Two individual installations by John Buron and Abigael McGuire, opposites from one another in terms of materials, inception source and purpose, yet similar in how they reveal contemporary relevant concerns, are on view now through August 31 at AS220 in Providence, Rhode Island.
The focus of today’s contemporary culture is attention to addressing the interior personal (private lives) in combination with exterior tangible (public culture). How do Buron and McGuire do this?
Abigael McGuire’s “Energies and Poetries,” exhibited in the Project Space, is a three-part collection of drawings — two series of flat mixed-media abstract line drawings, and a series of text scrolls – that explore the emotionality and power of gesture line showing that the line itself is both abstract and vague — energy — and also representative of reality — poetry.
John Buron’s “Displacement” is a mixed-media and multi-media black-box environment that forces viewers into a confused state of thought where what’s real — American culture — is twisted and turned into absurd and reworked poignancy existing as a metaphor/symbolic message about cultural and universal problems that go undiscussed.
Buron is one of the most relevant artists working in Rhode Island today. He’s important because of the manner in which he addresses difficult cultural problems, evokes discussion and activates deep thinking through comic-seriousness. At first, installations like “Displacement” come off as funny and strange, conceptual and cerebral, and obtuse to the average viewer, but what is actually happening is simple and direct.
The themes and subject matter that Buron addresses in his works are deadly serious: gun control, poverty, violence, gender and environmental degradation. In all his work, he’s offering up cautionary messages. “Displacement” within the black box environment is a purposeful experience set to evoke a sense of confusion. It’s an attempt at magic realism, with a David Lynch tonality. Within the space, the viewer does feel displaced, unsure of what is happening.
The elements within are a set of video screen monitors of various sizes showing, in minimalist style, spinning pine tree scented car air fresheners — Little Trees. The spinning Little Trees evoke a meditative experience creating in the viewer a feeling of tranquility. The idea here is obvious: The Little Trees are artificial and the viewer’s feeling of pleasure is also artificial.
Along with the magical Little Trees, the centermost monitor also features ‘hand and finger magic tricks’: one trick is the typical ‘pulling your thumb off’ and the other trick is the disappearing box of crayons. The third image is of a mid-century/1950s American family sitting at dinner with an overlay of moving collage images of domestic garbage in a watery blue wash. This image can also be seen in Buron’s video “Meat” (viewable on YouTube).
The combination of images makes a direct cautionary statement: we are living in an illusion of magical thinking regarding the degradation of our environment, masking the bad odor with fake happy trees. Buron could have stopped here, not pushing forward beyond his Little Tree statement, but he goes deeper addressing the origins of cultural illusion and distraction. On both sides of the black box environment hidden in shadow are enlarged images of cheerleaders doing backflips while a clean-cut corporate ‘Mad Men’ era man watches, hypnotized and lulled into inaction by the entertainment. With these images, Buron hits hard on the origins of today’s distraction culture and its pervasive habit of using fun and games, living in ‘the moment’ to neutralize serious problems and consequences.
CORNERED: JOHN BURON: DISPLACEMENT
JFM: THE INSTALLATION ENVIRONMENT IN DISPLACEMENT FEATURES EDITED IMAGES OF MID-CENTURY AMERICAN CULTURE: CHEERLEADERS AND A MAN IN A TYPICAL CORPORATE SUIT. WHERE DID THESE IMAGES COME FROM ORIGINALLY AND HOW DID YOU PROCESS THEM FOR DISPLAY?
JB: The images are from a 1950s Life Magazine. I photographed them and then altered them in Photoshop. To get a large size, I used an online rasterization web site to generate a large image made up of multiple letter-size pages in a single PDF. I then printed the pages in color, trimmed each one and attached them with double-sided tape to a large piece of paper that was finally attached to the gallery wall. It took several hours to complete but achieved the desired result.
JFM: TELL US HOW YOU CREATED THE MOVING ‘MAGIC HAND TRICKS.’ ARE THOSE YOUR HANDS?
JB: Yes, those are my hands. I taught myself a couple of intentionally simple slight-of-hand magic tricks for this one, and I plan to learn more tricks for future works. I am a bit of a skeptic when it comes to the supernatural, so for me, the magic tricks illustrate my belief that most paranormal phenomena can be logically explained as nonsense. In this installation, the magic tricks are addressing how many humans like simple ethereal answers to complex problems, like muttering thoughts and prayers while the problems compound. Repeatedly waving the magic wand and expecting different results.
JFM: HOW DOES DISPLACEMENT FIT IN WITH THE REST OF YOUR WORK? IS IT PART OF A LARGER SERIES OR DOES IT STAND ALONE AS A SINGULAR STATEMENT?
