THE SLOW BURN
Curated by Euan Macdonald
If you weren’t living in the UK during the 1970s, it’s likely you haven’t heard of the BBC TV series The Changes. The first episode, titled The Noise, begins with a scene of a family in their living room: father reading the paper and smoking a pipe, daughter doing her homework, pregnant mother knitting and watching TV. Then, just as they talk of their lack of concentration and the strange, heavy weather, an intense, synthetic noise fills the room. Suddenly overwhelmed, the father jumps out of his chair and bludgeons the TV with an ashtray. The chaotic scene unravels quickly as the destruction extends rapidly to anything technological—the family destroys all their modern devices, and wider shots reveal whole neighborhoods immersed in the destruction of technology. In an era of Cold War and economic depression, the BBC aired The Changes in an after-school time slot, so that after enduring the ordered regime of the British school system, children could come home and enjoy watching society fall apart.
It’s hard not to draw parallels between The Changes’ fictional social breakdown and destruction of property (i.e. technology) and other kinds of artistic and civic revolts. The title of this exhibition, The Slow Burn, is a causal phrase used to describe art that opens up continuously in time. The Slow Burn also implies a kind of negation, or an immanent degradation or carbonation of heat, and above all, change. Within the worldly productions of visual art, there has always existed a sense of producing new kinds of tensions to disrupt older ideas. Marshall McLuhan cautioned against a kind of negation or burnout that can occur when technology becomes overextended—a kind of redoubling obsolescence, or an increasing pattern of overreliance on technology, which usually renders something else non-extant. The coordinates of these kinds of cancellations can often be located in the interface of industrial over-production and ecology.
The interior of Colin Ives’ disorientating video installation, Container, is immersed in a video projection of the underwater struggle of salmon captured and transported by trucks upriver to bypass the river damns that block their path. Ives states: “We experience the river as a natural force flowing through the landscape, yet all our major rivers are in fact run like machines. Since the 1850s, we have dammed every major tributary of the Willamette River.” Just as industrial ingenuity may allows us to harness the environment, its side effects are coming back to haunt us. The hovering remote controlled model helicopter in Roman Signer’s famous video Bett (1996) seems to signal the recurring problem—a summation of a perennial technological disturbance of
consciousness. Surely the cumulative effects of mass communication, speed and industry wear on the psyche; not only has our sense of self often depended on technology for its constant reinstatement, the self can easily dissolve into technology.
Influenced by the structural approach of Alvin Lucier’s famous work, I Am Sitting In A Room,
(1969), Will Hayward’s video, World Series (2014), undergoes a similar transformation. Hayward shot a video from an online, TV broadcast of the 1989 World Series baseball game that was cut off by an earthquake. He then emailed the video file to himself and played it back and rerecorded it, repeating the process over and over. The resulting image-screen complex becomes haunted by its own degradation; the transmission of the baseball game, and the reflection of the artist on the computer screen become less and less recognizable as they slowly dissolve, smoldering into themselves by being repeatedly forced through an entropic cycle of digitized compression.
Another form of entropy appears in the knitted work of Channing Hansen’s C60 (2015), which utilizes the drop-stitch technique, literally intended to unravel slowly over time. The drop-stitch occurs when one forgets to loop a stitch, resulting in a run or a sequential unraveling of the garment. What occurred as a forgetful mistake, became an intentional design aesthetic, as Hansen’s yarn is pulled apart and left to unravel slowly throughout the time of the exhibition. If forgetting has its benefits, it also implies cognitive degeneration—the loss of a thought, an idea, an experience, an item that has been lost or is missing, and so on.
It’s hard to say whether the luminous signage of Tannaz Farsi’s I Forgot (2009), propped up on a
precarious armature of fluorescent light bulbs, stands as a confession, or in defiance of the struggle between the voluntary and involuntary forces of memory. Likely the answer is both. After all, the words appear both bold, but also washed out. Barely holding together and propped up by improbable supports, Farsi’s words simultaneously transmit a sense of immanent failure and the irreparable past that is carried into the future.
