July 24 - September 6, 2014
Curated by Rui Mateus Amaral
Allyson Vieira and Paul Kajander’s transitory forms draw our attention to time’s ambivalence; that is, time’s ability to mark progress and deterioration. Much like the late eighteenth century painters who depicted ancient ruins and imagined the collapse of urban modernity, both Vieira and Kajander refer to ancient architectural and monumental structures as devices that record the effects of time and its persistence above all else. Writing about the depiction of ruins in the work of painter Hubert Robert in the 1767 Paris Salon, French philosopher Denis Diderot remarked, “The ideas ruins evoke in me are grand. Everything comes to nothing, everything perishes, and everything passes, only the world remains, only time endures.”i
Robert – and subsequently writers like Diderot who developed the “poetics of ruins” – was interested in the simultaneous experience of past and future when looking at a decaying object. Vieira and Kajander advance this experience by mingling architectural and bodily forms in artworks that subtly relates our gazing upon a ruin to what it is like to look at ourselves. As the French poet Jean Cocteau puts it in his film The Testament of Orpheus (1960), “Look at your life in a mirror and you see death at work.” Just as architectural forms and materials record the passage of time, so too does the structure and surface of the body. Through sculpture and décollage, Vieira and Kajander present contemporary ruins in a state of stasis where architecture and body, past and future, doing and undoing, newness and aging are at odds even as they coalesce.
Vieira’s sculptures, Weight Bearing I, III and IV are made from standard contemporary architectural materials. Vieira stacks 16-inch drywall squares and secures the layers to each other with four three-inch screws, creating vertical blocks of her own height. Using a Sawzall, Vieira excavates forms evocative of female figures from these solids, presenting them in contrapossto: a weight-bearing pose associated with the caryatids of ancient Greek temples. Horizontal steel I-beams lay atop the symmetrical figures’ heads, joining the twinned forms. These forms become posts supporting the steel lintels, distributing the weight evenly to the ground. The post-and-lintel structures call to mind the unit forms of basic architecture.
Furthermore, the scale of the works and the sculptures’ contours reveal the presence of the artist’s body. Not only are the twinned forms relative to the artist’s height, but the width of each form is an accord between the artist’s own width and the standard American construction material devisor of 16 inches. Ultimately, Vieira constructs a new material suitable for carving a figural sculpture of her own size. Vieira’s figures are never fully visible, but the tension she choreographs between material and tool is. Determined by the Sawzall’s length and movement, Vieira’s encounter with these solid blocks discloses rough-hewn layers of drywall and fractured screws. The interaction between the drywall’s rigid fragility and the Sawzall’s limited angles and depth are experienced as vividly as the emergent contrapposto bodies. Vieira thus describes her sculptures as “Neither solid block nor figure, existing between material-as-form and form-qua-form.”ii The process of carving the sculptures equally ravages them; each cut and fracture left on the surfaces are like slices of time reminding us of both humanity and its creations’ inevitable fates.
Vieira’s Clad pieces are made from studio detritus; specifically, material scraps from other works. This debris is then mixed in with plaster and poured into a rectangular structure built from steel studs. Like the Weight Bearing series, the dimensions of these pieces are also determined by a combination of the artist’s proportions and standard American construction divisions. As the debris and plaster conglomerate settles into the steel frame an object that exists between photography and sculpture manifests itself. Much like the camera, the plaster freezes the movement of the debris within it, which is then framed by studs. Once the object cures, Vieira intervenes in its surface with a rasp, chisel, Sawzall or grinder, sculpting the new material and creating detritus for the next one. Each Clad is made from the rubble of the previous Clad and other concurrent projects underway in Vieira’s studio. In this manner, Vieira engages explicitly in a process of doing and undoing whereby the histories of her previous works persist into the future through new forms. Therefore, the Clad pieces, too, can be read as metaphysical weight-bearing forces.
