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Ham Fam

Sarah Knobel Reviews Tropical Obstructions, Joshua Wade Smith's exhibition

Walking through Joshua Wade Smith’s, Tropical Obsructions, seems like it would be similar towalking into Smith's studio. One will see an array of home-made objects like walking sticks, a nerf bat, colored rocks tied onto concrete slabs with bungee cords and drawings that have a similar feel as da Vinci's invention drawings.

The gallery space is small, however, Smith intentionally fills it with various objects and sculptures. These objects are all residues of Smith's performances that are done alone in his studio. The performances focus on the obsession of creating and arranging mundane objects but more so they mirror society's obsession with the athletic sport competition and the heroic defeat of the adventurer's sport. In his new work, Smith deals directly with image accessibility in the digital age. He questions the idea of the sublime through images of bodies of water, sunsets, and beach horizons. Smith uses multiple methods to analyze such concepts.

The most obvious and well established is the sculpture, Dusk to Dawn. This sculpture is a table and a 360-degree ladder that allows him to physically traverse an image of a horizon. To be a part of the work one must be able to demonstrate the strength to climb around it. Although it seems like an absurd task, it references the actions we take on our elliptical, simulated rock climbing, or our stationary bikes. When I look at this piece, I can't help but to parallel it to the commercials I see for the new Le Tour de France indoor cycle that that allows it's user to experience mimicked terrain and imagery of this famous race.

Using materials that are easily attainable, he arranges them to mimic the forms found in his digital images of the sunset, the beach horizon, the distant island and floating devices on water. This revelation is not always immediate, the more time spent with this work the more I see and understand how Smith is imitating these idyllic landscapes. As an example, Smith uses a piece of concrete slab from a construction site that holds up temporary fences. When this slab is put on it's side the holes begin to reference observation binoculars that if one looks through their vision becomes isolated. What you can see is what seems to be an island landscape created by walking canes and the objects in the distance.

My favorite piece is Itinerate, a sculpture made out of a small suitcase that holds a plexi- mounted scene of a beach horizon. Inside this imagery shapes are physically cut out to reveal soft velvet interior. On the ground we see these objects; concrete replicas that one may see while on the shore, such as seashells. It becomes clear that this case is for preserving these replicated objects. The title, Itinerate, refers to a professional duty of a preacher or a sales person whose task it is to travel from place to place. Smith has created a kit for reaching the sublime, as if it is almost necessary to have this product with you to obtain this experience that we want to consume through the imagery.

What is striking about Smith's work is the duality of the home-made and the cold-slick surface that is present in all of his new work. This quality makes the viewer grasp that these are objects that we see and use in our regular routines that we tend to purchase not create. Overall, there is an abundant amount of content in Smith's work. I highly suggest people to not only go to this show, but also spend time with it. The more you explore, the more you will find.

The Studio Visit: UMD

Open Studio

University of Maryland College Park, MD | by Isabel Manalo

May 29, 2010

This past May I had the pleasure of making the trip up to see the studios of six MFA candidates at the University of Maryland, College Park. Accompanied by Champneys Taylor, TSV’s video editor, we were able to peruse through the studios of these six talented graduate students as well as take in the thesis show of the 3rd year students (three out of the six).

The Art Department is housed on the south side of the expansive big-ten university campus in a fairly non-descript large red brick building that seemed to be designed from the 1970′s.

We were greeted by Jonathan Monaghan, a second year candidate whose work is already being shown at the Hamiltonian Gallery in Washington D.C. and has won a number of awards. He led us through the cavernous building pointing to various art rooms and venues along the way. We passed through a gigantic set of doors and entered into the studio area.

Jonathan Monaghan His studio is a pristine minimalist white akin to the sort one would find in a Margaret Atwood or Franz Kafka novel where there is something not entirely comforting. Impressive nonetheless, his work is inspired by things that are Gothic, Medieval, Baroque and Christian. His medium of choice is the virtual 3D world of commercial CGI (computer generated image) software. He calls his work a celebration of “Pixar and Jesus, the Virgin Mary and artificial insemination, operating tables and sacrificial altars and mythical creatures and genetic engineering….”. These images manifest into prints and computer fabricated sculpture that are slick, sexy and seamlessly put together.

Selin Balci Selin has a background in microbiology. She worked in research labs that were focused on pathogen biology. It is not surprising that her work as a first year MFA candidate is addressing microbial growth as a form of portraiture. Along her walls hang petri dishes with various stages of mold growths. “Different microbes from each person showed the uniqueness of that person’s personal history and environment. Microbial growth on each Petri dish changed from day to day, as does each person.” She’s also interested in political and economic hegemony. On her computer screen she showed us various microbes growing on the map of the world. The industrialized nations enjoyed the most growth while the lesser-industrialized ones did not. “I chose more aggressive isolates for the developed countries to reflect the current political characteristics.” The forms are beautiful and viscerally uncomfortable at the same time. I was glad they were covered.

Sarah Laing Sarah is a 3rd year candidate. We visited her studio first and then her show in the student gallery. Her work is drawing based. She’s interested in the metaphoric process of drawing through the meditative process of repetition. They may start out randomly and the marks do look like they’ve been done by someone in a trance-like state, but what comes forth are forms that make direct and specific reference to the landscape. In this case, Scotland, where she is from. “I make work about understanding my relationship to my surrounding landscape, and the butterfly effect of global events that inevitably affect my personal sphere…. I find drawing and tracing a means to filter outside information and represent shared experience.” Using mylar as her paper of choice “adds to the antithetical nature of the work: ethereal, yet synthetic.”

Joe Hoffman Joe’s sound installation is a collection of numerous found speakers connected by even more wires that all connect to a large archaic brown box on the floor. It resembled an inelegant sea creature as seen from far away and then resolved into a more intimate and rewarding experience once up close to the actual piece. Each speaker was emitting whispering voices of varying degrees. “I use sound to create fragmented distortions of familiar experiences. Found and invented sounds are composed within reassembled speaker systems.” His post-modernist approach is evident in each and every one of the appropriated tweeters and woofers that are often damaged. “As schizophrenic voices scatter around the structure each speaker trembles while taking on the character of the noise they produce. What was once familiar has been reshaped allowing for new relationships and perspectives to be formed.”

Jack Henry At first glance, his sculptures could be described as kitschy in its amalgamation of detritus, random objects and other discarded material. But as they coagulate into the totemic arboreal forms he creates, they resolve into a much more monolithic and lucid concept. He states, “Each object is reinterpreted and presented as an artifact or a natural history museum model of something pulled from the contemporary landscape.” By building something up and monumental, he seems to give honor and reverence to a decaying environment and all it temporarily holds.

Tim Horjus As with many artists who make hard edge paintings, Tim’s studio was not just made up of collections of paint, but the used masking tape from making those hard edges. This time, the tape pile was growing in a corner like a green amoeba. Using latex house paint, his large-scale paintings are divided into geometric shapes and sometimes pattern that spatially go in and out. He talked extensively about his inspiration and reference to the history of western painting and the influence formalism has on his work. Color certainly defines the space and how one maneuvers through the canvas. The experience is mesmerizing and the illusion of form and space clearly comes forth. This notion is further emphasized in one painting that evolves from the two-dimensional plane into a three dimensional sculptural growth (like the tape amoeba in his studio) where it thus distills line, shape and color into pure physical form. It is what it is.