Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Come Back New

David Kennedy Cutler 

installation: Come Back New, David Kennedy Cutler at Derek Eller
Derek Eller Gallery
January 13- February 11, 2012 

In Come Back New at Derek Eller Gallery, David Kennedy Cutler exhibits works that explore themes ranging from dematerialization, alchemy, and empathy to freezing the action/reaction that is inherent to performance. The works, mostly towering sculptures made from epoxy resin, Plexiglas, recycled CDs and a variety of petroleum byproducts, hover between solid and liquid, static and non-static. Kennedy Cutler's works absorb and refract light with an oily, rainbow-y iridescence that conjoins chimera with the sort of industrial waste that has come to embellish much of contemporary living and thinking. 

Earlier this week, David and I sat down at our keyboards to exchange a few ideas via email:

New Pilgrim II, 2011, Plexiglas, UV epoxy resin, archival inkjet print, compact discs, acrylic process ink, 79" H

JMG: Your sculptures are big -- monumental, even -- but not outside human scale. And, for the most part, they are vertical so they bring the figure to mind. Do I see Rodin here? Like The Burghers of Calais -- all associated metaphors inclusive? 

DKC: That wouldn't be the first time a comparison had been made to Rodin. But I wasn't trained as a sculptor, so I often discover another artist's work in the actual making of my work. So a lot of my material manipulations are made by accident, trying to achieve a gesture or an effect. It is a way of setting a tone that often ends up flirting with certain lineages of sculpture. I think the physicality of the making of the work, the smashing, folding or bending is a reminder of a non-determinate approach to object-making. But, I also feel that there is a conduit of indigenous totemic shapes or African sculpture that are meant to be representations of ancestors or spirits, also kind of indeterminate-type things. All the pieces have some solidity, but become incorporeal as they become transparent or as they get distressed or break apart. And so maybe they reference back to those themes of revolt, sacrifice and burden that are so present in The Burghers of Calais. I guess sculpture, at its best, has something empathic about it, in that it portrays the way that existence under a set of conditions actually feels, but can't be explained.

Total Rupture, 2011, Plexiglas, tinted Plexiglas, UV epoxy resin, 93" H
JMG: Regarding "smashing, folding and bending," you do seem to engage in a sort of "artistic athleticism" -- is the performative aspect of these works a natural by-product of your object-making or is it something more deliberate and integral to the work?

DKC: It is something deliberate I look for, but always leave room for chance, for gravity and pressure to decide the shape of the plastic. I put confines on the materials, like you would use a rectangle to begin a painting, but in order to keep that feeling of vitality, I try to provide some evidence of the way the sculptures are made. Almost forensically, they reveal the events that shaped then, although I realize that there is high abstraction that separates a full understanding of their making. But they do imply that some event has occurred: a leak, a rupture, a spill, a breakage, or a twisting up of material. The results are like one or a combination of these gestures, frozen, as if linear time had somehow crystallized a movement. Like a document of a private performance.

JMG: Is "a non-determinate approach to object-making" a conscious effort not to predetermine the outcome? Is it non-determinate vis a vis John Cage?

DKC: That is absolutely what it is. It is a way of taking these plastic and digital materials, commonly associated with products and display, and stripping them of uniformity. Bestowing individuality back into a highly regimented world. Especially, as the digital realm controls the outcomes of so much production, spontaneity and improvisation are needed to unlearn things. It's a way of finding the essence of things, letting them behave badly, exploit errors, or break rules, without resorting to cliches or spectacles. But it is also not presenting total chaos, or just exploiting anarchy, or making a mess. My angle is an attempt to harness that chaos into harmony. Like the way some musicians have utilized the feedback from their electric instruments over a conventional 4 time rock song structure. To me that is sublime, right on the edge of falling apart, but maintaining a kind of tension.

Partial Rupture, 2011, Plexiglas, tinted Plexiglas, UV epoxy resin, 92" H
JMG: Some of your sculptures remind me of broken ice on a river bed -- beautiful, slightly dangerous, and fugitive, or fleeting. This is related to the incorporeal you refer to, but it is also spectacularly beautiful. Can you talk about beauty in your work?

DKC: Part of that may come from the materials themselves. And that might be because we are drawn to these synthetic materials in an almost infantile way. After all, plastic is the ultimate form of artifice, as in: it is created to imitate more natural materials, like glass, but rendering glass nearly unbreakable. It's revolutionized our engagement with the world, and so like the ice analogy you described, which you wouldn't be able to interface with because of the danger, with plastic you can create a facsimile of a sublime experience, albeit a more introverted one. Beauty is a tricky concept to chase after. I think more about the seductive qualities of my materials, things that draw you in, enhance desire. People discuss light in relation to my work, what the pieces do to and with light, but I honestly think about them more as dealing with a presence that is both solid and insubstantial, of the fleeting quality that you mention. But I guess people are more perverse in that sense, and they want what they cannot possess.

Double Arterial Rainbow, 2011, Plexiglas, UV epoxy resin, acrylic process ink, 99" H
JMG: Also, (forgive me for invoking the 1970s), the sense of entropy in this work is quite strong. The materials (CDs, Plexiglas, etc.) are symbolic and a little apocalyptic. Is this part of the sense of empathy you reference?

DKC: Another tricky topic, the apocalyptic view of these sculptures, and as a receiver of our current climate, I can't help but transmit some of the energy that is out there. But the show is titled Come Back New for a reason. It really is a declaration to reinvent, recycle past culture into something alien to culture, and look towards the aesthetics of the future, even if that involves a heavy amount of tragedy, or feelings of loss. If the sculptures are any good, they will be empathic to the conditions of conflict that we experience, both real and imagined.

Two works from 2010, shown here at Socrates Sculpture Park: Geologies, Cosmologies, Apologies (2), 2010
archival inkjet print, plexiglass, ashes in acrylic medium, compact disc data, compact discs, UV epoxy resin
2 works, 42 x 81 x 18 inches (each)
JMG: Where do you find all these CDs? (!!)

DKC: I started by sacrificing all the CD's of my coming of age, so to speak. My particular age group were becoming teenagers in the early 1990's, and so my absorption of culture was through CD's, which were probably the first large scale introduction of digital consumer culture. By the time I started using them in sculptures they were worthless to most people, just baggage for digital information. I began smashing up my own, then people would give me their old CD's, or when I needed a huge quantity I began buying spindles of CD-R's that had "expired" or were on sale as DVD media was replacing them. I still have friends give me sandwich bags full of CD's every now and then.

JMG: Thanks for a great interview.

DKC: This was fun.

Come Back New is on view at Derek Eller Gallery through February 11th. 

Watch for David's September 2012 show at Halsey McKay in East Hampton.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Looking forward to:

Joseph Montgomery, Velveteen

Joseph Montgomery

January 8 - February 12, 2012

wonderful work -- some earlier examples:

Image Eighty-Six, 2010–2011, oil, cardboard, paper, plaster, sponge, wax and aluminum mesh on panel

Image One Hundred Seven, 2008–2011
oil, clay, wax, cardboard, sponge, paper, pastel, canvas, plastic and steel wire on panel

Image Eighty-Four, 2007-2010, oil, cardboard, canvas, mortar, plaster, plastic, and wax on panel

Montgomery was included in the 2011 Bridgehampton Biennial, curated by Bob Nickas as well as Curating the Contemporary with Ned Vena, another amazing artist (and personal favorite), in cooperation with Kunsthaus Baselland. It was curated by Kathrin Beer and Samuel Leuenberger.

Love this work.