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“Working on It” @ Royal Nonesuch & Martina}{Johnston

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Indira Martina Morre, "Liz 2: Five Weeks in the Life of an Artist", 2014, graphite, color pencil, pen, oil on panel, 18 x 18" 

The art world attracts and creates polymaths. If you’re reading this you may well be a critic, artist, writer, arts administrator or curator or perhaps all of these things, depending on the day of the week and what resides in your job quiver.  If so, you’ll be interested in Working on It, a two-part collaboration between the artists who run the Martina}{Johnston Gallery and the Royal Nonesuch Gallery, because it affirms who most of us are in the art world. We are creatures who identify as both makers and administrators, and whose daily lives are tinged with residues from all these activities. The two shows, which feature both groups of artists interacting with each other and with each other’s work, probes the intricacies of intermingled lives.  

Since the exhibition is in two parts, you’ll need to visit the two spaces where the works appear.  Working On It: Part I is installed in the Martina }{ Johnston Gallery, a tree-shaded, wainscoted house/gallery run by Indira Morre and Farley Gwazda in West Berkeley.  Royal Nonesuch is in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland.  Drive, if you can, to minimize the time spent shuttling between the two sites. 

Carrie Lin, "Mac and Cheese with Cauliflower" 2014

At Martina }{ Johnston, artists Elizabeth Bernstein, Carey Lin, and Adam Thorman’s small bodies of work explore Indira and Farley’s relationship (they’re partners) and the complexities of

running a gallery that doubles as a living space. Thorman, for instance, interviewed Morre and Gwazda separately about their relationship and produced a sound piece of their conversations that plays from inside a closet in the main gallery. While its references to privacy are immanently graspable, there’s a certain gossipy sociality about this work too—the layered tones of the two voices create a din that resembles gallery talk during an opening, merging Morre’s and Gwazda’s roles as makers and lovers.
 
This interlacing of public and private experience continues throughout the show. The artists manipulate intimate details about their subjects to a degree such that you begin to wonder if true disclosure is even impossible. To make Someone I Know Recently Ate, Lin asked Morre to tell him what she ate when Gwazda wasn’t at home. Morre sent iPhone photographs of the food to Lin who created layered, printed paintings from the photos. She applied layers of paint to sheets of palette paper and pressed each sheet onto canvases, creating a gradual and successive buildup of food images.  These abstract pictures don’t end up looking like food at all, especially compared to those in say, slickly curated “food porn” blogs. As such, they resemble only fragile translations of the experiences.
 
Indira Martina Morre: "Carey 1: Google Calendar", 2014, 18 x 18"
Working On It Part II, installed in the Royal Nonesuch Gallery, is more compact but metaphysically more expansive. You’ll notice your body adjusting to the lean, narrow space where Morre and Gwazda’s work about Lin, Bernstein, and Thorman is staggered. Gwazda’s The Superorganism is an interactive drawing project that invites you to sit inside partitioned stations and sketch Lin, Bernstein, and Thorman’s paintings from memory after they flash on a screen for less than five seconds. At each station you make choices—sketching, recalling and re-ordering your sketches in relation to other viewers’ sketches—but you are also bound to the computerized system through which Gwazda projects pictures and gives orders. This is a basic truth of networked and digital culture (and really, all culture): we do not make choices; the algorithms built into our lives make them for us.  The work’s perverse, aggressive electronic soundtrack by Gwazda, along with the body-hugging partitions, implies that you might already know this. 
 
Adam Thorman," m} { j2", 2014, archival pigment, 8 x 10" 

Indira Morre’s series of paintings explores Elizabeth Bernstein, Carey Lin, and Adam Thorman’s daily lives by projecting images of their planners (digital and Moleskine) onto wood panels, where she re-inscribes what’s written to create fresh layers in her own hand. By tracing their inscriptions repeatedly, she mastered each artist’s handwriting, moving through their schedules as though she were doing the planning. But the planning and re-planning is far from linear, as titles like Liz 1: Two Weeks in the Life of an Artist attest: You can see thickets of entries mixed with thin layers of oil paint,

  blending the days and weeks into a vaporous simultaneity. It drives home the idea that, while “planning” is personal and individual, it is also spatial.

So what do we know about these artists after examining these viscous layers of practice and identity? What do the artists now appear to know about each other? It’s clear that the divisions between arts professional, artist, lover, and citizen are porous—you are no less a curator on Tuesday than you are a boyfriend in March.  Identity here, like mark making or picture taking, is a kind of structure that collapses when freighted with the reality of shifting moments and spaces. Give yourself a few hours, then, to work on and with this show to unravel and reconstruct the component pieces —if you can take time off from your overfilled quiver of jobs. 

–KATIE ANANIA
 
“Working on It: Parts I and II” @ Royal Nonesuch Gallery and Martina}{Johnston Gallery through April 19, 2014. 
 
About the author:
Katie Anania is a historian of postwar American and European art, and teaches courses at SFAI on contemporary art, intimacy, food cultures and the history of sculpture. Her doctoral dissertation, which earned numerous awards, examines the confluence of new drawing strategies and expanding notions of interpersonal communication and disclosure in 1960s urban America. Her criticism has appeared in Artweek, American Craft, Pastelgram and Artforum.com.

 

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