Thursday, January 14, 2010

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Rachel Harrison at Bard

While comfortably sinking my toes into Hawkins' faggy beach sand, this Magoose was smacked with a wicked comeuppance: like a no good floyd, Rachel Harrison's first museum survey slipped through the 'Goose's to-dos in the same manner children fall off Clapton's balcony. Seriously, why would anyone deprive themselves of the natty high that is Harrison's primo jimson? Sure, sure pics were provided. Notable among them: an early notecard piece concerning a stolen peanut, that is in many ways Harrison's unavowed Resonator to the rest of her practice, a neurotic Rosetta stone to an allegorically complex sculptural practice. Responding to the slight yet detrimental larceny of an early work where a gallery visitor had taken a peanut that Harrison had "placed" (because "it didn't feel right to glue it") on a record player, the notecards hurriedly ask the same question 50 different ways in 50 different shades of pissed off: "Who stole my peanut?"

But more on this resonator! In Stuart Gordorn's Lovecraft-inspired horror masterpiece From Beyond a group of unwitting scientists are flung, no thanks to the sadistic patriarchy of the head scientist, into a psychedelic atavism that remaps human consciousness into new morphology of transdimensional depravity. Attempting to recover the pineal gland from being lost in the biogeography of a rationalized brain, by simply turning on a harmonic resonater, this gland—which I may also note is about the size of a small peanut—enlarges to the point of piercing through one's skull. Once it has reached this point it effectively becomes a "third eye," bringing awareness not only to the chthonic forces inapparent to everyday consciousness but also a counter-intuitive enthusiasm for the varied pleasures of human flesh, be it sexual or cannibalistic. Once the pineal gland has fully grown, it leaves the film's principles with no choice but to succumb to the ruthless energies of an abject universe, thus making the resonator a crucial point of distinction between what is human and that what is essentially "beyond" human.

Now let's take this relationship and replace the term "human" with "sculpture" and we can begin to return Rachel Harrison's work to the conversation. For in Stuart Gordon's vision (helped out greatly by legendary make-up artist Screamin' Mad George) what formally constitutes "beyond human" is in fact the Cartesian mind/body awkwardly aggregated with the inapparent sensory matter made available by its exposure to this libidinally-engorged ur-consciousness. Much the same is Harrison's material approach to the formal legacies of Western sculpture, opening up not only the purity of enlightened form and culture to the bizarreness of inapparent, archaic libidinal economies such as flea markets and kitschy bazaars or the ill-rehearsed pathology of the unexamined, pop-cultural life. Unlike a culturally ghettoized, straight-to-tape charlatan like Gordon who seems content to dwell exclusively on the disturbia of an oppressor's infinitely mutable perversions, Harrison conversely dolls up these abject "beyonds" into sculptural "bodies" conducive to the very artistic norms she exposes to the entropic "bizarre;" making the potential threat of such "perversions" a latent one comfortably wrapped in familiar cultural idioms.

This important distinction also separates Harrison significantly from many of the young, primarily male, sculptors today who consign the western sculptural canon solely to detrimental physical operations, see Aaron Curry, Sterling Ruby or Thomas Houseago. In many ways, these "boys" return the patriarchial oppressor and his perversions immanent to western culture to concretized artistic norms, effectively reversing and trivializing the abject tribunals earlier male artists, most prominently Paul McCarthy, Mike Kelley and Franz West, brought upon such an ever-present phantasm. I blame Reagan...

Harrison's ability to invoke both historical semblance and profanation within her artistic practice is apparent even in her "signature" material—the synthetic stucco, Parex. An ideal material for weather-proofing, Parex goes along way in achieving the technologically-refined anachronism so necessary to the "post-modern" look of much suburban architecture (see here). Thus while Parex is capable of being considered "lowly" or "base" given its entropic materiality, it is in fact just as capable of weathering a corporate plaza as the tried-and-true metallurgy and masonry of Holt, Ferrara, Opie, Oppenheim, Heizer, West, Flanagan, Shapiro, Aycock, etc., etc., etc. Whether or not it would be embraced as public art is another argument, even though the potential public appeal of Harrison's entropic aggregrates seems more on the side of a Koons' floral pup (humbled perhaps by a Dion excavation) than a torqued ellipse, a performance biennial or a gallery-funded art school—especially since these latter few seem to bespeak patrician haute contempt for the Gaga-loving lunch-crowd plebes more than anything else.

If my irreverent analogy proves apt, one must wonder, where is Rachel's peanut? Thanks to the neurotic "resonator" Harrison has constructed in the nut's apparent absence, the peanut in question seems to have grown to enveloping proportions, exposing the historical norms of art exhibitions as ostensible constructions sourced from pathological heteronomies.

Looking at Harrison's work as it proceeds from this act of petty larceny, one now observes of her recent work that, at first glance, it might appear like a monumental Nevelson curiously stucco'd in acidic colors; yet as soon as one draws such a comparison, the work cancerously vaudvilles as a prelinguistic dolmen as readily as it becomes post-Lawler invective. Or perhaps a late-period Stella encrusted like a pillar of salt topped off with an air purifier to ensure lasting "freshness"? An unpacked Noguchi with Haacke nearby, wagging his finger? One of Franz West's scatalogical dicks unexpectedly sprouting a Heidi (Montag?) wig?

At every moment the multiple lines of (often titular) histories embedding the work communicate simultaneously in narratives both within artistic reason and beyond it, tongues spoken both by those human (those artistically codified) and by those "beyond" (those artistically heteronomous). It is this simultaneous communicativity that effects its "bizarre" pathology onto the historical narrativity of human forms (even these forms' negative, iconoclastic iterations), through which art, especially "contemporary art," finds its institutional materialization as a communicative social apparatus. Thanks to Harrison's fugitive peanut, this swollen sculptural ur-consciousness not only lays bare the murky zone of "bizarre" libidinal investiture that inapparently navigates "beyond" art's nominal institutions but also testifies to the likelihood that such pathological investments are constitutive of the very narratives bolstering artistic institutions, namely the one we all regale (or perhaps consolingly elect) as "contemporary art."

While the 'Goose missed her retroview—which include classic "hits" like her amazing Perth Amboy installation—closing this weekend is her latest show, Haycation, at Frankfurt's Portikus. Click here for pics!

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