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Poetics of Construction @ Haines

David Nash, Cuts Down to Cuts Across/Cuts Across to Cuts Down 

This group exhibition, spread across a variety of media, samples the infinite methods and materials of art making. The show's title makes this process sound more mystical than it often really is, but the works themselves are engaging enough to rise above the imprecision of their billing. In short, the exhibition unites older work with current practices to showcase objects that for the most part reveal rather than conceal their method of construction. As a result, most of the work appears fresh, even if 40 years old.

In the first room of the gallery, a delicate and mesmerizing painting by Patsy Krebs introduces the show with thin coats of grey and brown acrylic overlaying in a strict rectilinear pattern. Beside it, a large-scale Leslie Shows assemblage, Face K2 (2012), is messily organic, operating in an altogether opposite mode of "making". The show has a number of such pairings, reveling in visual dichotomies and connections.
The two wall works are mirrored by two sculptures embodying rough and meticulous craftsmanship, respectively. David Nash's descriptively titled Cuts Down to Cuts Across/Cuts Across to Cuts Down (2008) is a pair of red gum posts with jagged splits running their length. Their doubling (and the violence inherent to their production) immediately calls to mind the Twin Towers, whether deliberate or unintended on Nash's part. But in this case, the towers have been rendered out of organic material and remain standing, totems to their semi-destruction. Tucked into the nook to the right of the gallery entrance sits Ai Weiwei's F Size (2010), an approximately 4-foot-in-diameter geodesic sphere — finished where Nash's works are rugged, a result of complex joinery and master woodworking.
Bridging the front and back rooms is a dynamic and interactive video piece that, unlike the other works in the show, belies its inner workings. A 6-by-8-foot wall projection is matched by a same-sized rectangle of light on the floor. Step inside this zone and the projection responds to your movements with colored lines, crackles, extrusions, growths, and curious fractures. Echoing Weiwei's sphere and foreshadowing works in the back gallery, the piece was constructed with custom software by Camille Utterback as part of her External Measures series (2004). In many of the works in Poetics of Construction we see the artist's hand, but here Utterback affords us the opportunity to create our own patterns through our interactions with the piece. I challenge you to not get sucked in. 
Ai Weiwei, F Size; Pierre Cordier, chemigram 3/4/72 d'apres un dessin a l'ordinateur de Manfred Mohr


One of the most exciting works in the show is a mirrored mosaic wall piece by Monir Farmanfarmaian, a duo of abstractly arranged silver and green circles of glass. The back story behind Farmanfarmaian's practice — not evident in this glitzy work — is almost as multi-faceted as her favored materials. The 89-year-old studied art in New York beginning in the 1940s, working as a fashion illustrator and befriending a host of New York artists before returning to Iran and going on to represent her country in the 1958 Venice Biennale. She left again following the Islamic Revolution of 1979, but returned to Teheran in 2000 to resume her practice there.

Craftsmen construct the three-dimensional panels based on Farmanfarmaian's designs. Using mirrors, reverse-painted glass, and geometrical patterns based in Islamic art, architecture, and science, she creates powerful works that are at once delicate and assertive.The glittering piece in on view here, Decagon & Monagon (2009), resembles two ornamental shields of heraldic proportions, intensely glittering at eye level while also reflecting a subtler dappling of light on the gallery floor.
Monir Farmanfarmaian, Decagon & Monagon

Rounding out the connections between the two sections of the gallery, a framed Buckminster Fuller piece echoes Weiwei's sphere perfectly. Yoshitomo Saito's delicate installation of bronze tree buds sprouting from the wall mimics the organic growths in Utterback's projection. 

Pierre Cordier, inventor of the chemigam, employs a laundry list of materials.  Varnish, wax, glue, oil, egg, syrup and gelatin silver bromide are only some of the elements that coalesce in his camera-less, photogram-like works.  The results, seen in a trio of small prints (all from 1972), resemble microscopic views of living organisms infused with geometric forms. You can listen to the artist describe the method by which all this occurs and still not come close to penetrating the mystery of it.  By contrast, Andy Goldsworthy’s wall piece Circle, Flame Finished, Broken Pavers Leftover from the de Young Museum (2005) appears straightforward: Cracks form a semi-perfect circle in a tight grouping of sandstone blocks. But just how does one force cracks into a controlled shape? How much heat and pressure does it take?  Are there special tools or chemicals employed?  Here, and in Cordier’s pieces, the artist remains a magician of sorts, wielding techniques that are not easily discerned. 

In all, Poetics of Construction is an excellent group show that brings together diverse works to make new connections while retaining a common thread. It's not groundbreaking in any way, but it offers enlightenment to anyone seeking material inspiration.

Poetics of Construction @ Haines Gallery through February 23, 2013
About the Author:
Sarah Hotchkiss is an artist and arts writer based in San Francisco. She contributes frequently to the KQED Arts blog and Art Practical and her writing has been featured in essays for Southern Exposure, The Present Group, and Gazzetta. She received her M.F.A. from California College of the Arts in 2011. Her artwork has been included in group shows in the greater New York and San Francisco areas, including Adobe Books Backroom Gallery, MacArthur B Arthur and the Popular Workshop. She has attended residencies at the Vermont Studio Center, the Esalen Institute and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.

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