Industrial artifacts are ostensibly products of rationality (remember the modernist mantra “form follows function”?) yet they’re also windblown by the imperatives of fashion and design. Two artists who accept this world of manufactured readymades, yet move beyond the polemics of a century ago to transform them into esthetic objects, are Torontonian David Trautrimas and San Franciscan Kristina Lewis, who prove, in a joint show, Article X, that there is life after simulacra. Article X, which has nothing do to any constitutionally protected right, might be interpreted as an artist’s declaration of freedom; or perhaps it refers to sci-fi horror movies, like X: The Creeping Unknown, X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes or X-Men.
The objects in Article X, according to a gallery news release, “are removed from their usual contexts and placed in zones of ambiguity, absurdity, and anxiety.” What the show really feels like is a fantasy from the 1950s. Trautrimas makes prints of imaginary defense installations, digitally assembled from fragments of vintage consumerist goods. Lewis gives us dissected spike-heeled shoes, based on those painfully glamorous, fetishistic foot bindings adopted by American women of the Mad Men era whose “bombshell” nose cones echoed across a spectrum of products: cars, jets and push-up bras.
Trautrimas grew up as the Cold War was ending, but whose NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) facilities, like the Royal Canadian Air Force’s North Bay base, the command centers for early warning and response to a Russian missile attack, endure in landscape and memory. His new series of nine images, Spyfrost, focuses on the link between capitalism’s postwar materialist culture of good ‘n’ plenty and the Military-Industrial Complex that developed in parallel and were the subject two films about nuclear apocalypse, the tragic Fail Safe and the comic Dr. Strangelove.
Trautrimas collects the appliances of yesteryear from garage sales, bargain stores, and the Internet; he disassembles the pieces, photographs them, and laboriously assembles monumental, monstrous and sometimes comic industrial buildings, which he embellishes with images of cars, trees and landscapes that he has collected on bike rides. The images, with their hints of Red-Scare era fridges, freezers, waffle irons, electric razors, coffee pots, vacuum cleaners, and the like, are rich in suggestiveness. They conjure Oldenburg’s cheerfully absurd pop monuments of clothespins, toilet floats, and lipstick, as well as cinematic visions of advanced technology (2001 and Close Encounters) and the dystopias (Metropolis, Blade Runner, and Star Wars, the latter of which was neatly parodied in Ernie Fosselius’ short film, Hardware Wars, with its flying toasters!)
The Brilliant Device presents a wintry northern landscape dominated by what appears an igloo made from corroded metal, topped by a pair of gigantic brass periscopes, fashioned from parts of a floor polisher. The Radiant Proliferator, a kind of mechanical sun that seems to be giving a Nazi salute, is made from components that Trautrimas purchased at a Toronto lighting-supply store. Storm Crown Mechanism depicts a pair of colossal metal-disked structures, suggesting H.G Wells’ Martian heat-ray tripods, but are really made from refrigerator parts purchased off Craigslitst. Mnemonic Doppelganger was made from—what else?—parts of old movie cameras. While the sociopolitical aspect of this body of work is fascinating, and its mad-scientist method is entertaining and hilarious, these looming, intimidating mechanisms possess an undeniable visual authority. They’re as powerful and seductive as the ideology du jour (remember the Global War on Terror?), which, perhaps, they symbolize, colossi for a technological age run amok.
Kristina Lewis continues her exuberant and inventive exploration of commercially available materials. In the past she has torn apart and reconstructed clothing, packaging tape, and umbrellas, and some of that work is on view here. It Leaves a Shining Wake, probably named after a cryptozoological sighting, resembles a marine reptile made of zippers embedded in thin strips of fabric. Boundary and Air Duct with their three-inch cardboard tape rolls surrounded by coils of tape, suggest microscopic cells; while the umbrella ribs of Spinner, stripped of fabric, become aggregated: a schematic origami crane chained to a heavy-looking pyramid of black nylon. Lewis also displays three sculptures (Revolt, A Neutral Charge, Ground Surge) based on electrical conduit boxes whose askew “live” wires read like explosions of frozen pyrotechnics.
The new body of work on display consists of ten spike-heeled women’s shoes, flayed and splayed like weird birds or insects from, say, Pan’s Labyrinth. Common Chafe resembles an inverted, decapitated frog or chicken. The heels become drumsticks; the black leather uppers, a duplicate set of webbed feet, and the perforated insoles plucked skin. Lawn Dig suggests a mournful-faced insect either praying or shrugging. Black Ache resembles an amphibian or reptile skull or mask that has begun to develop small wings.
Culture is now the new nature in hybrid, multimedia postmodernism. Based on Trautrimas and Lewis’ imaginative use of industrial artifacts, however, the withdrawal of the natural world from so much contemporary art, like shrinking glaciers, seems almost imperceptible. What they seem to be saying is that human artifacts, for better or worse, are a part of nature, too.
David Trautrimas & Kristina Lewis @ Johansson Projects, through March 20, 2010.
“Cover” image: David Trautrimas: Storm Crown Mechanism, Archival digital print
30 x 40 inches.