REVIEW | The World is Mystical, Dangerous and Delicious
March 2, 2015
The World is Mystical, Dangerous and Delicious
Organized by gallery staff and presenting work in a variety of media, The World is Mystical, Dangerous & Delicious is a show about ghosts. And dreams. Both have been topics of philosophical inquiry throughout the history of Western thought ever since Aristotle’s treatise On Dreams, and both provide intimate inquiries into what haunts us as humans in our actual and imagined realities. Evident in the works of the exhibit through exquisite textures and subtleties in the applications of materials and traces of the artists’ hands, Scott Speh, Gallery Director and Owner of Western Exhibitions, opens the floor for an engaging dialogue between what is real and what isn’t, what lingers and what never was, and finally, our desires and our regrets.
Probably the most famous philosophical approach to dreaming is the problem of dream skepticism, which Descartes, in his first Meditation, famously argued that because of the realistic quality of sensory experience during the dream state, it would never be possible to distinguish dreaming from wakefulness on empirical grounds alone. While the questions posed here are not completely subject to the inquiries of Descartes or Aristotle, several artists in the exhibit, Dana Carter, Leah Mackin, Rachel Niffenegger, and Corkey Sinks, blur the notions of conscious awareness through beautifully crafted and subtle works that wrestle with some of their ideas.
Dana Carter’s Extract from Captain Stormfield’s Visit from Heaven, #3, serves as evidence of an experience without a trace of the human hand. Using fleeting materials, appropriately, to convey the passage of time, Carter presents a stunning and oversized textile work made by evaporating saltwater on the surface of theatrical cotton. A deep and expansive black surface is crusted with crystalline forms, suggestive of images from satellites or gleaming mountains at night and designed to be a physical representation of darkness or disorientation within the landscape. The work is named for a story written by Mark Twain that is a reflection of the Captain’s internal dialogue after he dies at sea as his spirit is lost in the universe in search of it’s final resting place (ironically, the work remained unfinished at the time of his death). Carter captures the notion of spirit plummeting through space, struggling to find a sense of finality while remaining in an ever-present state of unrest. I am mesmerized by the sheer obliteration of light by the textile as well as the overwhelming size of the piece, both of which quietly echo the visceral feelings of smallness I feel as I stand before it. Simultaneously experiencing a sense of intimacy and distance, Carter poetically depicts the mysteries of events beyond our control or understanding, and the loneliness that comes from feeling so insignificant in the process.
At the same time, artist Leah Mackin offers new insights from a more nuanced perspective, capable of visualizing the delicate differences between memory and history, between dreaming and waking consciousness. Untitled (Swipe) leaves just the residue of an event on a rich black abyss of toner – an infiniteness of purpose than began with a simple drag of her finger across the tenuous, unfixed surface. This ephemeral and unassuming work is an experience without recollection or memory – as if I am witnessing the “big bang” with nothing coming before and everything possible still to come. I am launched into a thousand directions, each crying out with possibility, disappointment, or that meek ground found somewhere in the middle. Mackin offers a perfect reflection of the state in-between.
In three great treatises: De Somno et Vigilia, De Insomnis, and De Divinatione Per Somnum (On Sleep and IDreams, On Sleeping and Waking, and On Divination Through Sleep) Aristotle deals with the subtleties of sleep and dreams, specifically delving into his theories of the mind and imagination observed only through the acts of sleeping and waking. Imagination, in his principles, is the result of sensory and subjective perception occurring after the disappearance of a sensed object. Deeply recognizing that the human mind can form powerful and realistic ‘afterimages’ of things no longer present, it is a logical and curious inquiry to apply this insight into the realm of dreaming. Interestingly, when asleep, the faculty to distinguish between what is an external object or what is imagined is almost completely absent; this produces a fantastical and enormous sense of reality possible in our dreams.
Slattern's Hanging, by Rachel Niffenegger, thoughtfully explores this divide between hallucination and reality by combining seductive, supple flesh-colored entrails hesitantly draped across epoxied metal rails. Addressing notions of the body and alluding to both the physical and the psychological, these dyed and distressed strands function as skins or hides, remnants of objects and bodies that have been consumed with just battered fragments of the outer container/adornment remaining. At once alluring and repulsive, Niffenegger has created a realistic “afterimage,” a powerful and momentary presence reduced to a shroud of life-like fringe left to rot and collapse on itself from itself. The reality Niffenegger crafts is gritty and in some ways extremely desolate, I wonder which (the imagined or the real) I am left with.
Going further into Aristotle’s observations, dreams were the product of experiences had while we were awake, and stored, only surfacing during dreaming by our imaginations. Thus, could I argue that they are evidence of what is “real” and thereby subsequently, emotionally and mentally actual if not impermanent as they are rooted in reality? Not fully, but Aristotle goes further to say that because our common sense faculty that usually distinguishes between fact and fancy is absent during sleep, we are prone to the amazing fantasies of dreams, beyond correction, judgment, or evaluation. He qualifies this statement by referencing the faculty of lucid dreaming, by saying, “often when one is asleep, there is something in consciousness which declares that what then presents itself is but a dream.”
Questioning this faculty of lucidity, Untitled (Broken Dishes) by artist Corkey Sinks declares itself present but as something buried from deep within a consciousness. Through sewn constellations of geometric patterns, referential to self-help culture, Sinks depicts escapist fantasies and practical and psycho-spiritual alternatives to isolation. This large hand-cut, heat-fused plastic covering is besotted with black and clear triangles, a uncanny object that offers little comfort in its tangibility and application, but it implores me to get lost in the maze and mythology it represents. The longer I linger within this work; my mind wanders into my own personal conspiracies of what has been and what is yet to come and how it all will unravel. With no exit, aesthetically, technically, or metaphorically, Sinks successfully lures me in and traps me in my own (and subsequently her) contemporary folklore. Where the lines of delineation are, I am happily unaware.
The World is Mystical, Dangerous & Delicious is a complex exhibition, and the work is ripe for interpretation and impression. The more time that passes from viewing, I find myself with a heavier heart and more questions. The works have stuck with me and in time, or in my dreams perhaps, I believe the answers may come. Find out for yourself, currently on view through March 7, 2015 at Western Exhibitions located at 845 W. Washington Boulevard, 2nd floor, Chicago, IL, 60607. For more, visit: www.westernexhibitions.com/current/2015/1_mystical/index.html
Images (from top to bottom):Dana Carter, Extract from Captain Stormfield’s Visit from Heaven, #3, 2012, evaporated saltwater, spectral thread on theatrical cotton, 70 x 80 inches; Dana Carter, Extract from Captain Stormfield’s Visit from Heaven, #3(detail); Leah Mackin, Untitled (Swipe), 2014, toner on paper, 31 1⁄2 x 16 1⁄2 inches; Rachel Niffenegger, Slattern's Hanging (detail), 2013, steel, epoxy clay, spray paint, dyed fabric, plaster, watercolor, and mother of pearl powder, 76.5 x 46 x 35.5 inches; and Corkey Sinks, Untitled (Broken Dishes), 2013, hand-cut heat-fused plastic, grommets, 67 x 113 inches;Rachel Niffenegger, Slattern's Hanging, 2013, steel, epoxy clay, spray paint, dyed fabric, plaster, watercolor, and mother of pearl powder, 76.5 x 46 x 35.5 inches