Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Jack Strange's “Deep Down” at Tanya Bonakdar
Deep Down investigates experiences that are perceived as reality in human consciousness and feeling. Strange’s mixed media installations find the unreal in the familiar by animating household things and nature in this multi-room exhibition. Metaphors about life, death, and daily experience guide the viewer to imagine what is possible beyond our daily reality.
In the main gallery, Strange illustrates growth and decay with the use of actual vegetables along with text that symbolizes vegetables. In Fennel, white neon letters, spelling “FENNEL”, are planted in a rectangular box of dirt. Only the top half of the letters are showing, representing the emergence of a growing vegetable. Without help from the title, the neon word is difficult to read. Even though the box contains dirt, it looks unable to support growth. Its stainless steel exterior gives it a sterile quality, and the electric cord coming out of the box makes it look like an appliance. The idea of growth is produced with words and light alone. Metaphorical Vegetables, in the same space, uses real vegetables to show a decaying process. In this work, nature isn’t metaphorical, but is as tangible as the squash, zucchini, and red peppers stuck to the walls. Each vegetable was sliced at the stem as if it was beheaded. They will continue to decay on the walls until the end of the exhibition. Beneath each vegetable is a coil drawn in black to make it look as if it’s springing in the air and full of life. The addition of the coil animates these familiar grocery items and gives them an imaginative fate other than their inevitable decay. In both Fennel and Metaphorical Vegetables, Strange questions whether the life of these vegetables exists in the ground or in imagination.
Other works in the main gallery evoke being “plugged in” to an electronic experience and, at the same time, feeling removed from the experience. Strange’s work Blues Avocado, Classical Date, Pop Plum, Electronic Olive, Jazz Nectarine includes five plexiglass columns that each contain a different fruit pit that hangs from a string. The pits resemble little brains on display inside these human-sized transparent rectangles. On the outside of each column is a set of earplugs positioned on either side of the pits so that it looks like the pits are listening to music. However, the earplug cords are not plugged into a device, but instead are inserted into the plexiglass lower down on the columns. The titles of these works help the viewer imagine the types of music that the pits are listening to, while the pits themselves are unable to experience music. All Sharks, All Dolphins, and All Fish use three iPod Touch’s to create another mediated experience. Each device is placed in a bag within another clear plastic bag filled with water that hangs at eye level. Friendly animated sea creatures are displayed on the screens, and the speakers emit cold artificial vocalizations listing descriptive words, which are slightly muted by the surrounding bag of water. The incoherent message the words form turns a typically interactive device into one that the viewer can neither play with or understand. By encasing the pits in plastic boxes and surrounding the iPods with water, Strange creates a distance between the device and the experience it promises, illustrating our vital role in experiencing technology. Without the human mind, technology cannot be experienced.
In the side gallery, Strange creates tension by combining meditative works with sensational works. Unbelievably Real takes the viewer to a completely visceral place. The artist smeared his own blood on the wall in circles along with the word “HA” written repetitively on the dried blood. This work relates hysterical laughter to a horrific action so that it becomes strongly felt and, at the same time, somewhat unreal. In the same space are cerebral works, Consciousness Combi 1 and Consciousness Combi 2. Two plexiglass boxes display an array of colored acrylics sticks that are standing upright or laying flat in a few inches of water. The clear boxes are on top of flatscreen televisions playing single-channel videos. The combination of video, water, and bright acrylic sticks creates a soothing optical effect. This experience is as much visual as it is mental. As the video gradually changes from solid colors to an abstract pattern, the light from beneath slowly changes the appearance of the colored sticks and refracts light in the shallow pool of water. The Consciousness Combi works and Unbelievably Real discuss concepts of consciousness and the visceral in one space. The emotional and psychological effects of these sensory works makes the viewer question what is real and what is imagined or felt in our daily lives.
Strange recontextualizes familiar objects so that our perception of these things is taken beyond our daily understanding of technology, food, and the body. A fruit pit becomes a brain listening to music, pieces of vegetables spring into action, and something so tangible as blood becomes surreal. With the variety of daily objects that Strange uses, it seems possible that he could create human metaphors with almost anything in our physical surroundings. It’s left up to the viewer to decide whether the actual or the metaphorical is perceived as reality in human consciousness.
Posted by Liz Duffy at 4:15 PM