Monday, February 12, 2007

Chris Williams, J.J. McCracken at Meat Market Gallery, by Brian Barr

Part One
Carniceria: Chris Williams

Meat Market Gallery is actually a pleasant surprise in the DC art scene. Upon entering the gallery, I was greeted with an overriding sensation of the pristine quality of the space. White walls, white plaster sculpture, men in white lab coats and hats just visible in the back room. It was almost eerie, yet it was just odd enough to get my attention. The main gallery in front was host to Carniceria, the exhibition of sculptures by Chris Williams.

The exhibition attempted to fuse sculpture and text with the architecture of the space in order to address the history of the building, the current use of the building as an art gallery (by commenting on the dangers of arts commercialization), and finally the building's location in the heart of a thriving gay community. The works were divided between sharp-edged, geometric shapes with text in relief on the surface, and ambiguous, biomorphic forms. The one commonality the works shared was that they were all executed in plaster and coming out of the wall. Williams attempted to seam the plaster of the walls with that of his sculpture so that in a very literally way the distinction between, the architecture of the gallery and his work was seamless.

I mentioned that the artist was not only responding to the physical space of the gallery but also the psychic space of the gallery through its past and present, and cultural surroundings. In his hard geometric forms, Williams had text in rows of relief printing (one inch high). The text was simply three appropriated and recontextualized lines repeated over and over. In responding to the history of the space as an actual meat market (the space was formerly home to a butcher shop), the line, “Living in America begins to alter ones understanding of oneself and others.” According to the gallery-issued press release, this line references, “how Latino-American labor functions and is taken advantage of in the contemporary marketplace.”

In reference to the spaces current function as an art gallery the line, “ensuring the health and stability of a network of interconnected relationships…” is used to refer to the potential manipulation of an artist's labor in the art market. The final line of text that is supposed to comment on the location of the gallery within Dupont Circle’s gay community is, “no state must accept another states definition…” (a line pulled from the Defense of Marriage Act).

I must commend Williams intention for this project, yet I must admit I found the execution lagging far behind the ambition in this case. For one thing, the printing of the text became surface decoration, being taken so far out of context as to be almost illegible. I would prefer the text's meaning be subtle and tacitly included into the work, which is how it read initially. Yet, the press release put the socio-political implications of the work's text at the forefront of the exhibition. The work really was more about not only blurring the line between art, architecture and social commentary, but eliminating that line all together. In this regard, both the content and aesthetic ambitions of the work demanded flawless execution, and here is where Williams ultimately failed. Upon even a slightly closer look, such as looking behind the piece that was in the corner, but not quite in the corner to discover the uneven surface of plaster, or almost but not quite perfect angles to where the four sides of one of the plaster diamonds meet, the realization of the executions lacking is obvious. In my mind, the success of this show hinged on all the elements becoming so fused as to not be noticed, rather than make obvious there points of intersection. I do still think the show was interesting and worth the trip to Dupont to check out for yourself, and the show's intention is to be commended on the part of Meat Market Gallery. I feel the show could have been better considered.

Part II
Stasis by J.J. Mc Cracken

The room in the far rear of Meat Market plays host to the performance, Stasis, by J.J. McCracken, which runs through February 25, with live performances every Saturday while the exhibition is open, from 4-6pm. To enter into the space one must pass through long, heavy plastics strips extending from ceiling to the floor, reminiscent of the meat freezers that no doubt once belonged to the space. Once inside I was struck by the frigid tempurature of the space, which was at least 15 degrees colder than the main exhibition space, despite the perhaps ten or more spectators also in the room with me.

The room housed a table, at which three individuals dressed in lab coats, white knit hats, protective eye goggles and plastic gloves, worked, assembly line style at constructing, packaging and displaying small vessels of clay. The first person was responsible for spinning the vessels on a motorized potters wheel, the second for vacuum seeling the freshly spun tiny vase, and the final individual was in charge of hanging the newly preserved vessel, now incapable of holding even air on the adjacent wall. This went on endlessly until the gallery closed up shop. No words were spoken by or to the three laborers, they new their tasks and they executed them with repetitive haste.

The press release claims the work investigates preservation, with that vague description we are left to ponder what “presevation” implies and what about it the artist is dealing with and trying to communicate. This peformance becomes a statement on the art of performance in some small way. The statement goes on to say McCracken is proclaiming that performance is as important as the making and preserving of art objects.

It was the juxtoposition of the title, Stasis, (which refers to inactivity, being motionless and stagnation) with the movement of the performance itself that I found most curious. This left me wondering if the artist was commenting on art and art making itself as having become stagnant; involved in an endlessly repetetive cycle of production, marketing and preservation? By bringing the act of creating and preserving to the attention of the viewer, McCracken is ultimately caught in the paradox of this manner of creative exploration. He is commenting on the system of production, and marketing of creativity but also making this exploration at a commercial gallery space, and each of his conveiniently packaged “objects” are available for purchase for the low, low price of $16.00. This way you too can own your very own (art) “object”.

It is a very interesting “exploration”, I have to admit. I recommend that all interested see it during one of the live performances, rather than seeing merely the shell of the action. This would only focus on the display and marketing aspect. It must be seen in action to fully appreciate the artists intention. For me what is so successful about the piece is that in the end, I am left to decide what I think about notions of creative production and its inevitable exploitation by market forces. McCracken is not preaching in this piece, he seems to me to be pondering right along side me.


Anonymous said...

McCracken is female. Jenna.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou, I appologize for the mix up.