“Christopher Samuels & Ian Swanson @ PCCA” review by Cedric Tai
Chris Samuels and Ian Swanson are back together again, this time at Paint Creek Center for the Arts. The main gallery has quite a few quirks to its architecture, but these two artists pride themselves on being able to activate challenging spaces, and this show was no exception. It felt like a church, where most of the light was naturally coming in from the windows, and it was complete with altars, symbolic objects, secrets and Gregorian chants. A small lit tube filled with silver and blue metallic flecks (which were pulverized solar cells) hovered with the austerity of a cross. Two video screens faced each other from across the room, their audio producing a somber harmony. Some aspects of the presentation were boring and ritualistic, but these artists are known for utilizing negative qualities as positives.
The opportunity to flip through various mixed media vinyl covers seemed to critique the ability to make abstract paintings that one could easily and quickly rifle through. Demystifying the process and coming off as easy to create; ultimately making each one less and less special. This follows the same logic as Swanson’s other work that filters the top 12 tracks of Billboard’s Hot 100 list of 2010 into a grey sound wash. It is evident that Swanson takes time in each piece to reflect on how we take in information, specifically how we consume products; and chops it, puts it into a blender, and ionizes the thing until all that’s left is the story of its demise. What makes this show is to read the descriptions of the works. Be certain to take some time to check out the catalog, because you can tell that Ian is having quite a good time making work, especially when he notes things like “*fun fact: a ‘remorseless tactic’ is an anagram of ‘Laser Microcassette’”. I usually default to being offended when minimalist work lacks any description, as if their work is more interesting, that it defies definition, and effaces an opening into the work; so this show feels unique just because there are more descriptions than I’ve ever encountered in an art-povera-type exhibition.
Overall the look of the entire show works on an immersive level, but I definitely gravitated to more of the subtleties in the works than the pieces that had singular formal qualities. For example in Swanson’s process there is somewhat of an aesthetic sleight of hand, as the peripheral marks hold a lot of beauty rather than the object itself. This can be seen in the way that the tops of the records in the crate fan out, similar to a fore-edge painting on a book, or the imperfect repackaging around the cassette tape that creates a nice offset appearance. Samuel’s packaged paintings, with one on the floor, didn’t hold the same weight of a critique as Swanson’s paintings which were also on the floor, but there was a nice reflection that bounced off of their surface onto the door as the sun shone in. His sculpture that looked like a disassembled target shelf felt a bit cliché for him, considering he just made the work while listening to the “music”. It didn’t really seem to translate any kind of synesthesia or celebration of hearing the gods, at least to this viewer. It settled on having its potential, and seemed satisfied simply including failure as an option. Visually though, the distanced collaboration (long-distance for them as they have worked much closer together when running ORG, or together as the ‘debt collective’) created unexpected similarities and new compositions that neither of them probably had any foresight into, and really, that’s part of the mystery of faith.
The show will be up until Feb 19th, and while you’re up there, go check out Cynthia Greig’s show, Subverting the (un)Conventional at Oakland University, which is up until the 20th!