by Heather White
I don’t mind admitting that I watched the entire season of Bravo’s Work of Art: The Next Great Artist. A new addition to the reality tv crop, each episode saw contestants challenged to produce art according to prescribed criteria, with limited time and media available. The only constant, reliable material was the experience – technical and otherwise – of the artists. It behooved them to summon something personal.
What was awful (and riveting) about this process was not that it favoured works of intimacy and investment, but that these were proffered under duress: childhoods were plumbed and vulnerabilities paraded in frantic bids to supplement the resources at hand. The clamour boasted all the awkwardness of an overlooked friend showing up at your door with a Christmas gift. You panic and discreetly discreetly tear the house apart – you’re the artist, and home is your psyche.
In Joshua Barndt’s upcoming installation, mining a home for a gift isn’t a metaphor for artistic practice; it is the practice, and presumably a metaphor for something else. When the group show Atrophic Existence opens on Saturday night, the artist will have transported all his belongings into a pile at Show and Tell gallery; his work is called The World Is a Mountain and Everything Gets Buried. He explains his intentions in a teaser video: “I’ve always thought that all this city needs is a mountain. So for this reason and many more too, I’m building one…of…all my personal belongings.” Taken at face value, a necessity shines through here, a compulsion to offer something of one’s own, more earnest than what we we started out with.
But maybe things won’t be as they seem; there’s still another two nights before the opening. While we wait, we can get a head start thinking through relevant conceptual issues: how the work might function as a negative sign for a compromised experience elsewhere; whether the honesty of Barndt’s ‘all’ should figure in the success of the piece. Of the role of configuration, and how the gallery shapes things, centrifugally and centripetally. How, positioned in a show that considers the theme of urban decay, this work might tread the line between intervention and perpetuation.
And much more besides, but I’ll stop. Not because continuing could steal any thunder, but because the work itself will surely derail what I thought was important. With so much focus on the materiality of things, we’d be well advised to expect the power of form and presence to change everything.
Atrophic Existence opens Saturday, Dec 11 at Show and Tell Gallery.
Photo credit: film still from promotional video, excerpted from gallery website.
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