ROSS WOODMAN ON
MURRAY FAVRO & ED ZELENAK & KIRTLEY JARVIS
Review of Favro / Zelenak exhibition at the Michael Gibson Gallery
September 10 - 24, 2011
Below is the original review Ross Woodman wrote. A version is published in Border Crossings / Issue No. 120 with any mention of Ed Zelenak and Kirtley Jarvis edited out...
For pure elegance nothing could surpass the present show at the Michael Gibson Gallery on Carling Street. Here, refined to the point of essence, is what ultimately as art emerged from the inevitable exhaustion of Abstract Expressionism. As if searching among its ruins for what it had rejected, celebrated as a mock recovery in the Combines of Robert Raushenberg, in which rags and tatters of cloth replaced de Kooning's free brushstrokes, what ultimately emerges in what was found is the recovery of the thingness of things, a thingness that had fallen well below the site-lines of art. Raised less than a foot above the floor, neither a sculpture nor a three-dimensional wall piece, Murray Favro's abandoned aluminum folding chair opens to its post-industrial transformed presence. Liberated from its practical function, its sheer thingness becomes something never seen before. Only with some closer disinterested inspection is the process of its transformation gradually revealed, a process requiring the viewer to strip herself of every physical demand attached to a physical funtion.
The process of inspection, as it repeats the process of making, is rather like watching the frenzied gesturing involved in an action painting in very, very, very slow motion. With this fundamental difference: what is being made is what was always already there now released from the abandoned familiarity of its unwanted presence. The psychic investment from which it emerges is unlike any investment in art that could otherwise possibly be made. Transcending its own abandoned existence, the chair becomes the idea of itself as art without ceasing to be the chair in which, right before your eyes, it happens. To know how it happens can be discovered. To know why is another matter. Your guess is as good as mine.
Here's my guess. Humans have evolved to the point where they can absorb writing, painting, sculpture, music, architecture as an organic part of themselves. That took time. Not all of us are there yet. Photography still appears to be threatening. The movies even more so. Television is worse. Ghostly. The electronic revolution has finally settled it. Humans can take so much mirroring. But there's a limit. What emerges from the hidden operations of an abysmal machine, as hidden as the polluted air, is a ceaselessly talking, moving, mirroring (mocking) of the actual, turning it into the fiction of Marshal McLuhan's "mechanical bride." Seeing ourselves backwards. Running from what we are fearfully pursuing.
Favro's chair is the real chair. It's the art of the real at a time when the real is fast disappearing, when we are disappearing. It's a chair making a come-back as itself, as the actual thing, the art of the thingness of things, not the simulacrum of a chair, but a chair, an actual chair hanging as art on the wall without ceasing to be what it is: a chair. In Favro's chair on the wall, we come back to where we began ready to start again. Conception.
One can see the same thing happening in the art of another London artist, Kirtley Jarvis (not in this show, though arguably she should be), where the refinement of rubbish toward its essence as art is, though related to it, more than recycling. The recognition that nothing can be disposed of no matter how hard we try means that everything somehow or somewhere remains. That's the curse and the blessing of our own human presence. ("The generations o men run on in the tide of Time / But leave their destind lineaments permanent for ever & ever," writes William Blake.)How to dispose of what we dispose of in order to be released from the nightmare of hoarding is an issue that art now confronts. How to escape the psychosis of junk, particularly in places, no longer particular, like London, Ont. The entire planet is now the global dump of discarded cultures, which Blake describes as a "Void Outside of Existence."
What Favro has done with the aluminum chair and Jarvis has done with the crumpled paper is more than retrieval. It's a return to what happened before notice was taken. Taking notice allows something human to happen. (If entered, Blake explains, the "Void" becomes a "Womb.") It's a way of making a come-back. Several people, Michael Gibson noticed, come back to see the chair. To see if it's still there. If what they thought they saw they did see. One person asked Michael to take it off the wall and put it on the floor. Then he watched it being raised. He saw the difference. But did he see the difference it made to his life? He's thinking about that. About a dream he once had in which he levitated.
In sultry weather, more benign than toxic, Ed Zelenak's things three-dimensionally slightly protrude, signaling fragments of something buried or forgotten, crucifixion for example, too distant in a fractured space to be restored to whatever their wholeness might have been. As a rusted armoured vision, they stand guard at the sepulcher the Michael Gibson Gallery has for this solemn occasion become. Resurrection is in the air. If you raise your head toward the ceiling, or just allow it to fall like gentle rain from a tinny leaking heaven, you will find yourself in the dwelling for which, it would appear, this show in this gallery - the original gallery was on King Street - was justly made. London art has never looked so good. Or so global. If a chair can do it why can't I?
University of London Ontario