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Stratham

Saturday was an eventful day in Cleveland art and it also was my first class as a newly enrolled student at the Plum Academy. I transferred from being homeschooled in the arts, generally practicing artistic visual and verbal witchcraft in my garage, to a film watching dialogue engaging cultural participant. It was the PA’s goal of course to transform passive observers into active participants at ole Plum U.  And tonight I was transformed.

I, after battling for a parking spot on the Superior Viaduct against hundreds of Bridge Project goers, made it to class on time and filed into my chair to hear Deborah Stratman an acclaimed multi-discipline artist who also teaches at the School of Art & Design at the University of Illinois at Chicago, discuss and screen 2 recent film projects. The first being an interesting abstract mix of black and white grainy shadowy ameoba and nihilistic quotes about how boring life is that took your mind to dark corners of wonder and contemplation of the meaning of life and whether there is more to it all. I was left with the thought “If that’s all there is….then lets keep dancing…” It was short and fast paced like those kind of thoughts that dash in and out of the mind. Like do we go somewhere after we die or is this really it? Are there ghosts? The dark is scary either physically or metaphorically, darkness is unknown.

Picture 1The second film titled O’er the Land is a methodical and perfectly curated collection of scenes that brought together the zeitgeist of America and the concept of Freedom in a poignant and awesome way.  A film that brought together the civil war, high school football, military training, machine gun festivals all marked with pensive quiet moments of nature, the awe of the quiet and sublime. Nature out does man every time in power and glory. Yet that wasn’t the punch line, there was no punchline rather a reflective rhetorical presentation that opened more questions that it does answer. The film was ironic and humourous in its sheer truth and obscurity, like the civil war reenactments that at first seem like it meant to be about the civil war itself but then when it cut to golf carts and an ambulance with civil war players standing idle off the battlefield the scene is clearly about the reenactment. The ambulance there to help just in case some one gets hurt while “playing war”.

The movie, slow at times and pensive with Ansel Adams or Joel Sternfeld like framing. The production was as much about photography and referenced  past greats artists who have equally tried to define it. Fox Talbot, Adams, Sternfeld all marked manifest destiny in their own way at their time. Stratman dips into that historic bag in her approach .Each shot was tripod-ed and chosen like the way a photographer would use a view camera. She then  let the drama play out in the frame like a Harry Potter painting, truly a moving picture. The pictures were enhanced with the sounds and quotes.  They added complexity to the story.

The piece was great, better than any linear narrative because it took you to so many places yet with an underlying cohesiveness. The cathartic nature of the film at times was absurd with the documentation of the machine gun festival in Knob Creek Kentucky showing a sign that exclaimed, Machine Gun Rentals here. But ultimately was enlightening without judgement.  The players in the film were real and honest.

What I took away most from the film was not my admitted disgust with weaponry because that was an internal judgment when seeing the footage of gun-toting and not the aim of the film, was the story of Lt Col William Rankin. It was what I thought to be the underpinning and vehicle for the film. His story, about ejecting from a plane at 47,000 feet and his ensuing 45 minute drop back down to earth and survival through extreme temperatures and a raging storm, was to me, the point.  It was the question of being. Of as Rankin explains, surviving because of training. It was a great juxtaposition of the awe of nature and of our minds and bodies and spirits. It was a culmination of age old questions about existence. The scene was moving and riveting.

O’er the Land really  was the finest in what art can do. It gives you feelings and challenges views and is poetic with a message, it presents everything and nothing at the same time.  It has a clear agenda but the funny thing is your left with only a feeling and your mind reeling with its own questions and thoughts. If you get a chance to see it, do it. It’s on par with Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi in its poetic probing of american culture and psyche.

It has made a prestigious run through many film festivals including Sundance and Cannes. Here are a few links for some more info and Stratmans other works.

http://festival.sundance.org/2009/film_events/films/oer_the_land

http://www.pythagorasfilm.com/oertheland.html

http://www.vdb.org/smackn.acgi$artistdetail?STRATMAND

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This is a crazy video. It echoes the coolness of some of the early 80’s music videos that seem to be born from the video experimentation of video pioneered by the great Soho artists of the 80’s.  It’s vision way beyond huge walls of flashing lights, half naked women and tons of gyrating. “No One Does It Like You” is directed by Patrick Daughters and Marcel Dzama. It contains sets and costumes by Dzama and unmistakably  has his childhood war, nightmare-ish, Darger spawned aesthetic. The video with its unnerving cloaked and armed factions gearing up to do battle by dancing and celebrating quickly disintegrates into a bloody combat scene in which no one survives.  Its really unsettling. I tried to make a connection with the visuals and the lyrics and all I came up with is the eeriness of the song matches up perfectly with the bizarre story. I’ll watch it again and again I’m sure, and either have meaning reveal itself or I’ll end up crazy hiding in basement with a baseball bat. It’s a winner.