JB: The titles of my work are very important to me. I chose the title Displacement for this piece in reference to the way the human race is displacing itself from its own planet through the destruction of the environment. I have done other work addressing environmental issues in the past; it is hard not to when living in a country that is leading the charge into the Anthropocene. But the term displacement is not part of an intentional series, so I suppose it is a singular statement, but I reserve the right to use it again. In all of my artwork, I try really hard not to be too literal, making sure I do not create a public service announcement if addressing a social issue. I stick close to the absurd and let the social commentary come through as gently as possible.
CORNERED: ABIGAEL MCGUIRE: ENERGIES AND POETRIES.
Abigael McGuire, although still within the emerging artist status, continues to expand, experiment and evolve, making her an artist of unexpected developments.
“Energies and Poetries” is simple and yet complicated. The mixed media abstract line colorful line drawings on paper are simultaneously easy and perplexing. They come off immediately as pretty and approachable, but there is more to them than meets the eye. McGuire is playing with the complex intellectual power of line as a communication tool. The lines and colors of her the drawings are meant to provide a portrait of a particular person. Each abstract piece is a veiled narrative about someone or the artist herself.
Pushing the intellectualism of abstract line to the next level, McGuire uses it as actual text, writing out real words in poetic form, overlaying the poetry onto the line drawings, and writing the words out on floor to ceiling white scrolls in white color markings, to explore further the important dual reality of line as both tangible and indefinite. The white marks on white translucent plastic suggestion cloudy thoughts, fading experiences and ghostly memories that remain and yet can be ‘scrolled back and forth.’
The ‘scrolls’ also pay homage to the ‘beat poets’ of the past, especially Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road,’ a story of passing time and adventures of a young traveling poet. For McGuire, her scrolls present the same experience as a document and witness to something deeply important, lived, struggled with, and perhaps, ready to ‘scroll back.’ The beauty of McGuire’s work is that she is able to take her private travails and translate them into elegant forms that welcome viewer interpretation. The work is about her, and also about all of us.
JFM: YOU EXPLAINED THAT ENERGIES and POETRIES IS AN EVOLVING SERIES. TELL US ABOUT THE EARLY ORIGINS OF THE ABSTRACT DRAWINGS AND WHAT INSPIRED THEM.
AM: The abstract paintings actually originated as small, textural, mixed media collages. I made one for myself after a very different large scale installation project in search of a more tactile way of working. After that, I started to ask the people I care about to pick three colors, without giving them any context. I spent two years working on 16 collages and five video collages utilizing their colors and imagery that made me think of them. However, this process didn’t quite feel like it conveyed enough about the person each depicted and quite frankly felt like moving through molasses to make.
That process led to my current work, which distils the idea of a person into the energy that I feel they emit but still paired with the colors they choose. It’s my favorite game to play as I usually like to spring it on people when they least expect it and won’t remember it. I am able to work much faster this way and also can really think more compositionally while layering. As for the evolution of the poetries, I’ve been writing poetry since high school as a way to process my more powerful emotions. I thought that this was a good time to start bringing some of my more recent processing to light, sharing my most vulnerable self with the world. It was time for two of my practices to start working together to convey at least a small window into my inner world.
JFM: HOW IS THIS WORK SIMILAR TO YOUR PAST WORK? HAVE YOU ALWAYS EXPERIMENTED WITH THE LAYERED GESTURE LINE AS A FOUNDATIONAL CONCEPT AND PROCESS?
AM: It’s hard to pin down precisely how all my work ties in together. I experimented quite a bit over the years, especially coming from a photo and animation background, transitioning into an installation focus. If anything, I have always been someone who plays with color, shape, layers and line. I do like to push whatever media I work with, having the freedom to explore new ways of working and refining a process along the way. I truly am surprised by the abstract work I do now! I’ve always loved it from my youth, but perhaps I didn’t feel like I could experiment with the abstract gestural work until I felt comfortable being just myself.
JFM: WHAT’S NEXT FOR ABIGAEL? IS THERE ANOTHER SERIES IN DEVELOPMENT?
AM: Looking back, I’ve realized that inspiration for my next series usually hits after resting from a big show. So, with “Energies and Poetries” up, really it could hit me anytime now. If could predict anything, I would say look forward to more explorations of my inner self, work that explores the more complex emotions that I’ve been processing (in therapy!), and potentially some collections of my poetry.
(John Buron’s “Displacement” (in the Reading Room) and Abigael McGuire’s “Energies and Poetries” (in the AS220 Project Space) exhibitions continue through August 31 at AS220, 93 Mathewson St., Providence, Rhode Island. AS220 is also showing: “Social Perspectives” by Raymond Legare and Raphael A’Vant in the Main Gallery (115 Empire St.) and “Beneath the Skin: Bone Series by Victoria Dalpre” in the Vestibule Gallery and in the Resident Gallery at 131 Washington St. is works by NEA Artists-In-Residence Lauren Valley, Jessica Thompson and Laura Splan. For more information, visit as220.org.)