Review by Chad Muthard
Taking Measures at FLUXspace, April 11– May 10, 2009.
I feel as though the only way to properly begin the review of this exhibition is to first bring to light the fact that I was not setting virgin eyes upon the photographs by Chad States and Anna Neighbor. Prior to the exhibition I had viewed the bodies of work Cruising by States and Secrets & Games by Neighbor, as well as spoken with each to some length about both. Although, this exhibition helps to re-contextualize each of the artist’s work and place them along side the sculptures of Leah Bailis, the deep running relationships and emotions that I had connected with the photographs could not be entirely changed.
As I came into the main room of Taking Measures at Flux Space my initial gravitation was towards Bailis’ piece Facades [pictured, right]which in somewhat blunt description is essentially two walls fabricated in cardboard to appear as housings siding. The two structures face each other and form a foot wide alley in between. Strangely, the walls feel more like a confrontation of two individuals meeting than a break in architecture. The siding contorts and flows in waves, if you stare long enough at the mid dle of it your toes might start to scratch the bottom of your shoe soles with angst. However, this is where the first paragraph of the review comes into play because standing with my head poking into the space between the two walls I couldn’t help but feel the sexual content of States and Neighbor’s work swing over into Bailis’ sculpture, suddenly the curves in the siding pushed and pulled more than they swayed or sat still. Had I seen this work in a different setting among different pieces who knows what might have ran through my mind? Without digressing too far from Bailis’ work and process there is certainly something to say about the creation of both her pieces using cardboard rather than a more stable material to produce her structures. Although, I have to question the necessity of such application in a piece like Facades where the details of the waves in the siding overstated the fact that the material was a fallacy, I don’t think it would have shifted my perception too much if it would have been aluminum siding. The antithesis of this train of thought comes across however in the piece which lies behind Facades entitled Tables and chairs, with this sculpture the matter of material is essential to the work in the sense that, well I’m not very likely to wander into two 7 foot high walls facing each other in my day to day where as coming upon a chair or a table is a definite possibility. My observation of Tables and chairs was quite different than that of Facades; it wasn’t the small details or subtleties that struck a chord but more the presence of scale. It’s funny what just a few inches can do, looking at the work somehow made me more aware of the distance between my hand and floor.
Moving on to Neighbor’s work, [pictured, left] which looms just to the right of the previously mentioned pieces, I’m confronted with three 32x40 inch photographs, one vertical, two horizontal. The images present areas in nature that are half hidden half visible from the surrounding community environment, spaces where anything might occur, yet the “anything” here is still an occurrence that might want to remain private. Going back again to the introduction of the review, initially when I had spoke with Anna about the work she had given the impression that these spaces were sites where one might go to conceal public acts of intimacy, but in the context of this show, especially with States work so close by, it almost feels as though the sense of sexuality that was once so apparent when viewing only her work now seems to push in the opposite direction and force me to question the perverse nature of making such assumptions about a simple plot of dirt. But, is it my own assumptions or Neighbor’s direct/indirect address of the subject? The way these photographs deal with sexual content might be equated to the way that one’s parents have a general understanding that their child is now a sexually active adult but it still remains taboo for one to come out and tell them exactly what it takes to get off in the act.
The last pieces and as well the first that you would see upon entering the downstairs gallery of Flux Space are Chad States’ white prints with white typeface set atop. All of the images are taken from the series Cruising which if you are not familiar offers as well more reflective photographic counter parts to go along with the text (i.e.: landscapes, cars, people, tangible items). The work attributes its derivatives from dialogue in homosexual chat rooms about proper procedure for getting better acquainted at rest stops. The tricky situation that these pieces fall into at this show is really preserving their unity as a whole in themselves and not just becoming a notion of how to go about looking at Bailis’ and Neighbor’s work, and I think they do a great job of asserting themselves in a way that resists such instances. There is an immediate force in the fact that they only reveal the text upon getting about two or three feet away, elsewhere they appear as blank frames holding blank prints on the wall. My only conundrum here, much like with Neighbor’s work, is that I can never tell if there are simply too many presumptions made on my part or not. Where in the series States hits such indifference blatantly on the head with images of gay porn magazines lying in the dirt, devoid of such imagery, I wonder, well if I didn’t know could I just be making the whole premise up? Are these phrases, just as much as the movement of Bailis’ walls, and the landscapes in Neighbor’s photographs simply charged with sexuality because my mind asserted it there or is it really buried beneath the surface…I come away unsure and left with unease.
Perhaps, Taking Measures offers some reflection in this sense of where our culture currently stands in dealing with private issues, not quite as unabashed as we might have been at the end of the last century yet not as pent up and hushed over as before the 1960s. We wish to act with primitive instincts but have become so aware of ill-fated outcomes that calculation so often gets in the way. Or maybe it’s the level of consciousness we now have of global issues that turns us around into feeling as though our own personal desires are immature and expendable. As though they have become luxuries in life not simply formed from intuitive disposition. The strength of this exhibition in my eyes is exactly this type of rumination. Not quite smacking you in the face, not quite impotent, the work leaves a deep brooding feeling in the room. It’s sometimes said that silence can have greater impact than words, if nothing else the lasting impression of this exhibition proves exactly that.
[Chad Muthard is a Photographer living and working in Philadelphia. Muthard has recently been featured in 20x200, and is currently preparing for a trip to Nevada for his upcoming series The Desires of Fathers]
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Review by Chad Muthard