Recasting Site features artworks that transform ordinary objects, interiors and environments, recasting the familiar and discouraging rote patterns of viewing. The exhibition’s four artists work variously, attaching new meanings to everyday objects, places and ideas, often accentuating imperfections. Their strategies include giving special attention to the attributes of individual media and encouraging viewers to access a discursive, imaginative space that bridges the artworks in the gallery and absent circumstances they trace.
The artists represent several generations. Robert Smithson (1938 – 1973) and Mary Lucier (b. 1944) both began working in the 1960s, transferring the concerns of Minimalist sculpture and music, respectively, to the realms of architecture and landscape early in their careers. Roe Ethridge’s (b. 1969) photographic work matured in the late 1990s and Robert de Saint Phalle’s (b. 1978) sculptural practice has developed significantly over the past three years. In Recasting Site, the artists give special attention to the attributes of individual media, use duplication to literally or figuratively recast existing items, and create situations that ask viewers to imaginatively bridge the artworks in the gallery and the outside circumstances they trace.
These works also encourage a sense of discovery through guided viewing and mapping. In Hotel Palenque (1969-72), Robert Smithson delivers a lecture and slide show about a Yucatan hotel that is simultaneously being constructed and torn down. As he talks about the images, Smithson encourages an audience of architecture students to rethink that site’s banality and the preciousness of the neighboring Mayan ruins. Roe Ethridge’s C-prints are copied from 4x5 Polaroid photographs he took and rejected between 2005 and 2007. To make the prints, he scans the Polaroids with his computer, accentuates their surfaces flaws and then enlarges them. The foreground of each print shows traces of the original’s mishandling (fingerprints, cracks), inscriptions (Sharpie marks) and/or its chemical development (a milky film), infusing the C-prints with an aura rooted in the absent Polaroid’s physical history.
The limitations of specific media are also exploited. The more a medium’s imperfection is accentuated, the more strongly it becomes part of the subject. Mary Lucier made the installation I Am Sitting in a Room (1969) with Minimalist composer Alvin Lucier. In the piece, duplication of analogue audio recordings and Polaroid photographs compromise media integrity. As sound and image falter, however, new compositions arise, changing a domestic interior into a galaxy of musical feedback and glowing abstraction. Robert de Saint Phalle frequently uses actual casting to reflect the effects of experience on the body and the untouchable, yet formative, nature of the unconscious. In Quarry, he nestles an amorphous object made from auto foam and paint in a rusty barrel. The form’s underside is modeled after the barrel’s interior and its flat top is marred with a four-inch scar. Through sculptural casting and scarring, de Saint Phalle transforms industrial detritus into a sympathetic portrait of one damaged skin housing another.
Recasting Site resonates with ideas found in several texts, most of which date from the late 1960s to 1980. These include Mary Lucier’s “Organic” essay from 1978 where she describes the organic artist as “focusing on [the] technology [of their medium] not merely as a facilitator of the work, but as an element of content.” Craig Owens’s discussion of allegory in art in which he depicts allegory as a transformative “attitude” where “the image becomes something other,” also parallels these artists’ approaches to media and subject. Numerous writings by and interviews with Smithson inform the exhibition as well, including the published artwork A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey (1967), which is on view. In talking with the artists Roe Ethridge and Robert de Saint Phalle, I learned that writer and thinker Walker Percy had influenced both of them. De Saint Phalle introduced me to Percy’s 1958 essay Loss of the Creature. In it, Percy writes about how commercial or institutional packaging can prevent people from directly experiencing things such as the Grand Canyon or one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, insisting that these things must be “recovered” if they are to be truly experienced. This essay became a companion as I explored my own intuitive reactions to the artists’ use of recovery as a means for rediscovery.
1. Robert de Saint Phalle, e-mail to curator, December 12, 2007
2. Mary Lucier, “Organic” (1978), republished in Art + Performance: Mary
Lucier, Melinda Barlow, ed., (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press,
2000), p. 241
3. The Craig Owens essays that relate to Recasting Site are: “Earthwords”,
October, Vol. 10 (Autumn, 1979), p. 120-130 and “The Allegorical Impulse:
Toward a Theory of Postmodernism”, October Magazine, Vol. 12. (Spring,
1980), pp. 67-86 The Allegorical Impulse: Toward a Theory of Postmodernism
Part 2, October, Vol.13. (Summer, 1980), pp. 58-80.
4. Craig Owens, The Allegorical Impulse: Toward a Theory of Postmodernism,
October, Vol. 12. (Spring, 1980), p. 68
5. ibid. p 69
6. Walker Percy, “The Loss of the Creature” in The Message in the Bottle: How
Queer Man Is, How Queer Language Is, and What One Has To Do With the
Other, (New York: Picador, 1954), p. 46