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kligman1

Admittedly I did not get to go to the show, however I have people, well one person to be exact who does my bidding, not really, but he was nice enough to send me his pictures. With that disclaimer said, last week was the culminating exhibition of a three year artistic journey for artist and friend Misha Kligman. Misha, who lived in Cleveland and graduated from Cleveland State in 2001 but since has been living and working toward his MFA at the University in Kansas,  makes rich, heavily worked, dark, mysteriously narrative works routed in the figure and vintage photographic processes and backed by the same emotional and narrative framework as William Kentridge and Anselm Kiefer.

kligman2The washed out figments of portraits are echoes of history. I’m sure the stories are contemplations on a personal past or thoughts on lineage and connecting a history routed in both a different time and country and a present that is worlds away from that life.  The drawings reek of longing and belonging. They are the darkness that exists when one is searching for anything, but for these it seems to be a journey into identity. And it is that search that makes the drawing universal. Connecting to the past is an activity that is almost a rite of passage for anyone who searches for self discovery.  I say then keep up the brood, dude. Check out more of Misha’s work here and to Misha I bid pomp and circumstance.

P.S.  thanks J for the photo’s

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freid_cma1I really believe the sentiment that history repeats itself. Not so much literally or consecutively but I feel like humans tend to follow the same basic needs and functions as both a society and as animals . We are divided loosely into specific ideological  backgrounds that seem to shift and teeter tauter back and forth when cycles have run their course.  Generally, cause equals effect and our options are few when one chapter ends and another begins. It takes huge forces to disrupt the subtle variations in existence, society and culture, for us never to return to a way of life that we once lived.
I think the sixties are an interesting contrast to our position now in history, almost like we’ve been running so fast and so hard that when we hit the wall it threw us back 4 decades. When the birds stop swirling and stars fade above our head we look around and the gloss of the last 26 years of unsustainable growth has dulled from 8 months of historical sandblasting, our world hasn’t changed much since then. Lee Friedlander’s show on view now at Cleveland Museum of Art is as fresh today as it was when most of the photo’s were taken.  Theme’s I see common in Friedlander’s work like over-growth, broken down factories, American ideals, hard working rough edged American workers, cluttered urban wastelands, beautiful raw nudes. His work, densely packed salon style end-on-end hung, is gritty and beautifully exposed, not in the technical sense, rather, America…exposed. Friedlander’s photographs are Frank-ian, post industrial awakening. We have been in a haze of a financial carnival for the last 2 or 3 decades and have failed to notice the beauty and detail of our surroundings and or ourselves as people. Now that the fog has burned away this is what we have. Over populated, over worked, dirty and over grown. We live and eat and have sex. All of this I find in Friedlanders work and for some reason since we’ve abruptly returned to Kansas these photographs are  relevant to where we are and where we’ve come from. If the sixties and seventies were a revolution against an industrialized existence then we are in the beginning of a revolution against financialization. Where are we headed, who knows.  But if you look around at people and at neighborhoods today there are whiffs of Friedlander-ian realism all over. This is the quote that greats visitors to the exhibit:

“I only wanted Uncle Vern standing by his new  car ( a Hudson ) on a clear day. I got him and the car. I also got a bit of Aunt Mary’s laundry and Beau Jack, the dog, peeing on the fence, and a row of tuberous begonias on the porch and 78 trees and a million pebbles in the driveway and more. It’s a generous medium.”

How good is that? Photography in it’s purest form is about light but above that it’s about stories and detail. With the after glow and honeymoon fading from a free market love affair, its important to look at the details.  To see how raw and imperfect living is. This traveling exhibition is overwhelming, it is so saturated that it’s hard to make meaning from it. I sort of shut down through the first room and only after jotting down a few notes and thinking about the major theme’s  the show was broken into I realized how it’s much more than just a retrospective of a prolific artist. It’s a poetic journey through America, the unabridged non Hollywood-ized glossy America full of hopes and clichés. Most of the photograph’s deal with real life cultural issue’s of identity, landscape,  man vs nature, post-industrialization, sex, celebrity, triumph and failure. The work is both auto-biographical and universal. I would block out a whole day to go and take it in, or see it in shifts because, dang, it is choc-full of pictures. Phew.  It’s like I just read 600 pages of the great American novel in 2 hours. I’m seeing spots, my head hurts. Enjoy the show and really see the world we live in. Its dirty and full of mess-ups, like a chalk board after a day of school, dusty and drawn over, again and again with hints of past attempts. Its historical and present.

