Friday, February 18, 2011

Blind Luck -- Cris Bruch at Lawrimore Project

Reposted from here.  Show is up at Lawrimore Project thru 27 Feb.

Mallarmé was mathematically correct:  A throw of the dice will never abolish chance.  That is, chance is never retrospective. It would be like me saying that the odds of writing this sentence here and now were 10 million to one. Prospectively, the artistic process yields unexpected results.  What really matters is how something new occurs.

Cris Bruch works in collaboration with his materials and tools.  What results is contingent, rather than predetermined.  His process demonstrates how an act of experience is itself constructive, how the subject/artwork comes out of the world and not vice versa, i.e., the world does not come out of the subject.

An aphorism of Mallarmé’s more germane to Bruch’s work is: Ce n'est pas avec des idées qu'on fait des vers, c'est avec des mots.  (“It is not with ideas that one makes poems, but with words.”)  One might translate this in relation to Bruch’s practice as:  “It is not with space that one makes sculpture, but with time.”  That is, in conjunction with material, Bruch takes time and turns it into space.  Just as words and ideas combine to make a poem, time and space combine with material to make sculpture, with some priority assigned here to words and time.

At bottom, Cris Bruch’s art practice is a material process.  Each work is the result of a temporal engagement, a proposition where labor power meets physical material as the result unfolds or reveals itself in space.  This space is where both meaning and form are made.

Elizabeth Bryant says it very well in a 2007 catalog essay: “The making is its own form of thinking, form clarifying meaning.”  The goal is indeed to make a “work of attentiveness and possibility.”

The fortuitous acquisition of weathered wood, used here as exterior cladding, led to the conception of Blind.  The material was the initial constraint; the idea for the shape of the armature followed.  Blind comes into existence one thin wooden strip at a time.  Fit, clamp, glue and wait and repeat. It is not unfair to say this wood worked on Bruch as he worked on it.

To quote from an old essay of mine regarding Don’t Feed It: “As personal as Bruch’s works are, always refusing to take their surfaces for granted, he nevertheless achieves a powerful kind of impersonal expressionism, as if the materiality of his pieces were autonomous, not reliant on (i.e., not mere products of) the manner of production.”  Likewise, Blind seems autonomous, somehow unified – not something made up of parts. Resembling a cloak, Blind is a life-size enclosure, large enough for the artist or some mysterious Mechanical Turk to be hiding within, alive in the armature.  Bruch writes: “Blind is also very much about waiting, though as a complete enclosure it’s not of much use for hunting visible things – more of a hunting device for invisible things.”

It’s difficult to resist an analogy here to Leibniz’s monads.  Leibniz’s metaphysics posits a multiplicity of individual (and indivisible) substances or atoms which he calls monads. A monad is an object that withdraws from us, it has no windows.  We can only know it partially.  In Greek, monad means “unity” – it is an expression of identity, closure, singularity.  It is a force of representation; it actively reflects the universe from its own perspective.  Proceeding from internal activity, monads are at once material and mental – both particle and perspective. 

Perhaps Blind is such a thing – a monad, like our cousin “it” – mere particle or speck in the plurality or parliament of things – a realm where the it’s outnumber the me’s.  But unlike Leibniz’s monads, which have no access to the outside, Bruch is fully engaged in both internal and external activity.  While the art object that emerges may resemble a monad in its unity and singularity, Bruch’s process is not a windowless one – he simultaneously looks inside and outside. 

In a way, Blind does present a problem to the viewer – how to relate to or commune with it – that is similar to Leibniz’s far more generalized problem: how can monads communicate at all?  But while Leibniz gets lost in a theological bubble in his attempt to account for the seemingly infinite transactions of monads, Bruch is simply, directly grounded in his process. 

In the process of creating work, Bruch interrogates his own relation to the materials he’s working with, and tends to the meaning that unfolds.  The goal, he says, is “to make the shifting relation between exteriority and interiority compelling… to create an affective experience that extends beyond personal interest, often through an indirect appeal to the body.”  When he says that he aims to “mine the emotional implications of physical space,” I take him to mean that he hopes to investigate how one can begin to account for the emotion and meaning captured in this process, knowing full well that there will always be something lost, that eludes capture.

Bruch’s series of ink drawings – Freshets (which Websters defines as “overflowings of streams caused by heavy rains or melted snow”) – are closer to blind luck than Blind is. Waiting and watching as the ink (the bait) interacts with water and paper, Bruch reels these drawings in.  With a considerable amount of attention, he watches the ink run and blur, revealing their mineral contents as they stain the paper with subtle hues. Bruch calls these drawings a guilty pleasure, and I suspect that’s because he’s had good luck.  He’s collaborating but he feels the materials are doing the bulk of the heavy lifting.

Every art exhibition to some extent collaborates with the given space and the social context that impacts decisions regarding what is shown and how it is shown. Blind occupies one month of Lawrimore Project’s one year performance, each month relating in some way to a particular two-page spread of Mallarmé’s un coup de des, which famously explodes or doubles the frame of the page.  As Donato Mancini succinctly says: “Mallarmé activates the blanks, creates the page as an arena for action...”

In the spirit of un coup de des, Lawrimore makes use of limited space as an arena for action: he constrains himself in a space, for a set duration of a year, in a social context where he is forced to deal directly with everyone entering the gallery. It feels a bit like one is entering Scott’s therapeutic galaxy, triangulated in the enclosed space, between the art, and performer-dealer.

The experience of Bruch’s Blind enclosure within Lawrimore’s open enclosure is a sort of Rorschach test.  What’s important is that it is yours to behold.  It is your Blind relation that matters, it is your chance to have an encounter, to construct new relations.

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