New Works by Alan Resnick and Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez at Springsteen Galley reviewed by Benjamin Levy
Base Period, the latest exhibition from Springsteen Gallery located on the third floor of The Copy Cat building, features work by Alan Resnick and Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez. Resnick’s digital animations and Alvarez’s sculptures and digital prints utilize new media to engage in a conversation about how people see and interact with their world, both physically and digitally.
One element running through Resnick’s work is the presence of the checkerboard grid, the now ubiquitous indication of nothingness, the blank canvas of the Photoshop age. In Resnick’s Two Horrible Brothers, two tablet-sized screens are hung in a portrait orientation, each with a different animation of a face sputtering and flickering, floating on a black background. In both screens the face is dissected in some manner. In the left screen there is only a visible segment of the face, the area that fits into a slim rectangular prism. The features that extend beyond that designated area in any direction are removed, leaving the face with empty eye sockets and without a nose, evoking a fleshy skeleton. The uncomfortable twitching is difficult to discern—possibly breathing or trying to speak—the lack of eyes further obscuring the activity and emotion.
Every once in a while the figure’s whole head becomes visible for an instant and then returns to the void with a sputter. His brother, whole head visible, is equally ensnared between two realms. In this instance the head is sliced along a vertical axis and every other slab removed to reveal the omnipresent checkerboard grid. They are both in a Sisyphean cycle, but unlike the brother on the left, the one on the right is more actively trying to make contact. The piece as a whole is uncomfortable; the ambiguity of what is happening creates a helpless feeling. Is the viewer supposed to save the brothers, or, as the title suggests, are they horrible and attempting to escape a fate already sealed?
Alvarez’s sculptures are built on a pedestrian foundation of construction debris with a glossy coating: all surface upon an unsure structure. A long low plinth displays the sculptures, covered in blue rip-stop nylon. Along with the shards of concrete, the presentation points to a temporary place and time, but whether it is evidence of construction or demolition is unclear. Striped rods, mimicking either road hazards—something to be avoided—or scale markers—documenting an archaeological discovery—delineate the individual compositions. At one end of the plinth are four rough tablets colored cyan, magenta, yellow, and black respectively.
These are not artifacts wrote by man from the word of God, but the elemental building blocks of the modern image, dictated by the computer wrote by the printer. Further relics of mainstream consumer culture are presented, their structure undermined or their surface stripped: a Double Gulp cup cast in concrete devoid of graphics sitting atop a fractured speed bump, a cement tablet emblazoned with the VH1 logo cleaved to reveal the thin mesh giving it form. Other fragments take on a gem-like quality, but it is the surface adorned by Alvarez with hypnotic patterns, rather than its substance that is desirable.
In Resnick’s animation Ebay Gazing Globes – Suffering Mask, the viewer is inside a gazing globe looking outward, cycling through images wrapped across the picture plane. As the title suggests, the images are appropriated from Ebay listings. The photographs are not only removed from the artist but also an art context in general; they were created by others for a commercial purpose. What were reflections in the original photographs are now the vistas we see outside the transparent sphere. The constant within the group of images is the unavoidable presence of the person or camera taking the photograph. The photographers play the role of the unintentional voyeur, unaware there is a world within the globe. They are only interested in the reflection of their own world on the surface of the object.
In the foreground is a floating circular platform, a checkerboard petri dish. A slab of flesh, the side of a man’s face joins a stripped stick (like those in Gonzales’ sculptures) and a color bar that would be used in a photography studio to color balance images. This partial face does not indicate that it belongs to the rest of a body (like Two Horrible Brothers) but that it is newly formed. This slab of humanity struggles for life within the sterile empty petri dish, surrounded by cast off tools of documentation. Man, just formed, languishes as the energy and nutrients are spent on the presentation and preservation of the surface. There is a strong element of helplessness in both videos on the part of the disembodied heads—gasping and sputtering—and viewer—unable to assist or influence the scene. The cycling cast of onlookers in Gazing Globes increases the sense of urgency, whereas in Brothers they seem to be entombed between two worlds like a science fiction snafu in teleporting.
In Alvarez’s high gloss digital prints (the only static work on the walls) there are three-dimensional renderings combining high and low, modern and classic, natural and unnatural, focusing on idealized forms and the failure to achieve them. At first glance, Blender is, as the title assumes, a rendering of a blender with its pieces and parts set on a crimson backdrop. The first clue that something isn’t right is the melted pitcher, its handle precariously hanging on by a bit of plastic or glass. It isn’t until one notices the users manual that the perception of this world starts to shift drastically. The diagram–the thing that few people look at in real life—is a rendering of a two-dimensional photograph of the object, as opposed to the computer-generated blender in the same space.
The inclusion of an actual photograph suddenly resets the metrics of this universe, setting a new standard for resolution and accuracy. With a new rubric one begins to investigate the image more precisely, the viewer’s disbelief no longer suspended. Now the fractal fissures in the object’s surface become apparent: malignant crystalline growth, the blurriness of the blender’s buttons and knobs. Suddenly the viewer’s invitation to the space is rescinded, returned to reality while the blender remains in a realm it shares more closely with computer games such as Myst or The Sims.
The works in this show speak to a dichotomy between surface and structure and how the two operate in our digital age. Both also deal in artifacts, which highlights an intriguing phenomenon occurring in contemporary art. What does it mean to create artifacts of one’s own time? Is the ruin of modern society so easily envisioned there is a fascination with the idea of its downfall? Or more likely, is this somewhat morbid preoccupation shared by people of all eras? With the idea of the self expanding beyond the corporeal to realms not dictated by time or space, and the cycles of planned obsolescence of the built and cultural environments closing in on themselves, it is not surprising that artists are envisioning surface without structure, body without soul.
Alan Resnick & Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez
Through August 8 at Springsteen
1511 Guilford Ave Unit B303
Baltimore, Md 21202
Author Benjamin Levy is a curator and printmaker living in Baltimore. He is the Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Prints, Drawings & Photographs at The Baltimore Museum of Art and a 2009 graduate of MICA.