Saturday, June 30, 2012

"Reading Hazard": Intervention Into "At Owner's Risk"

Meeting Avantika Bawa while she was creating the site-specific installation At Owner's Risk for Suyama Space was fortuitous, closing a recently established circuit with the Portland-based, India-born artist. Ms. Bawa and legendary Suyama Space Curator Beth Sellars had been coincidentally visiting The Tacoma Art Museum May 6th at the very moment I was exhibiting a performative of my yoiking-influenced vocal experimentation.

Our meeting again at Suyama Space sometime after my May 6 TAM performative had the earmarks of a studio visit, without the formality nor difficulty of driving to Oregon to accomplish. Ms. Bawa had a particularly timely shade of Cerulean Blue paint on her hands which presented a problem in shaking hands. Instead, we looked into each other's eyes and established a connection which comes when two artists meet in the theatre of the creation of artwork. I kept my visit as short as possible, as the artist was in the throes of adding some finishing touches to her artwork, additionally, the installation at Suyama Space was being photographed by the wildly-talented artist Mark Woods. I made a cursory viewing, and bid the artists adieu.

My cursory viewing provided a foundation for critical writing about At Owner's Risk. The installation had a formidable connection to the historic harmonies of Suyama Space, beginning with livery commerce circa 1890 and the chapter of the merch book ending with the building finding use as an edifice for the warehousing of motorcars. Ms. Bawa's salient sweep of shapes and choice of Ford blue (used by Ford Motor Company to paint the engines in their autos since the Model T), rang true, blue, yet anew. The inclined plane. Car lifts. Oil. The key artistic decisions which make this installation a masterpiece are the subtlety, thoughtful austerity and understated minimalism which encourages the viewer intervening in the installation to remain, persist in the artwork, be thorough in the absorption of the artist's handiwork.  Somewhere after the vernissage for At Owner's Risk, it became apparent the oil that Ms. Bawa had chosen to represent a facet of Suyama Space's bygone era wasn't going to be acceptable, as it really stunk up the place.  The oil was immediately supplanted with a viscous substance redolent of nothing.  I am reminded of the conceptual process which plays out; like unacceptable-smelling oil pans, or,  in my own recent experience as an artist, the failure of a DVD platform in a major museum exhibit of my artwork, and how the response to those challenges allow artists to continue to meet and surpass challenges and accumulate artistic achievements.  Ms. Bawa has earned her commission at Suyama Space by virtue of this simple yet poignant premise.  What do we do when art fails?  Back to the drawing board, and draw, as artists should.  Ms. Bawa understands this, and does this.  Ms. Bawa effortlessly solves problems with her art.

Reading Hazard occured June 28, as a happening response and adjunct to At Owner's Risk, a reading of the poetry of organizer David Abel and fellow poets Lisa Radon, Niko Vassilakis and James Yeary. Comprised of this quartet of poets simultaneously delivering uttered language, in a effort to evoke a feeling of linguistic sculpture, stationed at each corner of the installation, Reading Hazard had all of the messy loveliness of art which is difficult, disastrous, soaring, muddled, and incomprehensible. The Flaming Lips produced artwork like this; Zaireeka, a four cassette mindblower meant to be played all four tapes at the same time in four different boom boxes. The four poets made a formal congress and chataqua of the fingers-in-ears-la-la-la-I-can't-hear-you tome, and with the success of such an idea, the silent smartphone hand-gazer becomes a stony insignificance.

The event was well-attended by art people and the cognoscenti affiliated with cross-disciplinary experimentation, including Suyama Space affiliates Emma Schultz, Beth Sellars and George Suyama himself.   Trenton Flock, John Boylan, Rick Araluce and Steven Peters (Peters recording ambient sound/poetic hubub in real time) were present, accounted for, and created an atmosphere of a s├ílon, which enhanced the experience for me greatly. When one of the audience's cellphones went off during the happening, Peters followed the unsuspecting caller outside with his mic, capturing the spontaneous event for posterity.  A pleasing admixture of masterful installation and inspired performative.  Congratulations all mentioned artists and organizers,  deserving of praise!

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