michael j. morris


Folds and Cracks
5 December, 2009, 9:49 am
Filed under: art | Tags: , ,

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing “Folds and Cracks,” a collection of art works by Allison C. Buenger constituting her BFA Senior Thesis Exhibition at Wild Goose Creative. It was a lovely show of work in thoughtful materials, loaded with conceptual content. There were themes the occurred for me throughout the work: the encroachment of the public into the private, and the private into public, the site and situation of domesticity, the making of a life, illusion and disillusionment, fixity and fragility, and absence and abandonment. To be transparent, my reading of the work likely says more about me than the artist, but then that could be said of the perception of everything.

Throughout the work were recurring images and representations of a house, in various materials. Also recurring were images and forms taken from birds-eye-view plans of neighborhoods. These images were mostly incorporated on the surfaces of interior spaces and objects of domesticity: curtains in a window, the cushions in chairs, the surface of a table, a panel or material on an ironing board, the iron itself, the cord of the iron, etc. Overall, the juxtaposition of the exterior view of the house and the neighborhood plans across these interior spaces left me with a sense of the implication of the public involvement in the private sphere. There were questions raised about the foundation of the interior/private/domestic sphere, whether it was somehow in imitation of a domestic ideal (which was my association with the images of the exterior of the house) or in fulfillment of a social design/construction (the neighborhood plans), whether the two were essential to one another, or whether they served to sabotage the integrity of the other.

Perhaps it was the handmade quality of the work along with the materials being used (what struck me most were ceramics, wood, and textiles) along with that for which they were being utilized (in the reproduction of various domestic scenes: a table with four chairs beneath a window; a chair before a wall of televisions; an ironing board; a ceramic “model” of a house itself), but the show carried a sense of “the making of a life” for me. But this process of life-making seemed fraught between illusion and disillusionment.

Illusion was an important part of Buenger’s work. Especially in the setting of the table, chairs and window, a piece entitled “Reciprocal Setting,” in which curtains and seat cushions that seemed loose, pliable, even comfortable, were in fact formed and fired in clay. The tabletop that seemed at first to be made of ceramic tiles was in fact a textile quilt. The widow was a frame with “blue sky” painted in it, behind ceramic curtains. There was no window there, only the illusion of the window. Following the recognition of the repurposing of materials came the pang of disillusionment: the seat cushions would not give way comfortably; in fact, several were cracked. The curtains could not be pulled back, but it would not matter; the signification of a view was not a view at all. The table that seemed sturdy and supportive was fabric, pinned at the edges. I was left with a sense of “Things are not as they seemed they would be.” With this sense of disillusionment came the recognition of absence and abandonment. These were empty chairs. The fabric on the ironing board was still wrinkled. The chair before the wall of small televisions was empty. No one was living here in this fabricated domesticity, and if they were, they had abandoned the space for a time.

Absence and abandonment were most acute in the pieces “Reiteration” and “Namesake.” The latter consisted of a series of small ceramic reproductions of television sets, each on its own shelf, hung in a formation, I was told, imitated the Braille for “Allison.” One the “screen” of each television were images of two women from a popular 1980s television show (the name of the show escapes me). A few feet back from this wall of ceramic televisions was “Reiteration.” It consisted of a chair on which was laid an afghan and another small reproduction of a television, this one with a fabric “screen.” On the screen had been partially embroidered a reproduction of one of the images used in “Namesake.” It was incomplete. Spending time standing behind this chair, I became painfully aware of the absence of its occupant, the unfinished work of the embroidery, the act of imitation (embroidering that which was so fixedly produced on the ceramic “televisions”), the tension between fixity and fragility (the televisions were ceramic, their images not only unchanging but fixed in the materials; yet these are fragile materials. The assertiveness of the fixity seemed to be in question), and the lingering question of whether or not this embroidery was work that would be completed, or whether it had been abandoned. It raised the question of whether it implied an abandoned ideal, the abandonment of a life being made, or the abandonment of imitation or social prescription in favor of a more vital living?

Reinforcing the sense of absence or abandonment was the social situation of the opening. To be fair, art openings have a tendency towards social gatherings as opposed to providing an ideal space in which to engage with the art, yet the amount of attention not being paid to the art itself was poignant in the context of the work. Already the chairs were empty, the ironing and embroidery left unfinished; the amount of social activity near by but not including the art reiterated the tension between it as a life that was once lived, once made (or being made) and lives being lived, mere feet away, in and between those populating the gallery. It was in this awareness that I began to question whether the work felt like the representation of an ideal life, or a fabricated life, one “worth” being abandoned. Was the kind of domesticity and imitation being depicted ideals to which to aspire, or were they iterations of social regulatory norms, the insistence of what a life is “supposed” to be?

One piece in particular seemed fairly removed from the others, conceptually, spatially, and materially. It was entitled “Split Level,” and consisted of a large ceramic model house surrounding by tiny reproductions of that house. These tiny reproductions also populated the interior spaces of the large house. It seemed to lend itself to readings concerning social class, imitation, use, and control. Did the “big house” refer to social hegemony, the small houses being that or those which the dominant social forces regulate? Or might it be more abstract, the large house being an ideal that proliferates smaller iterations of that ideal, iterations that then entrench themselves in the ideal itself (the small houses in the interior of the large house). Maybe part of the ideal of the “big house” is that there are “small houses” with which to compare.

There were several moments, after spending significant time with the work, in which I began to recognize further implications of imperfection: on the fabric on the ironing board (the piece entitled “Folds and Cracks”), a neighborhood plan had been printed on the material. In one corner there was a faint overlay of one plan with another. It made me question which plan was first, how they came to be overlaid, what the contradiction in the plan might imply. On the quilted tabletop in “Reciprocal Setting,” one panel of the quilt did not quite fit in the grid. It was out of line. Whether these “imperfections” were the product of serendipity or whether they were meant to be tiny clues as to the further imperfection of the settings that had been created did not matter in my experience of them. For me they were not flaws in the work; they were implications of flaws in that which the work represented.

Overall I found Buenger’s work completely engaging. Besides the intense amount of meaning that the work held for me, Buegner demonstrated exceptional skill across multiple mediums. I will be interested to see where her work evolves from here.

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