by Carrie McGath
I went to Antena Gallery in Pilsen a few days after its opening on Friday, February 19, 2010, making it there the following Tuesday by appointment with Antena’s director and curator, Miguel Cortez. As exciting as openings may be, it was a sigh of relief to walk into an empty gallery faced only with the art I would get to experience fully without people standing in front of it. Another bonus was I got to talk with Miguel about the well-attened opening and the work while with the sounds of The Simpsons scampered in the background. Coincidentally, too, I think it is very much worth mentioning it was an episode where Homer took up art and was becoming an Outsider Artist. This was an atmosphere any art writer would dig.
Christopher Smith’s Inland Architect is a meditation about the clutter of humanity but also about something ever deeper — clutter’s ability to facilitate our very survival. I got the impression this was a sardonic meditation that seemed to be working through itself toward a kind of commentary on the lifestyle of contemporary, panicked human beings in a mad world. In the statement, a la poem, for the installation, Smith writes: “If you prepare to survive, you deserve to survive.” This line, alongside the lines about community being necessary for survival brought to my mind that not-so-eloquent line in the television series Lost: “If we can’t live together, we’ll die alone.” But I digress.
The installation’s focus on trash alongside a haphazard scientific study made me chuckle and “wow”, but it also made me think, and these images followed me into the twilight outside when I walked to the pink line. Then the images were still there with me when I woke in my bed two mornings later, myself surrounded by clutter. I began to piece it all together. When you enter the gallery, after meeting the sweet Miguel, you see Smith’s writing on the wall, look to your left and there is the silver hooded robe that made me both chuckle and cringe at its striking triangularities that reminded me instantly of Hugo Ball, Dada’s prince of the macabre avant garde. Ball’s costumes during performances looked much like this delightful robe in Smith’s Inand Architect piece that obliged to think of disco while I thought of it as one’s protection from destruction.
The other striking element in the installation was the corner of the gallery devoted to the “study” of the very installation. This was the part of the installation that walked the talk from the statement I read when I first entered Antena. There was clutter here, but a premeditated clutter, as if the clutter was being ordered with some kind of system. It appeared to be ground zero for where we would all strive to be during certain disaster according to the artist’s credo at the beginning of the exhibit — the stuff to prepare for certain survival. The title of the installation, Inland Architect, was most captured in this corner, giving the viewer the insider knowledge of how to prepare to survive. This was an exhibit that would have made the Dadaists proud, especially Hugo Ball who once said that “The war is founded on a glaring mistake, men have been confused with machines.” But Smith’s installation strives to save us all not with machines and war, but with one another, even with our all our baggage in tow.
Also included in the exhibition at Antena exhibit is the work of Sarah Best called Daily Photos. A wall in the gallery was devoted to a grid of thirty photos taken with a cellphone camera. These are photos with the commonality of people and things and places that are somehow near or related to the artist’s daily experience — friends, objects, and places that were with her in a single moment and captured using the utilitarian cellphone camera. It is unreal and almost unbelievable these truly gorgeous photos were taken on such a mass-produced, widely used device, but I guess when you got it, you got it, and Best certainly has it. Her eye for a moment is staggering: a friend on an exercise bike, a table setting for someone’s thirtieth birthday party. She creates something momentous out of seemingly mundane moments, making these photographs completely unique to her but also universal to the viewer.
According to Best, this project was in part inspired by Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, in part inspired by Robert Mapplethorpe’s Polaroids. I can definitely discern both of these inspirations, but what makes the work as a whole remarkable is although it was inspired by two other artists and artworks, it is completely its own artwork, and Best is certainly her own artist. The emotion, mood, and even texture in a photo taken on a cellphone would be no small task, and an impossible one for someone lacking the talent Best no doubt has in spades — an eye for a moment. Hers is an eye always open and a finger always on the trigger.
The Antena Gallery located at 1765 South Laflin. This show is on view through March 20, 2010.