anatomy in physical space.

More art world references are encountered in Tatiana Svrckova Larsen’s Ambit, which vertically stacks four television sets to depict the head, chest, hands and feet of an upright female subject. As such, memories of Nam June Paik are unavoidable. In the top screen, a head (in profile) dribbles an ambiguous white substance from her mouth, bringing to mind Bruce Nauman’s iconic Fountain. Curving around her chin, the fluid continues its vertical path into the screen below. Glowing and white, the liquid glows against a darkened background, flowing down into the next screen, where it passes the subject’s chest. Arriving in the next monitor, it collects in cupped hands, where it overflows into the final screen (bottom level) where it splashes onto the floor and pools in the sandy ground. Here the fate of the glistening fluid, be it cowsmilk, semen or paint, evokes the biblical parable of spilling one’s seed, or seed falling on stony ground. Moreover, all four videos are looped, giving the impression of a continuous flow from top to bottom. As such, the effect oscillates between a commonplace garden feature and the circuity of Duchamp’s Fountain.

Bodily fluids also intersect with technology in Alexandra Reintjes performative installation ‘Sex Video’ which is experienced on a hand-held iPod and earphones. Here, the subject is located at the center of a small, cube-shaped room and (we assume) positioned on a fixed but spinning dolly. Equipped with both a film projector and video recorder, the viewer’s position becomes synonymous with that of the subject’s. As the dizzy rotation spins out of control, images of modernist building facades (ubiquitous in Salt Lake City) are projected onto the walls. The technological intensity of the arrangement is mediated by the gentle panting of a female onanist, whose murmurs both activate and disarm the architectural spectacle. A myriad of associations abound, from early structuralist film (think Michael Snow), to Rebecca Horn’s sadomasochistic performances and Vito Acconci’s Seedbed. We are also reminded of Ballardian aesthetics, as the erotic machine whirls into oblivion.

In a similar vein, Alex Stevens’ Everytime You Wish You Were Never Born Part 2 features an industrial garbage bin, once full with bread dough derived from the artist’s family bakery. Teeming with yeast, the dough has expanded and exploded over the edge of the bin into an excess of chthon, only to harden into a leathery, solid crust. Underneath the bin, recordings of music hits dating from 1986 repeat on a loop, referencing the year of the artist’s birth. This biographical signpost posits the doughy explosion not as a gastronomic catastrophe but as a giant, male ejaculation.

While the maturity of these works merits its own commendation, the significance of their existence in the Beehive State cannot be underestimated. Contemporary Art faces a plethora of challenges in Salt Lake City, not least of which is a hegemonic propoganda machine which discourages artistic and intellectual tenacity while advancing values of conformity and submission. The works in Utah Ties exist not because of local culture, but in spite of it. As such, they meet these challenges head-on, demonstrating a willingness to experiment, an openness to new media, an engagement with art world tropes and above all, a much needed sense of humor.
Curated by Adam Gildar. 
March 21, 2014 to April 11th, 2014 at Central Utah Art Center (CUAC) in Salt Lake City, UT.

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