(Artwork pictured: Thuy-Van Vu, Cabinet at Pacific Sheet Metal)
Gage Academy of Art Steele Gallery
November 22, 2013 - January 10, 2014
//SIGHTLINES is directly inspired by the BUSTER SIMPSON // SURVEYOR retrospective at the Frye Art Museum, which ran from June 15, 2013 to October 13, 2013.
Iole Alessandrini, Whiting Tennis, Rodrigo Valenzuela, Thuy-Van Vu and Allyce Wood were invited to show new and recent work in //SIGHTLINES as part of a curatorial response to many of the themes exhibited at the Frye and Simpson’s work itself.
With the //SURVEYOR exhibition the Frye has done something truly special. Not only did the visitor get a sense for the breadth and depth of Simpson’s work but the Frye mounted the exhibition with an ethic, a meter, which matches that of Simpson and his work. Its cadence and use of little to no new material (the didactic panels were hand written on pieces of re-used sheetrock) reflected a curatorial thoughtfulness one rarely sees.
Besides clear connections made with art-driven environmental activism and questions around the development of our urban spaces, //SIGHTLINES also asks, why do we keep what we keep? How do we determine the importance of objects? How do artists document their lives through their work? Where is the line between an artist’s personal narrative and their art?
Whether it is the memories we hold dear, or the things with which we surround ourselves, each piece stays for a reason. This is at the crux of Simpson’s “poetic utility.” It is partly a matter of deciding whether a piece of cardboard should be saved, but more a matter of how to make that cardboard live a second, more poetic and interesting life. The experimental cross-disciplinary practice of Simpson’s work is exhibited in the work of Iole Alessandrini as well. No material is off limits for Iole, she sees all objects, trash, mundane, or otherwise, as part of her toolkit to describe personal experiences with tragedy and recovery, architecture and light.
As an activist Simpson focused his attention on water and urban space. We rarely see the conversion of raw material to commodity dangled in front of us, no, its production is hidden from view and transported on rail car through the dark. It is part of the intricate beauty of Allyce Wood’s work to stop and show you these objects again. In this, she too is an activist.
Things raw and mundane are easy to miss. Our immediate recognition of the utilitarian objects in our lives provides a meaning that is too quick, where story is lost, objects are discarded. There is a recontextualization of an object, art or otherwise, once it enters the museum space – it is made important, worth keeping. Thuy-Van Vu examines, deconstructs and exquisitely depicts these pieces of our collective history that sit in storage spaces with important identification tags – and at the same time, questions how and why they are there.
Simpson’s documentation of his public artworks are the documentation of an experience, of a place in time, and of an action that was made and can be made anew. Film and photography are forms of documentation for Rodrigo Valenzuela as well, as separate but related to their form as his art, but both practices come together, suspending time so that we may see what he sees, and question the illusion.
A diamond scrap of plywood is documentation too, as it was a placeholder for turf grass embedded in concrete in front of Whiting Tennis’s house. It was someone’s version of a lawn. Just like someone’s version of a Ballard industrial area is one that may not include artists in its future. Its one that may not include a treacherous railway, a gravel parking lot that divides the street or a studio where paintings are painted alongside lumber being milled and every plaster object is covered in sawdust and a cabinet full of wonder can emerge.
We’ve experienced this commodification and commercial version of ideas regarding space, and watched as development swept through time and again. With every tree Simpson barricaded and concrete slab he saw as a bit of beautiful detritus, he recontextualizes our understanding of the value of objects, man made or natural. “To Provide and Protect Suitable Habitats.”