Sunday, November 12, 2006

"Gestures" @ Matress Factory, Keny Marshall @ SPACE.

The Mattress Factory on Monterrey was a mob scene Friday night. They were offering a sneak peek of the latest installment in their Gestures series. This yearly exhibit presents a variety of smaller-scale, mixed media, site specific work by a selection of regional artists. In the past the shows have featured pieces by people not tradionally thought of as artists. It's an excellent way for this internationally-known institution to connect with the community of Pittsburgh. From the looks of the crowd, the majority ofthe local arts audience was in attendance. They exhausted the requisite supply of wine and hors-d'oeuvres within a half hour.

The combination of the mass of people, and the unseasonable weather made the atmosphere cramped and sweaty. These circumstances were not ideal for forming a considered opinion about the quality of the work. The charm of the building on Monterrey is its residential flavor. The brownstone-flavored intimacy of the environment distinguishes it as a memorable destination. But its three floors of small rooms don't adequately accommodate the hordes likely to show up for this sort of exhibition.

Despite my discomfort I enjoyed area favorites like Laura Jean McClaughlin, Shawn and Alexandra Watrous, Brian Lang, Thad Kellstadt, Adam Grossi, Carolyn Wenning, and David Conrad... as well as the photography work of newcomer Anne Angyal. Additionally, it was nice to see the inclusion of Brooklyn-based artist Kate Temple, whose work I recently saw at the Digging Pitt. I'd like to return later and have another look when it's less crowded. Gestures will by up until January 7th.

After I escaped the congestion at the Mattress Factory, I made the short drive downtown to have a look at Keny Marshall's opening at SPACE Gallery downtown. A look through the glass plate exterior of SPACE hints at the antiquated industrial wonderland inside. A conglomeration of pipes, gauges and joints coalesces into a large free-form mazelike structure reminiscent of a particularly dangerous playground "jungle gym". As impressively foreboding as the piece is, it merely hints of the magic contained at the rear of the gallery.

"Apophenia" is a confounding and playful installation centered on a large glass sphere aquarium. The movements of several fish (successors to the trail-blazing, but now unfortunately-deceased creatures involved during the project's initial conception) are videotaped by unobtrusive cameras that feed into two stacked monitors nearby. Motion-detectors attached to the screens monitor the movements of the aforementioned fish, and send electrical charges to towers with plastic slinky-like respirators. The resulting discharges of air are directed into beat-up brass instruments that announce the activities of the marine life.

Keny Marshall must be some sort of mad genius to have dreamed up such a scheme. As the piece's title suggests, it is a commentary on "patterns or connections in random or meaningless data." Yet it elicits a consideration of the very nature of concepts like "random" and "meaningless". Such carefully orchestrated harnessing of instinctual animal behavior suggests an intricately manipulative plan, whereby the artist has become the divine arbiter of fate. Through his contraption, Marshall articulates a dialogue between chance and creation. And it's all accentuated by an aesthetic reminiscent of the post-industrial tableus of Jean Pierre-Jeunet and Marc Caro (City of Lost Children, Delicatessen).

But why rely on my rather heavy-handed attempts to describe "Apophenia"? You may have missed the opening, but the exhibit continues until December 31st. Make it a point to come out and see this wildly inspired grand design.


Anonymous marc v. said...

ha, yes - I thought of Jeunet and perhaps Gilliam (circa Brazil) at Keny Marshall's show. In addition to your thoughtful comments, I found myself reflecting on, in my mind anyway, a certain dsytopian vibe. The stark environment of the tank (to this amateur aquarist), the random but organic movement of the fish versus the relatively predictable (but ingenious) mechanics of it - all resembled some intricate, atavistic dance between carbon and silicon. The fact that I experienced the show by myself for a large majority of my time there, only made the experience more contemplative and eerie. I am glad for having seen one of the best installations of the year...

12:04 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

I suppose the show was dystopian from the point of view of the fish (especially the original pair, which died before the display was set up at SPACE). The tank was definitely lacking in amenities. And yeah, it did suggest a fatalistic view of life.

I agree that it was the best installation of the year (and in my recent memory as well- at least in Pittsburgh). I think you would have really liked Peter Caine's work that I saw in Chelsea in August.

6:29 PM  

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