Clad 19 and Clad 20 are unique in the series because they subtly gesture towards the body and refer to the Weight Bearing sculptures more directly. Here Vieira has twisted the stud structures in a way that calls to mind an image of the Gaddi Torso or Myrons’ Discobulous. Much like the figures found in the Weight Bearing sculptures, Vieira transforms these remnants of architectural materials into counter-posing figures that draw our attention to history, time, the body and natural order.
By using Greek monuments as a point of departure, Kajander similarly echoes this inversion of construction and decay through his own process of décollage. His ongoing series All That was Solid (For Greece) takes pictures from Greek sculpture books published in the 1970s by art historian and archeologist John Boardman for source material. Kajander’s process turns the photographs from the books into impossibly eroded sculptural forms. Where collage is the process of building up an image through various other images and materials, décollage is achieved through stripping, cutting away, and masking the image. Kajander applies acrylic and gouache to his source material, obliterating aspects of the original that challenge our perception of resolved forms while at the same time working against photography’s ability to preserve an object in time. Interestingly, the abstracted images of these stone monuments begin to appear as disfigured bodies; limbs protrude from unformed torsos, misaligned pelvic bones emerge from solid bases and a ravaged figure reclines gently, waiting indefinitely. In this sense, much like the Sawzall scars on Vieira’s sculptures, the movement of acrylic and gouache on the images becomes a metaphor for the passage of time, mirroring the possibilities of disintegration, or rather time’s ability to give rise to new forms from old ones, which eventually fracture into nothingness.
In the way that Vieira acknowledges and repurposes her original source material, Kajander similarly points towards the sources he uses to create these new works. The images that Kajander manipulates are laid on two-page spreads of paper scaled to the same dimensions of Boardman’s book. Kajander repurposes the page numbers from the original by placing them at the bottom corner of the new pages. The work is then framed as two-page spreads, hung side by side and in sequence, oriented to be read as if we, like Kajander, once flipped through the original book. The works are not protected by glass; instead, they remain poised in their frames, vulnerable to the observer’s gaze and the effects of time.
An intersection of various lineages is revealed when we observe Vieira and Kajander’s surfaces more closely. In Vieira’s Weight Bearing sculptures, the scale of her body, her labour, contemporary architectural codes and the history of Greek monuments are negotiated. Vieira then takes these relationships further in her Clad series by interlacing them with remnants of her previous works. Kajander’s suite of décollages connects his labour, the dimensions and history of Boardman’s books and, certainly, the history of Greek sculpture. These artworks are aligned with the eighteenth century ruin aesthetic, but through this composite of multiple narratives their works recall art historian Alois Riegl’s notions of age value and newness value.
In The Modern Cult of Monuments: its Character and Its Origin (1903), Riegl describes age value as that which “springs from our appreciation of the time which has elapsed since [the monument] was made and which has burdened it with traces of age.”iii He continues: “These monuments are nothing more than indispensable catalysts which trigger in the beholder a sense of the life cycle, of the emergence of the particular from the general and its gradual but inevitable dissolution back into the general.”iv Both Vieira and Kajander respond to Riegl’s notion of age value by heightening it through their own artistic strategies. Although their works are considered contemporary art, each artist suspends our perception of time by creating new forms (or, in Kajander’s case, images of forms) that are immediately engaged with their own history as well as the process of aging. Furthermore, the figurative interventions into the forms more directly address “a sense of the lifecycle”v, ultimately positioning us within the work as a reminder of the natural conclusion we eventually reach.
