at Parker's Box
This last April,
a gallery at 193 Grand Street in
'downtown' Williamsburg (ask the proprietors for
the complicated origin of the name) hosted an
interesting cross between paper art (drawings and
watercolors), video, and one might say performance art
in 'Facetime #2', one of a series of two-person shows
in which the artists are invited to reflect one
another's work. The drawings faced each other
at a right angle on the north and west walls of
the gallery's main space, while in the opposite
corner, three videos played continuously on
three television monitors. The works were not
produced independently in parallel, but rather out of an ongoing
set of communiqués (mostly mediated via
Tumblr) in which messages and images flew
back and forth between the two participants
as they worked. The result was a rather
complex structure of both signification and
mood. This is one advance in the rather
complex narrative of artistic Postmodernism
which, far from fading out, seems to be
taking root and drawing sustenance from the
communities in which it is now embedded.
One of the aims of Modernism, at least for awhile,
was to eliminate narrative from pictorial art both
internally and externally. Abstract expressionism
was held to be pure mind, the end of the road that
started in Lascaux and went past the Parthenon;
indeed, Rothko said that he and his peers were working
on the art of the next thousand years. Within the
works themselves, the representation of objects,
the illusions of depth, movement and mass, and so
on could be seen as tricks played on the viewer.
Although he only occasionally played the Modernist,
Andy Warhol probably summed up the Omega Point of
this movement when he told a reporter who asked what
was 'behind' one of his paintings, 'There's nothing
behind it. It's just what you see.' It had turned
out at that point that not non-representation,
but the representation of banal objects banally
presented (although with very strong formal values --
sneaky!) was what was required to empty pictorial
art of narrative, of literary or symbolic meaning.
It seems to have been the end of that particular road.
In every end is a beginning, and subsequently a
diametrically opposed idea seems to have become
dominant in the post-Modernist artistic era.
Instead of the purity of representation-free form,
we find all sorts of connections, stories, representations,
one might say, in every sort of picture and object and event.
'Only connect' has been the slogan of our new era.
reviewed in a previous issue, is
one example, an artist who placed a great,
almost cabalistic weight of
meaning on the seemingly small backs
of extremely simple objects, drawings, collages and texts.
He was not alone. Conceptualists have gone as far as
endowing non-existent things and ideas with complex
A Buddhist would be sorely tempted to observe that
the emptiness of art-as-emptiness had emptied itself
out and thus become full.
In the present Facetime exhibitions, the Parker's
Box Gallery chose to raise this complexity to a new
dimension; the exhibition consists of work produced
collaboratively by two artists, not in the sense of
two or more persons working on a single piece or a
succession of them, but in the sense of two artists
reflecting one another's work in work executed in
simultaneously and, in a sense, in the same space.
This sort of thing is not entirely unheard
of; one thinks of Picasso and Braque working together
with Picasso lifting Braque's rather harmonious,
classically reposed abstract forms and skewing them, showing
him a thing or two, I suppose, as they painted side by side.
However, the present exhibition is the first one
I have attended where the works were deliberately
purposed towards an performance of precisely that
As a result of the collaboration, many themes or
motifs were passed back and forth between the artists.
Among these were stadium lights, birds, wiring
and sound equipment, stacked-up television sets,
animals, a large stationary crane, a greenhouse,
a sailing ship, and plants of various kinds. A good
many of the drawings were inscribed with brief texts.
While both artists definitely preserved their distinct
styles and concerns, their works formed a considerable
network, a web, one might say, if we were to think of
each idea or motif connected to its opposite numbers
on the adjoining wall by a virtual string.
Given the complexity and depth of the situation, I am
going beg off giving a total description and instead
try to recount the way in which a single motif or
thematic element works through the objects of
both artists, picking stadium lights for my example.
The most prominent example of the stadium
lights motif is in Vainsencher's rather dramatic and
surprising video, of which a few frames are shown
here. The video consists mostly of apparently
still images which are moved about stop-motion-wise
and upon which low-tech animations, produced by
painting, are superimposed or mixed. This video
were backed up by two rather lower-key videos on two
supporting monitors made by John Roach, in which such
images as flowing water were seen, but in heavily
processed form, so that they tended to be seen as
often calligraphic abstractions except for their
In that particular environment, their relation to
Vainsencher's video might be analogous to someone
singing backup harmony, although they could also
stand alone in their meditative repose.
Like many large urban artefacts, stadium lights
seem gestural, signifying, even portentious,
without however conveying any clear message.
For example, they can remind us that sport, even
in an out-of-the-way low-rent park, is no longer
mere fun and games but serious, institutionalized
business costing many dollars and burning many watts.
Basketball courts lit by these angels of mechanical
illumination are supposed to distract ghetto
gang-bangers from criminal acts, becoming thereby
politically crucial appliances necessary for public peace.
They are, of course, a crucial element of America's
variegated night games, some official and
Even abandoned they can seem like sleeping giants
or still potent idols. Indeed, they hark back to
the most primeval of all statements: Let there
be light! At the same time, their is nothing
mystical or spiritual about them; they are usual
naked frameworks of metal on which a battery of
large industrial artifacts, the lamps, are affixed,
supplied with electricity by large, industrial wiring.
The industrial-grade light they produce cannot be
looked at close-up; instead, they function to make
ball games playable on fields of hyped, fluorescent
Vainsencher's video take on these lights is,
one might say, explosive: sometimes they bloom
like flowers, sometimes emit streams of
luminous goo which inundates their little
universe. Others appear to be boxed in,
mechanical. Although I'm publishing just a
few frames above, you can see the full videos
Vainsencher's personal web site.
John Roach's take on these monsters is wryly
surrealistic. The monsters are mastered,
domesticated into toys a child can play with.
In one drawing one is being dragged about by
an Erector-set crane which is itself bound
to a series of impregnable codes, like an
illustration in a Martian dictionary. In another,
the crane-stadium lights assemblage has been
turned upside down to form a writing instrument
that amuses a child. (Although what it writes
is an uneasy red stream!) In yet another case,
the streaming version of the lights flow out
into a countermonster, a sort of cloud-elephant
that is more than their equal.
The story of the stadium lights does not end
here; they also appear in Vainsencher's drawings.
Here, they hang mystically from a nail, or recede
into three-colored mists, in harmony with some
other similar artefacts....
(I could have gone with the birds, but they would
have been even more mysterious.)
About the Artists
NOTE: The artist's web sites mentioned below are not
mere calling cards or glossy brochures. They contain
a lot of material by and about the artists, including
current work and exhibitions.
Vainsencher in particular has been doing an extended
work consisting of one drawing or other image per day
posted immediately on the site.
John Roach was born in San Francisco and now lives and
works in Brooklyn, N.Y.
He has worked in a variety of media, including painting,
drawing, electronic and low-tech sound structures, and
Most recently, he participated in the Self-Destroying
Art event at the Flux Factory, and at the Sequence of
Waves event at St. Cecilia's Church in Greenpoint.
Gabriela Vainsencher was born in Buenos Aires, lived
and went to school in Israel, and now lives and works
in Brooklyn, N.Y.
In 2010 and 2011 she participated in 'An Exchange
With Sol LeWitt (Mass. MoCA and Cabinet Magazine,
Brooklyn), 'Flat Files Artist of the Week' (Pierogi
Gallery, Brooklyn), 'The Work Office Two' (The Work
Office, N.Y.), and 'Housebroken' (The Flux Factory).