opening reception, Sunday, May 1, 2016 from 3 to 6 pm
May 1, 2016 — June 24, 2016
curated by Arthur Bruso
Safe in their alabaster chambers.—Emily Dickinson
After death our bodies return to dust. Some believe that this dust, our physical remains, contains some essence of who we were. This is the concept behind holy relics, that some element of the piety and grace of the person still inhabits the remains after their spirit has transitioned. To touch, or even be in the presence of these relics, will cause this special emanation to benefit the person in proximity to them.
The Catholic Church was once rife with holy relics. During the Medieval era, the remains of a holy person, object, or even soil or stones from a holy site, were collected by cathedrals and churches in the hopes that the faithful would be drawn to pilgrimage there and find the miraculous. Relics were purported to have extraordinary powers, mostly the curing of sickness, but intervention in life matters and spiritual guidance was also sought.
Many church relics were preserved in special containers. Sometimes these were fashioned into the shape of the body part contained. The relic might even be incorporated into a full body recreation of the saint, then housed within an alter. These various reliquaries were often constructed of precious materials (or materials that imitated the precious) and ornately decorated. This gave the impression not only of the specialness of the contents, but it also removed the artifact from the contamination of negative forces. Gold and certain gems have been considered a repellent and purifier of evil because they emulate, magnify and reflect light.
With his latest work, Raymond E. Mingst has taken the concept of the reliquary and constructed containers and small altars to isolate his sculptural heads. In his words, “assigning value and meaning, and the potency with which we venerate certain objects.” Inspired during a power outage as a result of Hurricane Sandy, Mingst seized this “colonial moment” and began carving apples into heads. When the lights came back on, he continued with the medium, delighted by the changing personalities in the faces he created.
The impermanence of the apple created a quandary for Mingst: he could embrace the fugitiveness of the heads, or try other avenues to arrest the disintegration that was a given for the medium. Mingst travelled both paths. He mummified the heads with silica gel, coated some with wax and even had some cast in bronze. The containers he constructed were not only a safe place to secure the carvings, but also like the holy reliquary, a place for venerating what he had done. The containers are all black. Some are cruciform, recalling Malevich’s reductionist icon. They have a glass covered opening allowing a glimpse of the carving nestled inside. The heads in these boxes are the dried versions, looking shrunken and very much like mummified flesh. Their isolation and presentation elevates them to a cult object.
Mingst’s wax covered heads with the features more general and homogenized are reminiscent of Medardo Rosso’s work. Mingst has placed these sculptures on small altars he has constructed out of glass and black painted wood. They hover, almost magically as if in space, as devotional offerings.
The apple heads cast in bronze, take on a dignity and monumentality that complement the medium. They project at once the temporal and the eternal, having captured the textural quality of the desiccated apple, while showing the eternal quality of the metal. There is something playful of Matisse crossed with the dignity of presence of the heads of Easter Island.
With the series Procession of Dust (Entropy, Ontology, and the Hubris of Mankind) Vincent Como works with chance. The works are composed of double-sided tape on mat board and dry, black pigment sealed into a frame. It is the movement of the work over time that creates the imagery. The more the work is jostled around, the blacker they will get. For an artist who has honed his practice down to a single color – black, this is just fine. Procession of Dust is about entropy in the universe, but it also alludes to our own humanness; we are all reverting back to the dust from which we came, the “star stuff” as Carl Sagan was fond of reminding us.
As with Mingst, Como is creating his own reliquaries that serve as reminders of our mortality and our place in the universe. Despite our grand explanations and hopes for the future of mankind, we are, as far as we can tell an anomaly in the universe. We are a chance coalescence of matter that will pass from existence. These works serve to at least get us to think on these uncomfortable things.
Robert Schatz freezes motion with his three dimensional drawings. With his Small Structure series, he has twisted a length of twine into poetry, freezing the looping material in the air. Taking his cues from Asian calligraphy, Schatz writes in space. Using the fragile materials jute twine and rice paper, Schatz manipulates his ethereal sculptures into a form of transitory solidity. Their meaning changes as the viewer moves around them, or as the light moves among them. Like Cy Twombly drawings, they have secrets to tell, that seem just out of the reach of our grasp, but hold our attention as we try to decipher them.
Mingst, Como and Schatz, are all working with the same concept, the acceptance of the transitory, and the transformation of their medium. Each of these artists is using materials that are not considered archival: apples, office tape or jute twine, all of these materials are subject to deterioration over time which will certainly effect the work. This changing of the materials, is built into each of these artist’s work shown in After. It is the passing of time that will continue to give the work depth and richness as it deepens the ideas imbued in these pieces. Ten years from now, these works of art will not look the same, they will have a continuous after. —Arthur Bruso