Entering the gallery that houses Proximities’ first installment, What Time is it There?, is like emerging for air after diving into a deep pool. The gallery is sandwiched between the Korean and Japanese portions of the Asian Art Museum’s permanent collection, which spans 6,000 years and offers a “panorama of Asian art and culture”1. Dripping from the resonances of a deep expanse of complicated histories, Proximities offers an interstice, a moment to sit and consider the present condition of the encompassing water.
This is particularly evident with Andrew Witrak’s Trouble in Paradise #2, constructed from thousands of cocktail umbrellas, which envelop and coat a swimming pool float. Reminiscent of a tropical version of Meret Oppenheim’s Breakfast in Fur, the effect is overwhelmingly haptic and surreal, eliciting an implicit desire to touch the pointed toothpick ends (which jut into space in equally distributed densities and directions, like quills) with the tacit understanding of the impossibility and danger of the object’s physical use. The umbrellas, which alternate in sunny hued clusters of pink, yellow and green, are a standard garnish for tropical cocktails, and standard issue symbols for exploitative tourism and exoticism in the West. The float is paired with a video screen, which mimes cliché tropical resort hotel TV channels (i.e.: a golfer tees off on a perfectly coiffed green, a spa with crisp white towels offers relaxation, a tropical blue drink with a pineapple garnish sweats in the heat) suggesting a tropical utopia, devoid of any of the cultural specificities which would tie it to a distinct place. Together, the work is enticing and off-putting, evoking the potential pleasures and dangers inherent in the tourism industry.
A counterpoint to the overt criticism of tourism and exoticization, James Gobel’s You’ve Gone Away, But You’ll Come Back Some Day, makes use of perfectly pieced together bits of felt and yarn to create the effect of an imploded postcard. Text cut from felt in the bottom right clearly reads “Love Me…” and punctuates the work with the same desire as the post card platitude: “Wish You Were Here”. The artist mentions his reflections on national flags as a starting point for imagining journeys, resulting in lines of blue, orange, red and acrylic painted felt that cross the center of a tan background, conjuring the geometry of a national flag. This loving tribute to a voyage not yet taken acts as a counterpoint to the damage of cultural tourism proposed with Witrak’s Trouble in Paradise #2.
Lisa K. Blatt’s night photographs explores a landscape completely transformed by darkness. Depicting the cityscape of Shanghai with its natural landscapes, punctuated by manicured palm trees and lighted, eerily, with an incandescent pink, the photographs manipulate color and space, changing Shanghai, one of the world’s fastest growing cities, into a prehistoric forest bathed in an other-wordly glow.
Other artists of Proximities: What Time is it There? include Elisheva Biernoff, Ala Ebtekar, Tucker Nichols and Larry Sultan. Proximities 1: What Time is it There? will be on view until July 21, the next installment, Proximities 2: Knowing Me, Knowing You will run Oct 11-Dec 8.
1 from the asian art museum’s website: http://www.asianart.org/collections/collection