Month: July 2015

Master, What Good Deeds Shall I Do?

Out of the Sky, Into the Dirt installation view at Adventureland Gallery in Chicago, IL

Out of the Sky, Into the Dirt solo exhibition by Aaron Coleman at Adventureland Gallery in Chicago, IL

Hung neatly and carefully, the prints were nonetheless fragments of an infinitely complex narrative; a smoldering world tearing apart in a wash of smoke and tormented faces, infused with sometimes belligerent, always spectacular phrases that like koans returned us to rapt attention. These phrases struck us as messages both infernal and absolute, emblazoned with the cinematic appeal of comic books and our special effects-laden action and disaster films – the two media fused together to form a consumerist apocalypse. The work was dense and outright heavy, and appropriately so, because we were looking at nothing short of the end of the world.

Aaron Coleman, Master, What Good Deeds Shall I Do?, 2014, lithography and screen print, 16"x12", installed at Adventureland Gallery in Chicago, IL

Aaron Coleman, Master, What Good Deeds Shall I Do?, 2014, lithography and screen print, 16″x12″, installed at Adventureland Gallery in Chicago, IL

In Master, What Good Deeds Shall I Do? conflicts and coincidences arose from a sublime center, which featured the Virgin Mary, haloed, meticulously rendered in profile and outlined in bold lines like stained glass. Only her face remained visible in the chaotic surge of her surroundings. Overlapping figures gazed in various directions; one man yelling in terror, another turning his back, wearing a fedora, and two others contorted, leaning and struggling. These figures were heavily blended with other indistinguishable shapes, images, and speech bubbles that read, “Earth will be damned!” “Yes, master, your dreams and wishes will be fulfilled!” and “I have reshaped [earth] to my desire,” rendered in comic book lettering. We were filled with both a sense of the heroism and an awareness of the terror and violence that undergirds that heroism.

Aaron Coleman

Aaron Coleman, Master, What Good Deeds Shall I Do? (detail)

The layered histories and styles have formed a new mash-up, a monstrosity of moral disorder and turmoil in the information age. Backlit as it would be in a church; the stained glass positioned us as viewers on the interior of the church, within the dark mass of chaotic figures and speech bubbles. Both the comic strip and the classical iconic stained glass are forms traditionally used for visual narrative, but in this image the narrative was remixed and layered so heavily that the content was broken, only conveying a mess of confusion and terror. This confusion and terror was ultimately the heart of the heroic narrative, trapping us in it. We were washed away in the flood, redeemed, or taken vengeance upon – or perhaps wrapped up in a villainous scheme. Master, What Good Deeds Shall I Do? revealed to us the power and possibilities of mythmaking. It communicated to us in a language of the heavenly and the exultant – a language of power, tyranny, strife, and responsibility.

Untitled

The bare space of the gallery opened up with a few large installations constructed out of simple repeating materials. Less immediate was the series of five faint forms on the closest wall. This was an unusual encounter: at first glance we noticed a cluster of insignificant shadows or scuffmarks, perhaps more convincingly a shallow counter-relief of repeating patterns in the wall, made of wall. They turned out to be five large, astonishingly faint images of gestural streaks. Only one of them had delineated square edges that implied the same format for all five.

Manish Nai, Untitled

Manish Nai, Untitled, 2015, Distemper and Poster Paint on Wall, Site-Specific Mural at Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago, IL

Like subatomic particle collision or military data visualization, or glitch, the piece took its aesthetic qualities from both minimalist gestural brush strokes and data-driven machine art. It seemed carved into the drywall with perfect robotic precision, closely resembling an artifact of photo editing software with the same positive and negative digital transparencies slightly misaligned. The five images seemed formless without actually being so. As representations of representations, they reminded us of thumbnails with their frustrating incapability to “truly signify,” that is, inform.

Manish Nai, Untitled

Manish Nai, Untitled (detail), 2015, Distemper and Poster Paint on Wall, Site-Specific Mural at Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago, IL

Closer inspection shattered all of these impressions. This was a mural made of small, presumably stenciled gray and white squares, like pixels. The conversion would not have emerged without our awareness of digital image-making coupled with our shifting perspective, our movement in space. The tiny painted squares whose edges were not perfectly clean could have easily been created a thousand years ago. How could something so simple in form look so machined? This was an abstracted image, not in the typical sense of abstraction, of paring down to fundamental elements ­– but abstraction toward a higher complexity that increases in speed and shrinks in size. The installation spoke of the nature of our new vision, of mediation, of the way in which a thing can no longer be experienced firsthand. Everything we see is administered by the digital era with a rift between generations and a layered confusion; digital mediation has made a lot possible that we couldn’t imagine before. These abstract images ultimately collapsed upon themselves. By representing data and the complexities of information, they became images we could see and know, and perhaps even name.

Manish Nai, Untitled

Manish Nai, Untitled (detail), 2015, Distemper and Poster Paint on Wall, Site-Specific Mural at Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago, IL

A multitude of perspectives transformed the artwork through each moment we took to gaze, only to confound us at the point of understanding or grasping, which left a chasm between conveyance, representation, and knowing. Could it be possible that the chasm is shallow, and at the bottom lies a ravine composed of both the familiar and the potential?