With work by Julia Buntaine, Donna Cleary, Elizabeth Cook, George Davis, Nadia Haji Omar, Katrin Hjordisardottir, Rachel Jantzi, Jee Hee Kang, Shinyoung Kim, Yeon Ji Kim, Andrea McGinty, Jon Sedor, and Art Vidrine
According to Wikipedia, the "home front" is the informal term for the civilian populace of a nation at war as an active support system of their military. My curatorial concept for this exhibition invokes the irrefutably pacifistic notion of the home front. It alludes to the notion of claiming one's individuality by peacefully co-existing. The varied practices of these artists explore the possibility of being unique within their own territories while sharing the same space. This analogy goes even further by stressing that, within the realm of art, home fronts become spaces of both exploration and hospitality. In this way, a home front erases any closures. The artists in this exhibition negotiate their readiness to be at home in the gallery and in a wide variety of media and representational strategies. Artists participating in the exhibition Home Front are metonymically present in the group show by being ready to give the mandate to their works to co-exist within the larger epistemological framework. The separate works should not be treated as fulfilling one unified vision—whole they are forming the home front they are resolutely representing their own unique idiosyncratic fronts.
Starting from this premise of an artistic involvement within the economy of the art world, this exhibition passionately argues for an attitude that shows how one can, within the realm of art, "cultivating one's own garden" without being passive. French Enlightenment thinker Voltaire in his satiric tale Candide of 1759 had famously said "tending one's own garden" is not only a private activity but also a productive one. I return to this concept in order to help explain how activation has different guises, methodologies and, ultimately, different goals. What they all share is this conviction to invite the viewer to share their space and, by observing, share their activity of "tending the gardens."
The first space of Home Front leads the viewer to the very private spaces of the subject's inner psyche. They are evoking confinement and the surrender to the dead-end of existence and at the same time, they open to unlimited horizons of transcendence. Jon Sedor's painting is positioned centrally in order to assert this belief that the front is limited and the representational battlefields are ever expanding. Sedor's visceral treatment of the paint and his insistence on capturing the kinetic power of the wave lure the viewer into this openness of the representational horizon, but also of life's possibilities. The depicted wave is a visual metonym for the artist's subject. The artist himself is symbolically riding the wave he depicts in its full glory—letting the sheer size and persuasion of its radiant colors speak to the viewer directly of one's personal lived passion. The richness of the paint invites the viewer to dive into the representation.
Energized by this encounter, the viewer is ready to confront Donna Cleary's composite sculptures that are offering their forms and their activated space in between to be examined closely, walking around their larger-than-life imposing presence in the gallery's corner. Cleary envisioned the tall vertical hybrid forms as structures to be approached as trees in the woods, naturally alluring and a bit scary at the same time. Their materiality is rough—their different surfaces purposefully clashing with each other creating a rather overwhelming effect. The additions, the all-seeing-eyes represented on the monitors, contribute to this. Then, again, the upsetting element is balanced by the sense of harmony that includes the third, tame horizontal object into this ensemble that restores life-affirming balance to this composite structure. The forms are relating back to the body of the viewer.
Elizabeth Cook's drawing series literally occupy the space in the back to emphasize the before-mentioned sense of dead-end. The statement written on each of them: "today is broken confirm the no-exit sense of entrapment by one's own psyche." Its most potent fear comes from the very repetitiveness of the claim—the brokenness returns with no excuse. Cook offers a way out: Her 30-foot long drawing is an in-your-face personal account of her own struggle to avoid the abyss. Her representational method and style is rigid, as to confirm the abyss of the ordinary getting out of control. But her self-examination within the field of representation is the very act of control she is willing to impose to the unfolding of the deeply affecting personal history.
Katrin Hjordisardottir's performance evoked a feminine struggle of domesticity and echoed second-wave feminist works of the early 1970s, such as Womanhouse in Los Angeles. Leaving a table and a chair with a red-clay model of the house behind her performance, Hjordisardottir suggested the struggle of a young female artist to control and excel at everyday moments in a woman's life. Her performance confronted the viewer with aggression of the shared feminine experience where the quest for perfection leads to feelings of futility and stagnation. Her performative action offered restructured highly personalized feminine narrative that offers no apologies.
Rachel Jantzi's installation of a domestic interior is both familiar and uncanny. It consists of hundreds of personal artifacts belonging to an existence untouched by popular culture. None of the objects relate to contemporary moment—this is a decidedly unplugged home one is invited to visit. The space functions as a simulation of the interior—there is no clear purpose of the space, instead it invites the viewer to create a narrative for him/herself while perusing the quirky elements, from the pink stove to the mandolin and many tchotchkes of the time passed. But then again, this is an installation about time and its passing measured by personal memories.
