The inventiveness of how we handle the innumerable things around us, is the hallmark of a certain form of contemporary art. I don’t know if we have a single word for this longstanding tendency in art, but I think Penelope Umbrico and Steve Wolfe can be traced back through Cindy Sherman or Sherrie Levineand eventually to pop art’s focus on the world of reproductions. The personal reservoir of things that artists work from forms their vocabulary, the stuff becomes unmistakably part of their intellectual collection and their work.
You can treat a real or imagined memory the same way. Liz Glynn wrestles with empires by focusing on imagined success and the real debris left after empire’s collapse. Her ruins are both implied and actual. Earlier work included repaired classical columns, marble dust installations, while her newest relic is a Courbusier LC2 chair made from rubble from the Fogg Museum, currently under construction. Her time-lapse documentation of The 24 hour Roman Reconstruction Project (at the New Museum April 8, 2009) gathers the clumsy chaos and motion from building a cardboard replica of Rome in one day. You spend nine minutes watching a band play music and a constant barrage of motion of pizza, glue guns, cardboard, people, etc just to see Rome for a brief moment before the barbarians destroy the city in a blink of an eye. The document, like many of site-specific performances, leaves you with only a hint of the actual thing. It connects you to the process of making more than the object that was made.
Meredith James tackles architectural space and realness. Her recursive environments use camera tricks and complicated stage craft that leave none of her environments simple or comfortable. Sections ofPresent Time feel like early MTV, made from what could have been slick transitions it ends up self-consciously imperfect. She literally flips paper, like a cliched preset video transition, from wallpaper pattern to lace to random painted patterns. She exposes her camera tricks and repeatedly takes us out of the moment. Like the cast metal chicken that is exhumed from a baked real chicken, her work disposes with realness and heads right for the replicated. Day Shift, is also an evasive environment . Everything is recursively intermingled, when the actor leaves her desk she find a miniature desk in the back of the car, all the while we stand in front of the same mini-workspace wondering when she will return to answer the real phone.
Both James and Glynn question as much as answer with their works. The chaos of memory, invented memories, of empire, and impossible architectonics. The history of these objects, how these objects became part of the art maker’s collection, is unresolved, but the ways that they handle the objects in their collections are enthralling.
OBJECT LESSONS will be on view at Harvard’s Carpenter Center from January 27 through February 20, 2011