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VALUE CITY Niles, Illinois May 2008

VALUE CITY Niles, Illinois May 2008

I just went and listened to Brian speak to students in BGSU last month about his most recent body of work called “Dark Stores/Dead Malls” and much to my surprise I found a published photo-essay of that work on Time.com. The work was tied to a really thought provoking list called “10 Idea’s Changing the World Right Now“. It’s worth the read alone. I love seeing artist’s work reaching out to the mainstream. Sometimes editorial or news agency photography can be to “canned” or just so blatant and literal that you pass it over. So it’s refreshing to see Ulrich’s contemplative, quiet, detailed work used. The dark stores are made at night to further emphasize the decline of consumer culture and it’s impact on the landscape. Most of the properties are lite from the outside but the eerie night exposures create an alternate world view created from something that was once familiar. Now the buildings stand as shells, ruins of past time and “past-time” Stunning work really. These stores were icons and now they stand empty and crumbling.  Alright,  big ups to Time.com…major props to you and Brian.

~Art

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Peter Philip Luckner, Glenn Ratusnik, Jon Cotterman

CCW from top: Peter Philip Luckner, Glenn Ratusnik, Jon Cotterman

I walked into Flash Forward on Saturday with the highest of expectations. This was a show that was to showcase the very talented and compelling local artists I have been turning rocks over to find. Even better, the press release highlighted these artists as recent area art school grads who made the decision to explore and expand their art career here in the North-coast rather than exiting stage left to the coast of their choice. Were my expectations fulfilled? Is there a budding Cleveland scene full of talent, brains and commitment?
Well, my initial walk through, I felt a little underwhelmed. But then I started to see the whole picture, the curatorial vision, the sum of all the parts. My light bulb started to flicker.  I slowly started taking in the individual bodies of work, stars started to emerge and my bulb grew brighter. Flash Forward is a show about diversity, just like Cleveland. Represented on the walls at Spaces is a well planned 12 course tasting meal organized to enlighten the many styles, concerns and issues facing our local artists. I get it, Cleveland has artists with serious concerns and dedicated commitment ranging from identity, to environment, to digital media culture to formal aesthetic and artistic theory.
Take for example Glenn Ratusnik’s serial etchings. Mr. Ratusnik chooses to pull only one print each time he alters the plate. This process alone is an interesting juxtaposition to the notion of printmaking as a vehicle for the creation of multiples. However, Ratusnik, by focusing on landscape as a subject, infuses the work with more than just a comment on materials and artistic practice. In doing so he creates a time line of both marks on a plate and about human marks upon the earth. Each plate in succession sees a new building or development. Starting from a rough vast land marked mainly by a tree and a horizon he works the plate like a game of SimCity ending with an over developed yet desolate urban zone. With each mark the plate and the earth become cluttered and built-up until the last plate in the cycle seems to swing back toward depletion. Just like in life, over crowding causes extinction, in printmaking the more the plate is run through the press the more lines get pressed out. It’s a thoughtful exercise in cycles, both life and materials.
Following in the concerns of nature, more specifically the idea of an increasingly digital society is Peter Philip Luckner pulsating and fading animated college video installation.  It’s mesmerizing. The play between repeating fantasy watercolors or colored pencil landscape renderings morphing with spliced video snippets creates a whirling and rhythmic experience that seems oddly familiar. What I wish seemed foreign just seems  like a well choreographed dance between random internet searches and flipping briskly though the channels on cable. I want it to be surreal and odd but it’s more like “Contemporary Life: the musical”.  Of course my only wish is that it was projected on a huge screen so I could get even more lost in the movement without any peripheral obstruction. Although there could be a stroke risk, who knows.
One thing is for sure, despite the weird worlds we find ourselves in these days of digital culture and hyper speed, there are old ideas still lingering between all the contemporary binary signals. We can’t ignore them so how do we deal with them today. Jon Nathaniel Cotterman creates delicate sculptures that find themselves stuck in the middle of such an identity crisis. Cotterman is a sculptor torn between 2 worlds channeling the precision craft of Lalique and the theory of LeWitt.  He perfectly balances the material desires of glass and the history of glass with the pressures of an increasingly conceptual leaning art world. His glass cubes that reference Lewitt with their intersecting and intertwining smooth glass rods suddenly rebel and burst into a suspended masterfully crafted goblet. Its like seeing a business man on the street suddenly throw down and rock the worm on a street corner.  The sculptures are a beautiful exploration of the post conceptual idea of the fetishized art object. Object vs idea. Cotterman convinces me that we can all get along.
What I am also convinced of, is that Cleveland artists are smart, have real concerns and the more importantly the talent to express them.  Despite the heavy subject matter addressed in the work, Flash Forward is a celebration of local talent and perhaps the “gentleman, start your engines” sentiment for Cleveland, the Rust belt and the people who call it home. Let’s hope the race is long and paced and we grow stronger and more talented with every lap.  Go see the show….