Jee Hee Kang's idiosyncratic corner atelier installation provides the viewer with sense of wonder. The displayed objects are only similar to paintings, they are artifacts removed from any delicate homely decorative elements, which echoes they carry on the surface. Namely, Kang created unusual objects made of concrete on which she left traces of flea market paintings she had acquired and collected. She let the new objects take the paint from the "originals"—during a process that ruined the originals. The new replicas are purposely brutist in their looks, they do not seem like any kind of replicas one would want to purchase to decorate a home. They resemble more the artifacts of a strange hybrid: the subject matters are tame; the concrete materiality is industrial and unfinished. The contrast is disorienting because it points to the familiar and the remnants of something irretrievably lost.
Andrea McGinty's series of short videos share the same pseudo-confessional approach towards the viewer. McGinty has created a strong voice that combines image and words that go straight to unguarded emotional frontiers. Her generation has learned about the modes of powerful feminist self-expression from female artists like Tracey Emin, whose works also proves to mature beautifully. McGinty here deals with disappointment, abandonment, loss, and obsession in an unapologetic way. But her videos are not only describing alienation, they offer comfort of a gentle embrace by creating a safe environment within the field of representation. One wishes to linger, surrounded by the alluring images of flickering candlelight.
Nadia Haji Omar created a series of small figurative paintings that resemble portraits of strange creatures, suspended between cuteness and fearsomeness. Their faces evoke the early Christian iconic naiveté in representing naturalistic features, while their frontality have the staying power of the icons. These paintings are accompanied by her miniature sculptures that populate their own mini gallery—situated on a shelf they dramatically draw the viewer closer, simulating the universe in miniature. The whimsical abstracted figures evoke the melancholy of an old-fashioned circus menagerie.
Shinyoung Kim's curious installation that share the same space with Omar's characters form a landscape of yet another aspect of the home front as a whole— a playroom of sorts where the scale and size of the works guide the viewer's attention to lyrical introspective moments. Kim's detailed refracted images of nature and architecture are transportative in nature. Her installation inspires lyrical rumination about remote spaces and the memory. Her small paintings show the obstructed view of the objects, suggesting how memory erases them irretrievably. Then again their remnants and echoes create a new identity, of world seen and reconstructed by memory in a curious, nostalgic whole.
This lyrical playroom is lit by Yeon Ji Kim's installation that embodies the chance as featured in the act of throwing the dice. Kim literally performed the gesture—by throwing the transparent box of handmade colorful dice against the wall. In this way, the small throwable objects with multiple resting positions randomly thrown decided the shape of the installation itself. Their resting positions became the finalized shape of the work. Kim's installation is accompanied by the echoes of dice principle—in their variations, combinations and permutations—to remind us that form can be liberated by chance in a playful manner.
The frontier of the home front is the streetscape—the space where boundaries blur and the artworks presented in this context articulate the representational field of the outside world. Within this context, works by Julia Buntaine, George Davis and Art Vidrine also evoke the dictum of art as a perspectival window opened onto the world. Their purview is radically different. George Davis offers investigation of the representational field of the large-format abstract oil on canvas paintings saturated with rich impasto textures. Davis' surfaces are viscerally treating the paint. His heavy brush strokes dominate the canvas making the materiality of the paint its primary surface and its reason of existence. His palette does not have to look for inspiration anywhere but within the paint itself—it is governed by the intricate laws within the canvas itself. The series of four paintings stays within given parameters of intuitive boldness and self-sufficiency of representation.
In contrast to this vision, Julia Buntaine's photograph offers the most analytical approach to the vision itself. Buntaine has investigated the neuroscientific research of physiology of the human vision. Her works embodies the notion of the field of vision by allowing the viewer to see it augmented and applied to the everyday cityscape image observed on the streets of New York. Buntaine follows the logic of formation of the field of the vision, so the emphasis of the image represented is not about what is seen, but how. Its contours clearly define our stereoscopic worldview's boundaries.
Art Vidrine's installation deals with the notion of boundaries and limitations of vision and its reception and manipulation. He created a mock antenna out of a bamboo chair equipped by neon lights that simulates a surveillance device. The object itself as placed on the frontier of the Home Front exhibit signifies the sinister implications of the concept of all-seeing panopticon by playfully subverting its ominousness. This sense is emphasized by his videos that show his performative action of taking the object out for a stroll in the city. His funny encounters with the business-as-usual mode of existence of the outside world underlines art's liminal place. His videos are followed by the somewhat unpleasant sound of the traction of the antenna: a reminder that these probings are not only featherlight whimsical acts.