Issue #189
Beer Here! Get Your Beer Here! May 4, 2012

Files Desks Chairs (exhibition view)
(from left to right) Christian Heidsieck, Michael Bell Smith, Megan Carney
Courtesy of the artists
Photo credit: Morgan Jones

View Gallery

Files Desks Chairs

TOPS Warehouse, Austin

Through May 12
by Emily Ng

Art venues take many different forms. From the apartment gallery to the posh commercial downtown space to the dazzling architecture of large institutions, each act as empty arenas for exhibiting artwork. For the majority of venues, the idea is to mimic the white cube, paving away the insides until maximum surface area is achieved and everything is as flat, white and clean as possible. Counter to that tendency is Files Desks Chairs, a group exhibition organized by Katie Geha, Sterling Allen and Travis Kent. Located in a former office supply warehouse, the unorthodox nature of the space requires both the organizers and audience to engage the work simultaneously with the venue.

Pacing the viewer, the warehouse provides a backdrop that dramatically changes the context of the work. Segregated from the larger area of the warehouse and installed in a series of smaller window-filled spaces, each room contains different groupings of artists. Walking through the exhibition feels like an act of exploration; a hunt for the work. The many windows in each room help break up the compartmentalized nature of the building, sometimes acting as mirrors that reflect the space you’re in and at other times allowing you to peek into adjacent rooms. This effect ties in nicely with the overall themes of abstraction and perception contained within both the individual pieces and the space itself. The anticipation of the journey throughout the exhibition is not just to view the work, but to understand the space in relation to it. A flickering light becomes a light installation, a piece about the senses then just another flickering light.

While viewing Patrick Arnold’s series of small sculptural paintings, the cloud-like images giving off a meditative aura reminiscent of staring up at a slow-moving sky, you can catch a glimpse of Rachel Hecker’s work through a shared window. At first glance, Hecker’s work appears to be warehouse detritus. Incomplete grocery lists, phone numbers jotted down on business cards or receipts and random words written on hotel stationary are the source imagery for Hecker’s paintings. Meticulously rendered, the replicas are blown up to massive proportions with Post-It notes standing three feet tall and business cards as big as coffee tables. There is beauty in the simplicity of the work, imposing a poetic earnestness onto normally inconsequential objects. Their effectiveness is heightened by the nontraditional hanging and gives the work a performative element—as if at any moment someone might walk in and add to the growing pile of handwritten notes.

This provisionary feel follows you throughout the exhibition, questioning the notion of what type of environment is required for artwork to be viewed in. In many ways, much of the work looks very much at home in the warehouse, Mark Flood’s Student Lounge perhaps benefiting the most from the environment. Lit only by the eerie glow of black lights, are Flood’s spray-painted mantras, stenciled on black poster-board and scattered throughout a large, disorientingly dark room. The room is unfinished and raw with exposed ceilings, support beams and small alcoves that give it a labyrinth-like effect. Loaded phrases such as “BRING A GUN” and “FUCK THE RATIO” creep out of the darkness with intensity, confronting you head on. Displaced from a gallery setting, the experience is visceral and more like that of searching for the bathroom in a sleazy club, or the basement of an obsessive mind. In an adjoining room, you dead-end into the solace of Dani Leventhal’s 54 Days this Winter 36 Days this Spring for 18 Minutes. A collage of disparate moments in time, Leventhal distills hours of footage filmed from her own life, creating a poignant montage of human banality. The process of walking through Flood’s work to reach Leventhal’s video is an appropriate transition, the jarring juxtaposition of each artist’s work informing the other.

Primarily grouped by artist, the photographs of Megan Carney differ in that they are found dispersed throughout the exhibition, providing a somewhat needed thread between each of the exhibitions groupings. As the only photographs in the exhibition, they act as a commentary on the space, abstracting physical representation and questioning what is real and what is a facade. Based on the photographic representation of familiar objects you trust that the images are grounded in fact, however, through the camera’s manipulation or at times a touch of post-production, the images flatten and the surfaces become questionable while visual blemishes ride the line between the intentional and the accidental. Though the boundaries of the site may have been pushed further by the inclusion of more sculpture and site-specific pieces, the overall exhibition is an exceptional demonstration of culling together a diverse group of artists in an unusual venue to create a significant exhibition. Smartly curated, Files Desks Chairs is well-integrated and considered, gaining texture from the unconventional framework and reminding us of what can happen when you step out of the white cube.

Emily Ng is an artist and Production Associate at Fluent~Collaborative.

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