“Angle of Incidence” at Actual Size (and if I’m lucky, a few additional notes)

Hello my friends. Many are the reasons to go out looking this weekend. If it’s raining, as it was last weekend, then all the better. Nothing clears the mind’s palate like a quick walk in a downpour and there is little that is more exciting than negotiating our city’s freeways and avenues in a thunder storm. Crazy El Lay drivers.

Perhaps if I tell you about the fun I had during last week’s storm watch you’ll be more persuaded. (We finished our travels over a pot of Oolong tea and bowls of really excellent crab soup at Cafe Via, so yeah – you should be jealous.)

Actual Size. A show of photographs and sculpture by Alex Prager, Larry Fink and J. Patrick Walsh 3. Part of me would like to describe this as a crisp and clean looking exhibition because this was my initial reaction upon seeing it through the front window. But that description just sounds dull and would not make even me want to see the show. So onward.

Actual Size is a small space, and the works are discrete and neatly arranged. The photographs by Prager and Fink feature figures on or near roll away metal stairs and airplanes. The angular shape of the stairs are mimicked by the angled sides of Walsh’s poured and layered wax sculptures.

Walsh’s wax sculptures are composed of layers of colored wax, made from melted candles which are – what, I wonder? Poured into a mold? Composed in parts then stuck together with more melted wax? And where, in what interesting thrift store trove did Walsh find so many black and gray candles?

The colorful stratifications feel like an historical record, as sedimentary rock will indicate the many era’s over which it has been formed. And the candles must have their own histories – of family dinners, Wiccan gatherings, maybe the slightly burnt left overs of a romantic dinner for two. I thought that the sculptures both contain and describe history, of the materials and of their making.

Last week I linked you to some sources for video work by Walsh. In one of these videos he chocked a fishing boat with several of these sculptures, placing the wax works on the ground at the marina and using a forklift to place the boat atop them. Presumably the wax sculptures were crushed, and the manner of their destruction gave me some insight to the works in the “Angle of Incidence” exhibition. See the installation shots below for visual reference.

This three-part wax sculpture originally was one larger sculpture, with a window-shaped opening through it. If you stack them in your mind you get the idea. Possibly this was part of a performance or maybe a larger installation, I don’t know. Somehow it broke. Or was broken. And now it is shown in an exhibition as three parts of one piece. The history is scattered but remains present.

You can feel another kind of gravity in these sculptures, too: wax is heavy. It’s like lead that way, somehow it looks heavier as a material than a similar shape of wood might. The past can feel this way, too. Bearing more weight on the present than it might.

It helps that these chunky, layered, colorful sculptures are pretty. Lovely, dense, brittle, slightly oily to the touch and faintly scented of plain wax. I am not certain what it all adds up to but I like it.

Prager’s photograph, above and also visible in the installation shots, has a woman in a vibrant – vibrating even – green skirty-y thing with a darker green top standing near a spill or leak on the tarmac of a small airport. I don’t want to impose my own narrative on Prager’s picture but the image reminds me of Barbara Bain in the original TV series Mission: Impossible. I mean, the woman in that photo has gotta be either a starlet or an undercover babe and is the only spot of color behind the Iron Curtain. Any Iron Curtain, pick one you like. Or maybe, like Ginger in Gilligan’s Island she’s a starlet playing an undercover babe.

Speaking of “playing,” as in performing, what role does performance play in Prager’s practice? I understand that she carefully casts and stages her shoots, I have to think they are somewhat scripted, too. So then, the people she selects to photograph are performing.

Prager is also performing – she’s a “Photographer” like William Eggleston and Cindy Sherman; she’s a “Director” like Alfred Hitchcock; she’s a “Producer” like Darryl F. Zanuck or David O. Selznick.

She’s a “Wannabe,” like we all are. Except Prager gets the job done.

And given that much of Prager’s work seems drawn from film and television history, then are these photos acting out our memories? I guess I participated in this stage play while in the gallery. Our culture’s shared cinematic subconscious – so terribly strong and which we all help to create – had me seeing filmic moments where there was but a suggestion; and what’s creepier, the photo had me reacting out of the same emotional and proto-sexual place that I once did while watching that long ago TV show. It felt too easy, this manipulation by the artist; like using a famous pop song or film clip in one’s video. But it worked.

I’m of a really strong set of two minds about Alex Prager’s art.

Larry Fink has been making famous photographs for, well check out his website. Visit his blog. Do a Wikipedia on him. This gentleman did more things first than most of us even do.

The photos in this show are of various Obamas and an unnamed VIP, standing near to, descending or climbing airplane stairs. Each member of the Presidential family is shown alone. While there are other people – Secret Service probably – in our field of vision, the President, his daughter and the VIP are solo. Quite emphatically so, while probably also naturalistic, as is noted in the press release. I take this naturalism to mean, “Well of course they are alone – people sometimes are. After all, these people are people.” But they are also figures whom we regard as other. They have become powerful myths in our minds. They sort of keep the flame of our American identity.  Any pose or word or smile or frown from them we want to make full of meaning.

That the airport is in a city in Texas, the home of Mr. Obama’s predecessor in that place of power and myth, could be irony on Fink’s part or not – but it places these pictures firmly in this historical moment and it draws our minds to the recent past.

There’ll be more tomorrow. For instance – go to the Box and see Koki Tanaka’s show. You will be happy.

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