September 10 - October 22, 2005
Opening Reception: September 10, 6:30 - 8:30pm
BLASTS gathers artists working in a variety of media who strategically use depictions of explosions in their work. By focusing on particular uses of this imagery, the exhibition addresses many of the ironies and ambiguities surrounding the increasing relevance of the explosion as both a traumatically real occurrence generating incredible collective emotion and a mediated event constantly reproduced within the machinations of state propaganda and the entertainment industry. Often functioning at the crux of fundamental binaries such as tragedy/spectacle, horror/beauty, and destruction/creation, the works included in BLASTS tend toward criticality, while at the same time indulging in an investigation of the aesthetics of pyrotechnic theatricality. The context of Washington, DC, as the global seat of political/military power provides another dimension to the presentation of BLASTS. In a city where the dialogues surrounding the explosion as an event are progressively abstracted in the bureaucratic hierarchies of government and media, artists provide contrasting agitprop visions countering the agendas of official image-making.
The artists included in BLASTS work across a continuum that extends from the literal to the satirical to the transcendental in their engagement with blowups, demolitions, bombings, and disasters. The exhibition includes artists who construct the explosion as an aggregate of various painterly actions and gestures. Maggie Michael's mural size drawing unfolds in a narrative that uses the paper as a site onto which her staging of an explosion and its aftermath are mapped with everything from splattering spills to calligraphic graffiti marks to precise renderings suggesting landscape and anatomy. Encapsulating her reactions to global events along with concerns relating to her personal domestic space, the blustering physicality of Michael's broad strokes combined with the introduction of intimately controlled details suggests an intense emotion tempered by scrupulous analysis. Rosemarie Fiore uses actual explosions to produce her drawings, which are imprinted with the residue of fireworks detonated within cardboard tubes on the surface of the paper. The collaged discs, each emblazoned with the colors available in factory arsenals and embedded with crystalline deposits, overwhelm the picture plane in a poignant reflection of the shock and awe military spectacles that inspired their creation.
Artists such as Joy Garnett and Heide Fasnacht use photographic images as source material for paintings and drawings. Collecting digital images from various news and government sites on the internet, Garnett unhinges them from their contextual framework by introducing them into the traditional artistic genre of oil painting. Her works illustrate the malleability of media imagery by rendering fleeting scenes of conflict as permanent visceral effigies produced with a painterly meditation that erodes the familiarity and acceptance of remote events delivered ever more rapidly and repetitiously via evolving communications technology. Fasnacht's drawings meticulously recuperate moments of sublime destruction by transcribing documentary photographs of cataclysmic events into legible narratives that unfold as precise, laborintensive hatchmarks and raster dots on paper. Her hand highlights the inscrutable nature of the spectacle being depicted by slowly mapping spontaneous combustions using the luxurious time that craft affords. Other types of image appropriation are used by several artists in BLASTS. Gardar Eide Einarsson, for example, selected a graphic of the Brooklyn Bridge exploding from Marvel's XMen comic book series to produce Untitled (Other Scene). Einarsson was interested in the XMen's mutant power to foresee imminent disasters and therefore enact measures designed to protect society (one which ironically feared and ostracized them) from mysterious dark forces. Scanned and blown-up using progressively larger sheets of standard paper in a copier machine, the pieced together scene closely corresponds to the viewpoint the artist had of the actual Brooklyn Bridge from his studio at the time he made the work. Louis Cameron pulled the image he manipulates in his digital video from the cover of DJ Spooky's 1998 album Riddim Warfare, which borrows the graphic qualities of Atari's Space Invaders to pictorially posit the destruction of New York at the hands of alien craft. Entitled Warfare Riddim, Cameron's visual sampling of one of hiphop's master audio mixer's animates a pixellated image of the hypothetical attack into an endless rhythmic loop of detonating bursts.
The enduring American icon of Marilyn Monroe provided the source material with which E.V. Day could literalize the notion of the blonde bombshell. Printed in sequence from her sketchbooks, Day's rumination on Monroe¹s billowing dress morphs into another symbol of mid-century decadence: the mushroom cloud signaling the birth of an atomic age with its gross stockpiling of the instruments of mutually assured destruction. Hollywood productions are also the subject of Matias Faldbakken's video with the explanatory title Movie Scenes Where the Problem Gets Bigger If or When They Fight It. Editing together recent clips from various action, horror, and science fiction films, Faldbakken illustrates an oft-repeated yet largely ignored lesson that is thread through the plots of many lavishly-budgeted blockbusters. In each scene, human attempts to remedy what appears to be a doomed situation only serve to strengthen the power of aggressive forces bent on paths of violent destruction. The entertainment industry's indulgent use of apocalyptic imagery as well as its increasingly symbiotic relationship to the news media is the subject of Christoph Draeger's The Last News. Starring Guy Richards Smith as a sensationhustling anchorman, the video (directed by Draeger with Reynold Reynolds and Gary Breslin) adopts the graphics and production quality of an MSNBC broadcast to satirically report on the progressive obliteration of global capitals. As correspondents are eliminated, Smith is gradually isolated and his theatrical grandstanding turns to melodramatic fear.
As a constant reminder that the notion of stability is nothing more than an investment in the continuation of a fragile cohesion of elements, the explosion populates the imagination as an ultimate display of humbling power. Instilling terror on one side and punctuating patriotic celebration on the other, explosions rely upon context to communicate meaning. The various public contexts in which images of explosions are circulated, however, are always manufactured in terms that exacerbate opposing ideologies. The authority of unbridled violence eclipses any measured analysis of the competing histories that prompted the event. While maintaining a reverence for spectacle, the artists included in BLASTS also raise various questions that begin to deconstruct and offer alternatives to the antagonistic agendas inherent to the trafficking of images of violence and destruction.
Gallery Hours are Thursday - Saturday, Noon - 5pm
(and by appointment)
4718 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20011