~Art

horses mouth:

January 30–April 3, 2009 SPACES recognizes the talents of artists in our backyard, side yard, front yard, and driveway in Flash Forward, an exhibition featuring Northeast Ohio college graduates who jump creative fences in the contemporary art scene while continuing to live and work in the region.

2220 Superior Viaduct
Cleveland, OH 44113
Gallery Hours
Tues – Thu 11-5:30
Fri 11-7
Sat 11-5:30
Sun 1-5
http://www.SPACESgallery.org
info@SPACESgallery.org
216-621-2314

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Dana Oldfather "Fulcrum" 2009

Dana Oldfather "Fulcrum" 2009

Painting as a discipline for a long time has engaged in a philosophical grudge match pitting representation against non-representation.  It is one of many dualities that exist in painting that wether art imitates life or the reverse the same dualities exist in life.  With that sentiment as a touch stone and starting point Dana Oldfather a Cleveland area painter, creates playfully-somber, formalist-conceptual, colorfully-reflective paintings. Her work is born of and lives in the complex system that is life and art, blurring the line between perception and both internal and external realities.

url1

Formally, Oldfather’s work makes me think of the classic Chuck Jones animated version of Norton Justers story, the Dot and the Line, A Romance in Lower Mathematics.  Her paintings are abstract colorful and playful.  Just like in the cartoon, bold shapes of color huddle together to form groupings and serve also as backgrounds and spacial dividers for meandering lines to play and intersect.  The ground that is laid serves to create tension and drama within the plane.  Distinct land is painted where lines and shapes make concrete zones that seem like remote outposts in a sea of pigment abyss. Oldfather’s work is more organic than some of the rigid Mondrian-ish scenes in The Dot and the Line but they share most definitely the exploration of the basic elements of design.

On the surface, the Dot and the Line is a whimsically visual tale of color, shape and line. However the deeper meaning of the story was one of perception and desire. The dot falling for the squiggle because of its allure and excitement rather than the rigid “boringness” of the line.  After the rejection the line bettered himself and pushed his ability to express himself to never seen before levels. The dot then realized that the squiggle was just a shallow mess. The whole story was a timeless moral tale.  Ms. Oldfather’s paintings too hide moral dilemma’s and existential exploration behind the facade of formalism.  If you study the shapes in the paintings  they begin to look topographical and or cellular. They are certainly parts to a whole. Blocks or hives or cells that form a remote and uncharted geography.  Look closer and the lines are crude doodles of people and strange creatures traversing the landscape as if lost and trying to find a way. Or maybe reflecting, in light of the abyss that surrounds the islands, on how they got there and how do they get out.  The colors and scribble style of the human forms  have a naïve childhood feel about them. Storybook journey’s that have taken a wrong turn. Perhaps, of someone who has found themselves somewhere they never thought they would be. Childhood dreams and expectations unfulfilled.

fantastic voyage

fantastic voyage

Or maybe just things are not what they seem.  Perceptions can be misleading. I can’t help but think of the 1969 movie classic The Fantastic Voyage where a team of doctors and scientists are shrunk down with their ship to microscopic size and sent  on a journey into the human body.  The awe of changing the perception of systems by being shrunk down and entering the human body and how,  when faced with the complexities of existence and the “internal”,  our own bodies become scary, uncharted and unfriendly places even though it is our very own being. The same way our minds are if  we choose to dig a little deeper than the surface and explore our desires, fears, expectations and thoughts. What ever the mystery is, it’s hidden within the paintings. It a mystery that Oldfather looks to uncover.  One where maybe the answers are about defining life as indefinable.
Dana Oldfather is a prolific local painter who is represented in Cleveland by the Bonfoey and by Bennett Street Gallery in Atlanta, Georgia. You can see her work at both galleries websites and at Dana’s personal site/blog where  in true North-coast humor she lovingly reassures visiting viewers that she’s a “Cleveland based painter, no, really.”  And a good one.

~Art

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