Moyra Davey’s series, Empties (2013), also dwells in past impressions. Photographs of empty bottles appear inanimate in the aftermath of consumption. These used bottles become the center of their own scenes, living on, and illustrating Davey’s stated preoccupation and fascination with “the enigma of life lived versus the drive to reproduce it.”
Another sense of aftermath looms quietly in the dark monochrome painting Vanitas (2015) by Sylvan Lionni. It is tempting to conjure quick associations between Vanitas and American abstract or minimalist painting—Ad Reinhardt’s famous “black” or “ultimate” paintings come to mind. But, Lionni’s engagement with the well-worn trajectory of modernist painting also considers the forces outside modernism’s historical limitations. Closer observation reveals a light layer of dust that dims the original sheen of the black painting. This is surely not the end-game of painting. We are lingering, instead, in the aftermath of a painting. As the dust settles, Lionni’s painting signals the entropic effects of duration.
There is a melancholic shift somewhere within Dan Powell’s Towards Middle Grey (2012), an existential panoramic series of seven photographs of an island, atmosphere, and water that seem to begin where they end, and end where they begin, converging into a central image of complete
greyness—a Middle Grey without tonal variation. As described by Powell, these images exist suspended in “a place of absolute stillness where the outer images slip further and further into its distance. This middle grey slips behind or beneath the images that lie on either side, yet all the
images are, of course, made from this greyness.”
The only artwork in the exhibition that deals directly with burning is Michael Snow’s 16mm film, To Lavoisier, Who Died In the Reign of Terror (1991). Regarding the film’s subject, Snow states: “Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794) was a French chemist who gave the first explanation of the mysteries of fire. He also proved the law of conservation of matter, which states that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. His work and this film are situated between modern chemistry and alchemy. The film stages a drama of abstraction and theoretical realism. La vie quotidienne
seen photo chemically and musically. This film is a materialist projected-image conservation of matter.”
Diana Thater’s Female Gyr-Prarie Falcon (Shumla), (2012) is hooded and perched upon a camera tripod. Falcons possess ten times the vision as humans and wear hoods to keep them calm until they go hunting over vast areas of terrain. Thater’s silent video frames the falcon, breathing slowly; gracefully poised to fly, which affirms that what we are witnessing within the still fram is only a fragment of the spatial and temporal duration outside the frame of the video.
In the TV story of the Changes, the noise—whatever it is, or wherever it came from—signals a pivotal societal event: the rupture of the so-called end-times, the swirling upheaval of daily life destruction, and liberation from state power. Science fiction, religion, and scientific theories routinely integrate visions of the catastrophic. Such visions involve polarizing notions of forgetting everything and starting anew: stopping the clocks to start life over in “new worlds”, “the afterlife”, and “big bangs.” But an irreconcilable dilemma lies in the trauma of the change that it always takes to start anew.
The people embedded silently in the filtered, colored plastic of the photographic Phantasms by Nick Herman are suspended silently in their religious hysteria of rapturous beliefs in the destruction of everything—a familiar, eschatological fantasy at the core of many religious belief systems with promises of supernatural escape routes to salvation.
This makes the humor of David Shrigley’s Untitled work on paper all the more appealing. A suitably complex punch-line for this exhibition, Shrigley’s labeled drawing depicts a GIANT METEORITE hurling towards THE EARTH through what appears to be a diagrammatic system of lines that the artist has mockingly labeled MEANINGLESS LINES. The farcical image succeeds in mocking art, science, and language simultaneously.
Jamie Atherton provides an optimistic tone with his printed newspaper titled: I Hear A New World (2014). Atherton took the title from a song by Joe Meek and the Blue Boys whose 1960 album of the same name provides a promising subtitle: an outer space music fantasy. Atherton’s poetic text is charged with a maze-like complex of tangential references. Atherton states: Literature is often a point of departure—in this instance, Jorge Luis Borges' story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius…..Moreover the multiplicitous permutations of the phrase "new world" contributed greatly to the appeal of Borges' story. Although the world imagined within it makes no claims towards the utopian, it is still an act of new world making.” The artworks in this exhibition may vary greatly in form, and yet they all evoke the spatial and temporal shifts of daily life, and the fraught, slowly burning synthesis between the particularities of the past and the generalities of the future.