Dan Finsel considers the self
I think of Dan Finsel’s installation of his new exhibition as a relating to music. Or at least the terms I use to describe the show I draw from my understanding of music, and of opera, and ballet. The first room is the overture, and it contains several works that repeat and are expanded upon in the second room of the gallery. In music the second room would be the opera proper, or the ballet – in particular, this one might be a frozen sort of theatrical experience based upon a novel by Dostoyevsky. The gallery space is filled with charged objects and representations, and I think of codes one might use in youth to mask and shield, to explore and to expose one’s self. To expose oneself to the world, of course, but mostly to one’s self. (Isn’t the self our world when we are young?) And, as is true when one is young, the trauma of being for Finsel’s character entails his challenging of, his devouring and shitting out of… his family. Organized around these themes of generation and identity and adolescence, the show is psychological and overwrought.
The final space of the gallery contains Dan Finsel’s closing thoughts on the drama he has created; and while in music one might expect a coda, a recapitulation and summing up of the themes (ideas) of the work, I believe that Finsel has taken a different tack here, and has presented us with a transfiguration. In the five double-exposure photographs and the small self box that are installed – this is a modest installation – Finsel offers us a glimpse beyond the exertions and the dreams and the torment of being, and toward – well, the nature and the result of transfiguration is a mystery, and so the exhibition leaves us asking questions, about the nature of the integrated self, about what remains when (if?) we transcend our beginnings. If we eat up and shit out, if we pose with representations of, our parents and siblings, if our self is the object and the subject of our art, and, finally, if family is our self – then what remains after? What travels in this transfiguration of Dan Finsel’s, and to where?
I’m sitting at the desk at Richard Telles’s gallery, surveying the printed material after having spent time looking at the work. As I read the press release for Dan Finsel’s E-Thay Inward-Yay Ourney-Jay, I find in its language an interesting consonance with his Pig Latin titles, at the simple (and contextually insignificant) phrase “in doing so,” which sounds strange and inverted in my head. Stopping my reading for a moment, I say these words aloud to myself, savoring their cadence; I continue this until I lose track of meaning in the phrase. Then I look back from the press release to the titles, and I recognize that Finsel’s use of the sing-songy Pig Latin plays with the original meaning of his terms, sometimes adding emphasis, and sometimes suggesting other, and deeper readings of his titles.
For example, in his Mandala Possibilities (Andala-May Ossibilities-Pay (Other-May), et al.), the dangling “may” in mandala and in mother reinforces the meaning of “possibility,” and de-emphasizes the certainty that might otherwise be suggested by “mother.” Also, Finsel’s emphasis on “other” in “mother” brings to mind a discomfort with the maternal that is always present but is less often spoken of; and, reading the title again, I remember how in life, I must pay for my possibilities.
Looking around the office, as an introductory space to the exhibition, I find a large-scale photograph of a seated figure (the artist), a copy of a book, and a bold pattern painted on closet doors.
The photograph is a softly-colored grisaille, with a subtle shading of pink over the seated figure’s shirt; this blush continues over the figure’s head, making a sort of halo. The man (the artist) sits in a bedroom, and I suppose the room to be that of a youth; it could be that he (the artist – or the character he has created) is visiting the space of his own beginnings. There are two bookshelves behind him in the room, and a table with a hanging leaf. The man sits at the table. Both shelves hold articles of décor, and among these are curious clay objects, or sculptures, which also appear on the table. These sculptures are the only things present in the photographic space that are not immediately homely; and although mute, these sculptures evoke power, and they feel psychologically charged. There are tools on the table that suggest the artist made these objects, and he sits, considering them, his expression suggesting surprise and resignation. He holds a tubular length of clay in his mouth, or it found its way there.
The book bears the title of the exhibition on its cover, yet inside it is empty; the pages are blank, and the book is glued down to the gallery desk. The pattern on the closet doors – which is adopted from the book cover – is painted in vibrant tones of orange and magenta; it is geometric and labyrinthine, in kind of a broken interlocking key pattern.
The pattern and its colors repeat throughout the main space of the show – light wells in the skylights are painted monochromes of magenta and orange, the pattern and colors both are painted in oils lightly over the artist’s nude body in photographs, and the hues also appear as grounds in paintings. The clay sculptures also continue – as parts of larger sculptural objects, in the photographic nudes, and they are suggested in the paintings.
Thoughts to consider:
Dan Finsel makes landscape paintings of his photographed body. On the screen of his photographic body, he paints self awareness in code.
The artist is grotesque, and beautiful.
There are hairs curling in the resin of adolescence (Adolescence-Yay).
James Dean. Ana Mendieta. Richard Prince.
The youth. The land, the void. The cowboy.
In the hands of an artist the gemütlichkeit, and the homely, become strange.
Pars por toto, the part for the whole. Marking space with one’s scent, or a portion of self.
The circus, the animals.
Dan Finsel, E-Thay Inward-Yay Ourney-Jay is on view at Richard Telles Fine Art through May 11, 2012. http://www.tellesfineart.com/exhibitions.html