Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis
Through August 8, 2010
by William J. Gass
It is our virtue as critical beings that we are capable of discarding the flaws and biased ideologies of our recorded histories. An extreme view of this suggests that we should progress toward a totally PC-realm for institutionalized history; one where a “neutral” (or is it neutered?) historian recognizes his/her/its hegemonic privilege of record keeping and fact-issuing. Cameron Fuller, in his 2010 Great Rivers Biennial exhibition, From the Collection of the Institute for the Perpetuation of Imaginal Processes, recognizes the futility in this, and instead chooses to revel in a personalized pseudo-history couched in a DIY aesthetic. Though he borrows display strategies from natural history museums, he operates closer to a benevolent junk collector who presents his scavenged materials and artifacts as an amorphous, traveling exhibition of his own autobiography – subsuming all under the head of a constructed “institute” made up largely of his own friends.
Craft, utility and refuse are key to his distorting practice. In four components Fuller exhibits thrifted/retrieved objects that take on the aspect of relics, and that serve as attempts to concretize his own encounters with distant cultures, constructed histories, and ideas of nature. For example, the diorama As It Is presents purchased taxidermied animals in an imaginary, geometric, cosmic-natural environment in which he has successfully transmuted spools of antiquated adding machine paper into birch trees. Some of the objects within the installation Remembering Washington, in particular, are elaborately constructed out of no more than cardboard, gaffe tape, and paint marker but serve as interpretations of his memories of Pacific Northwestern cultural artifacts connected with his hometown. They manage to simultaneously resemble basement-conceived, packing material assemblages and priceless, historical antiquities.
Fuller’s work is not unlike Tracy Emin’s in its utilization of craft methods and its autobiographical exhortations. He reorganizes other people’s waste to construct a paean to formative moments of his childhood, to express a desire to retain a state of unadulterated purity, and to praise creativity. By presenting these objects in the context of an “institute,” he forces contemplation of refuse and personal memory. This precludes a dependence on the perceived value of his autobiographical content; if it weren’t for the obvious quality of craftsmanship in these pieces, little exists to warrant one’s contemplation of the institute as a whole. The modeling after a history museum is more a means to an end than an institutional critique.
According to an entrance document functioning as a masthead for the collection, the Institute for the Perpetuation of Imaginal Processes is also composed of his artistic-minded friends and loved ones. It is unclear their precise role in the exhibition, yet Fuller states that they are absolutely critical to its realization, due to a shared commitment to creativity and “not knowing.” His institution is closer to a community quilt that stitches together his interests, desires, and memories. What does make his show successful is its lack of adherence to a particular “-ogical” agenda, outside of an objectification of nostalgia that is treated both with a curious child’s touch and a crafter’s X-Acto knife. The Institute is fun, yet with a tinge of gloomy sentimentality. Biographies and waste are hardly static, and none of these are arrested to a permanent past. They just need the influence of an open imagination to re-evaluate their potentials.
William J. Gass is a writer based in St. Louis and assistant at Snowflake gallery.