These objects become more complex when we consider them in relation to Riegl’s newness value, which at first opposes age value. Where age value is the acceptance that a monument is bound to disintegrate, newness value is the belief that every new object we produce should be formally flawless and recognized as evidence of human invincibility against nature’s destructive forces.vi Alois notes, “Age value is revealed in imperfection, a lack of completeness, a tendancy to dissolve shape and colour, characteristics that are in complete contrast with those of modern i.e newly created works.”vii What Vieira and Kajander make evident is that these two values are not opposed, but entwined. Because they produce artworks in the present, their objects are technically rendered as new, in line with Riegl’s notion of newness. But, by eschewing highly engineered and polished objects in favour of works that record their own process more transparently and immediately, Vieira and Kajander bypass newness value. After all, the moment an object materializes, it begins to disintegrate – a process that Vieira and Kajander invest in, and is what Riegl described earlier as the “inevitable dissolution back into the general.”viii
Interestingly, Riegl reconciles these opposing values. In the same text, he notes: “from man we expect accomplished artifacts as symbols of a necessary process of human production; on the other hand, from nature acting over time, we expect their disintegration as the symbol of an equally necessary passing.”ix In other words, Riegl affirms the interdependence between age value and newness value, maintaining – with Vieira and Kajander – that, indeed, all beneath the moon decays.
*The title of the exhibition, All Beneath the Moon Decays, comes from William Drummond of Hawthornden’s original poem, I Know That All Beneath the Moon Decays, published in the 17th Century.
* Allyson Vieira’s works are courtesy of the artist and Laurel Gitlen Gallery, New York.
Allyson Vieira (b.1979) lives and works in New York City. Vieira holds an MFA from the Milton Avery Graduate School of Arts, Bard College, (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY) and a BFA from The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art (New York, NY). In 2013, Vieira’s work was the subject of a solo show titled, The Plural Present, at Kunsthalle Basel (Basel) which traveled to The Swiss Institute (New York). Vieira has also exhibited in solo exhibitions at Laurel Gitlen Gallery (New York), Monica de Cardenas (Milan) and will open a new solo exhibition this September at The Breeder (Athens). Vieira’s work has also been included in various group contexts; most recently in Remainder at the Philbrook Museum of Art (Tulsa, OK); Configurations: Katinka Bock, Valerie Blass, Esther Klas, Allyson Vieira, Metrotech Center (Brooklyn, NY),curated by Andria Hickey for Public Art Fund; and Lilliput, curated by Cecilia Alemani for the High Line (New York).
Paul Kajander (b.1980) lives and works in Seoul, South Korea. Kajander received his MFA from the Visual Arts Program at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver) and a BFA in Visual Arts from Simon Fraser University (Vancouver/Burnaby). His work was recently exhibited at the Seoul Museum of Art (Seoul); the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art’s International Residency Program (Seoul); The Real DMZ Project (Cheorwon-gun & Seoul) and ArtSonje Center’s inaugural banner project (Seoul). Kajander has also participated in exhibitions for artist run centers as well as publications and screenings, including the Montréal Underground Film Festival; The Beacon for which We Long at Nautical Dusk and Dawn, Film Festival (Durham); Is Future Boring?, Gallery Hit (Bratislava) and Rehearsal Research, Western Front (Vancouver).
i Denis Diderot, “Salon of 1767” in Diderot on Art, vol. II, ed. and trans. by John
Goodman (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995): 198-199.
ii “Allyson Vieira, Cortège”, Laurel Gitlen Gallery, press release, 2013 on the Laurel
Gitlen Gallery website, http://www.laurelgitlen.com/exhibitions/11-cortege?slide=0,
accessed on June 1st, 2014.
iii Alois Riegl. “The Modern Cult of Monuments: Its Character and It’s Origin (1928).” Ed. Vanessa R. Schwartz and Jeannene M. Pryzblyski. The Nineteenth Century Visual Culture Reader (New York and London: Psychology Books, 2004):58.
vi Alois Riegl. “The Modern Cult of Monuments: Its Character and It’s Origin” Ed. Margaret Holben Ellis, Nicholas Stanley Price, M. Kirby Talley Jr., and Allessandra Meluccovaccaro. Historical and Philosophical Issues in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage 37.2 (Los Angeles: Getty Publications:1996): 80.
vii Ibid, 73.
viii Alois Riegl. “The Modern Cult of Monuments: Its Character and It’s Origin (1928).” Ed. Vanessa R. Schwartz and Jeannene M. Pryzblyski. The Nineteenth Century Visual Culture Reader (New York and London: Psychology Books, 2004): 58.
ix Ibid, 59.