Chris Lipomi and Georg Parthen at JB Jurve
Text message, 9:35 pm on Saturday, October 8, 2011 Geoff Tuck to Chris Lipomi:
“Is JB Jurve still happening? We just shooed people out and want to come. Geoff”
Chris Lipomi to Geoff Tuck, moments later:
Geoff Tuck back to Chris Lipomi, instantly:
“Yay! Well leave now”
From home see u soon”
Somehow I looked at the photographs first, I think Chris Lipomi’s sculptures made me nervous. The party seemed to be on the roof so D and I had the place pretty much to ourselves – the windows out onto Broadway might have been open and we may have felt a breeze stirring. When I looked again at the sculptures it was as though that breeze that unsettled me set the tone for my looking. I had the curious sense of watching myself see the work and seeing how I drew connections between Parthen’s sculptural-looking photographs and Lipomi’s totemic, hand-made Modern tombstones.
Backing up a bit, I thought of several railroad tie sculptures That Chris Lipomi has made in recent years – one that he showed at Mihai Nicodim in the spring of 2010 titled Platform. http://nicodimgallery.com/exhibitions/a-harmonious-mix-of-objects/ In his studio, Lipomi has a suite of maquettes for similar sculptures made of railroad ties and built in varying degrees of complexity, and these he displays on a wood-grain plastic surface table – the type with metal tubing legs.
At Jurve Lipomi is working with concrete to make his objects, and he has double plinthed them. Each sculpture sits on a metal grid and this grid is placed on the aforementioned rough table, which is itself covered in brown wrapping paper. Several are the conflicting or complementing types of removal and presentation in this space.
I keep getting stuck, fascinated even, with that brown paper wrapping. It reminds me of the railroad ties that the artist has used – each has a ubiquitous quality: paper wrapping is everywhere, and everywhere that it is it is always the same. Rough, brown, blackened with creosote and use, wooden railroad material also becomes all the same when you try to separate one out from among the rest. Each of us has at one time in a past made bookshelves from this easily obtained material – usually paired with concrete masonry blocks. Each of us also has probably, later on in life perhaps, made garden terraces or vegetable growing boxes with the ties.
Commonplace materials of production. Precision of presentation. Idiosyncrasy of form.
There is a sense of the social to this work too, as to Lipomi’s past projects. Sometimes this social aspect presents as literal activities of a body – the railroad tie sculpture Platform which invited you to climb up and view the exhibition and the social interactions surrounding the exhibition. For Makawana Omawaki, Chris’s 2006 exhibition at Dan Hug in Chinatown, the artist made ‘tribal’ looking masks, hanging plant boxes, paintings, and mirrors all of which filled the gallery to a cheerful claustrophobia and looked to me like the 1975 dude-aspiring-to-suave-debauchery bachelor pad of an older acquaintance in Diamond Bar when I was a teenager. (We kids could smoke weed, listen to Queen and hang with adults. It was magical disarray.) Although this exhibition began with a ritualistic installation of the final sculpture accompanied by a Chinatown bacchanal, when I visited ‘the body’ was not present in Lipomi’s show and the gallery was empty. Still – social activity was certainly implied in that space.
This reliance on and investigation of social inclusion in his work continued with a 2010 show At Michael Lett in New Zealand, Interactive Visual History Compression (The Ks), for which the artist/curator reached into his curatorial tool kit and pulled out the alphabet as his organizing principle. In this case a society is constructed by selecting artists whose last name begins with the letter ‘K’. http://www.michaellett.com/exhibition/?show=168&s=Interactive+Visual+History+Compression+%28The+Ks%29
And where is the body in this present show? How do these newer sculptures relate to social activity? Um, let’s see. Sitting at the table, before it became a pedestal? Perhaps praying before the hallowed ground that the table-tops and the sculptures resemble? Waiting for the dawn to praise the new day upon a grave of the day before?
And because I have done this, I see ghosts of conversations past, of people standing around a table in the artist’s studio, discussing the work, exploring possibilities for fun on the internet, comparing notes on popular music and somewhat ostentatiously parsing theory draped around recent art history. And then coming out from a daze of conversation to find a changed atmosphere, these wrapped surfaces and rough concrete sculptures and feeling a little bit amazed but also open, as though these objects, as odd as they are, exist already as ideas even as I see them for the first time.
Georg Parthen’s photographs have a similar instant recognition quality to them, as well as the feel that they are also sculptures. We have all been to electronics stores and we have all been confronted with cheerful, emphatic, promiscuous stacks of objects that promise much, and as functioning objects deliver entry to a psycho-emotional conveyance in which we travel through anticipation, negotiation, elation and satisfaction and then obsolescence and so back to anticipation. No happy ending here, simply constant arousal.
Their objectness certainly includes the things imaged: boxes, printed with commercial slogans and pictures of accessories often resemble sculpture; also the photos themselves, which have saturated, punchy colors and a chunk-like three-dimensional feel in person, act as objects for me. They take up more room than typically I allow for a flat photo in a frame, hanging on the wall. Maybe because these are small enough for me to hold, maybe my hands join with my imagination in wanting to feel their boxy presence with my fingers – if these were printed huge I would identify less with them and would feel more the idealizing and the unavailable and less the human.
Parthen manufactures his pictures from the among most successful bits of several initial photographs, thus making an ideal situation – yet one that feels eminently real. I can place myself within these images, I swear that I have been in these exact places. I feel slightly shabby standing before them but it is a shabbiness that does not exactly put me off. They, and others of the artists works that I saw on the artist’s website, make me think, well – of Stanley Kubrick and first of all 2001: A Space Odyssey. Those shots Kubrick did in the rotating space ship – all those genderless mani and femi-form outfits and the breathlessly clean interiors – not a bit of it felt foreign or alienating to me when at eight I saw them first, rather I felt I might be welcomed in that place. So it is with Parthen’s photos. I am not certain what gives the work such a human feel and honestly now that I think of it, I am uncertain why and how Kubrick’s artistically conceived and elaborately constructed visuals manage to resonate so deeply in my heart. Barry Lyndon’s perfection of landscape, people-scape and acting should be off-putting but instead the blood thickens in my veins each time I remember favored scenes.
In a weird way Parthen’s photographs in New Yours New Yours at JB Jurve remind me that I am human and Chris Lipomi’s sculptures do this as well. This humanizing effect, along with the iconic nature of the shapes and colors both artists are using and the very physical presence of Parthen’s photographs and Lipomi’s sculptures has kept me wondering about each artist and thinking about this exhibition and spending more than a little time looking things up on the web.