Shattersquelch/The Utmost Natural
1.11.19 – 2.10.19
Shattersquelch/The Utmost Natural was a two person show with Portland, OR based artist Hannah Piper Burns.
Unreally Real: On Ryan Fontaine’s The Utmost Natural by Brooks Turner
To the right of the entrance, Five Candles, a chaotic painting with sculptural attachments immediately catches my eye. Resin casts of belts growing into cartoon hands cross each other like hands of a clock. Wires keeping the clock/arms in place flutter slightly as my movement through the gallery displaces space. Above the canvas, a piece of metal weighs down a length of thin wire that travels over a small support structure and down to a drooping belt. Initially it appears gravity is at play: the weight of the metal is just enough to hold the weight of the drooping belt but it is not gravity.
The wire crossing the support is not hanging perpendicularly; gravity is not at work, but rather magnetic attraction. The metal is a magnet that pulls the wire a degree or two away from 90, just enough to trick a quick-moving eye. The realization throws off my balance; this subtle shift of architectonic regularity seems to warp space, and I am unsure of my physical reality for a moment.
To see Very Body after is no comfort. Initially abstract, a psychedelic image forms: it is as if I am looking down at the ground, but the ground is wrinkling and pooling into mercurial puddles. Reality is liquid, and once again my spatial sense is shifted, this time by 90 degrees.
Trapp Star is momentarily grounding; it tells us what it is through long repeating lines of stackstrapstackstrapstackstrapstackstrap: stacked stackstrapstackstrap text is ratchet strapped around the wall. Behind the wall a staircase leads down. The stairs alternate one step in white, or a very light grey, one step in black, stacked in the same colors as the text, and the breakdown of language revealed by the repetition (trapstacks rapstackst tackstraps) becomes the physicality of my descent. And so step after step I descend . . .
Red fluorescent light and hanging black furs signal the entrance to an underworld. More subtly, a white insulated pipe snakes from a rectangular hole in the wall, across the ceiling, and then drops alongside a fur. But I’m not sure it’s really an insulated pipe after all; it might be a feature of the basement or it might be a feature of the installation. Still unsure and still staring at this form, the features of the basement become facets of the art. I know I’m in a basement, but the basement knows something I don’t.
Through the fur curtain I am met by Bristling Cuboid #1, #2, and #3 placed on a painted black floor amidst painted black walls. Light from elsewhere floods into this otherwise dark space. The wormy bristles sprouting from liquid black pedestals squirm with potential energy, as fragile in their potency as they seem in their materiality. This space is a body buried underground: the darkness of death but the potency of a cadaver to fertilize new life.
An uncanny table, Flourishing Friend (The Holman Table), hides behind a water heater. At its center a timelapse video plays on loop. A grid of plants sprout and begin to grow before a red light flashes on and the plants die and fall away. Then time is reversed — the plants reanimate from death, slink back into the ground, and the cycle starts again. I am reminded of zero. We often think of zero as the result of a negation, the merging of two opposites: 1 – 1 = 0, or more technically 1 + (-1) = 0. But if we invert this narrative, if we begin with zero, then zero peels apart across the equal sign into two entities, one and its opposite.
There is one final room, the entrance to which is formed of wire grid covered in tape and paint. It subtly undulates, a provisional wall, or more permanent curtain. Through it, I am overwhelmed by light. My eyes are full of electricity, that kind of secret movement you see when staring into the summer sky, almost as if you are watching atoms interact. Birds chirp continuously and a slight breeze circulates from a tiny fan, giving movement to the fronds of ferns and other plants placed in this environment. A chair in the corner invites me to sit, and so I do, facing this stage of plants, pedestals, and reliefs. The reliefs offer fragments of the body: a belt-becoming-tongue emerges from a deep, liquid blue cast, a disembodied cartoon hand encased in resin seems to hang from the vines of a hanging plant, a double image of a torso, one printed and one formed in semitransluscent resin, glistens in the intense light. This room is some kind of myth of summer, a heroization of the season, a true fiction.
When I stand, I feel the warmth of the fluorescent bulbs, reminiscent of the feeling of summer sunshine on my skin; but this felt memory lasts for a moment before the awareness of the simulation overwhelms me. The warm feeling from the light is real in some sense — I really feel warm, but the kind of summer warmth it alludes to doesn’t exist in the present. Yes, this is how metaphor works: a feeling is substituted for another — the unreal represents the real. But in this basement, the opposite is simultaneously present: the reality of the unreal reveals the unreality of the real.
My eyes have adjusted to the intense light by the time I leave, and I am met with a darker darkness than was present when I first entered the basement. For a moment, I can’t see the Bristling Cuboid sculptures I could before, only the water heater and boiler, the organs of the home. To leave the summer simulation is to feel the darkness harder.
What is utmost natural? Is it the unreality of reality? The unification of the cycle of life and death? The uncanniness of experience? At the top of the stairs, I am met by Over Hang, a painting that remains enigmatic to me. Huge gestures of color are contrasted with smaller abstract and representational events: candles, an organ, fleshy patches, a disembodied mouth, a series of silos — all fragments of the world whose only common denominator is sharing a picture plane.
Tufted Grid, a small piece full of innuendo tucked into a corner on the first floor, creates spacetime (The Big Bang) out of carpet trimmings (pubes) and chicken wire (cock block). The unified plane of hairy black frays at the edges, becoming like static. Behind the wire grid, something like a thumb pressed into its center, opening a hole. It is worth noting that I had a smile on my face as I waded through the images, spaces, and experiences of this alchemical exhibition.
Brooks Turner is an artist, writer, and educator concerned primarily with our existential condition. His work has been exhibited nationally, including recent exhibitions at St. Mary’s University, Steve Turner Contemporary, and College of the Redwoods. He received his MFA in sculpture from UCLA in 2015 and currently adjuncts at St. Cloud State University.