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Exhibition Essays/Interviews

Exhibition brochure coverThe Gallery at UTA, Arlington
Sep. 2 - October 4, 2008

"Allison Hunter / Cindy Hurt / Michelle Murillo "

Exhibition essay by Andrew Stalder

When looking at art, it is easy to think about ourselves.  We begin to question how we relate to the art, what it means to us - we try to find a point of reference.  This matters to us because this is how we can begin to establish a connection to a work of art.  We try to decipher how we can reconcile what we are looking at with our personal experiences as human beings. This sort of approach to a work of art is metaphysical in nature.  Artists are often concerned with these same sorts of issues as well, and contemporary artists making work with undercurrents of metaphysics, specifically ontology, are not uncommon.  Artists today seem especially adept at presenting their often very personal views on the nature of being, existence, and reality.  Some contemporary artists, like those in this exhibition, are especially skillful at illuminating the complex ways in which we perceive being and reality - and the equally complex way in which history and the present are interconnected. 

There are several things that happen in the course of creating something.  First, there is idea, then the gathering of materials, and finally, the execution.  Think about the variables that lie in between all those steps – they are seemingly infinite.  In fact, conceivably, there could be a lifetime or, conversely, only a minute between them.  The things that fill the spaces between are, in essence, no less important than the beginning and end, yet they are often overlooked, forgotten, or are so elusive they escape capture and, therefore, representation.  Cindy Hurt's work is posited in those gaps, and her serial works like Before and After exemplify this.  Each of these works deny specificity while also exerting themselves as the "now" moment.  Looking, I am able to place myself within the history of each piece and to trace its individual existence as well as its relationship to the others in the series.  The reciprocity between Hurt and her materials becomes evident in the quiet storm of each piece.  Like Cy Twombly, Hurt tends to blur the line between painting and drawing, and also like him, she imbues each mark with its own personal history.  The uncertainty of classification between painting and drawing lends itself nicely to the fluidity and kind of ebb and flow each piece contains. With the movement of the oil across the surface, the process of getting from one place to another is revealed in deliberate, yet unplanned, free mark-making and scratching.  The surfaces reverberate from piece to piece as the history of each work is formed through the reining in and subsequent letting go of control of the materials.  Hurt's work hovers somewhere between accident and intentionality, order and chaos, chance and control, present and past.  Each work is delicate in that it will only happen once and will never be repeated, yet it is also forceful in its assertion of the present – its history lies between searching and found, in a moment of flux. 
Forming a history by gathering information from others (especially when those others are not personally known by you) is a very interesting proposition, and it is in this realm of art that some of Michelle Murillo's work operates.  For one of her works, Destinations, Murillo has collected old postcards and, using silkscreen on glass, has recreated the text side of the postcards.  It is fascinating to see postcards recreated in glass.  Postcards are seen by many people as "throw-away" objects – something bought quickly and cheaply as a memento of our travels.  Making them in glass makes them more valuable, precious, and fragile.  The fact that these can be shattered and therefore erased points to the fact that personal histories can be erased and forgotten if not carefully preserved and documented.  Even though postcards can be trivial, they can also provide important insight into not only the writer's life, but also the receiver's.  Hung in a curtain-like fashion, or in a pile on a pedestal, these glass postcards shine like pieces of ice. The text on each delicate piece marks the imprint of a memory like someone breathing on a cold window and writing in the condensation with their finger. Murillo's work is akin to many of Sophie Calle's projects in that she is able to weave a tapestry of identity from bits and pieces of found personal information. We all need to know where we have been and where we are going.  If we know these things, it is sometimes easier to navigate the present.  These postcards don't give us every detail of the lives of the senders and receivers; instead, they give us candid glimpses which can sometimes be much more interesting.  Perhaps what is most remarkable about Murillo's work is that by examining these relics of the past we can sometimes find bits of ourselves in a phrase or a memory recalled that immediately brings us back to the present and to our own lives in the here and now.
If you want to get to know something or someone, you want to get them alone.  It is often hard to form any opinions about anyone or anything when there are distractions to draw your attention away from its intended target.  This is the nature of seeing animals in a zoo.  Artificial environments are created to make us forget that what we are seeing is not natural at all – they exist (mostly) for our enjoyment and diversion.  What Allison Hunter does in many of her hauntingly beautiful, large-scale digital prints of zoo animals is to take away all the distractions and let us focus on what we are really seeing.  For instance, in the Untitled (Elephants) prints, the groups of elephants in the two pieces are placed within an environment that is strangely devoid of any recognizable elements.  Isolating the elephants from their zoo environment has some chilling effects.  First, they don't look at all like the elephants you would see in the zoo.  They seem vaguely familiar, yet very foreign at the same time.  In fact, they begin to look like the extinct relative of the elephant, the mastodon.  The lack of a referent in regards to scale and the relatively close-cropped space of the works makes the elephants seem larger than life.  The theatrical lighting of the subjects is reminiscent of the dioramas you might see at a museum of natural history.  Hunter's animals recall the past and the way animals have been captured, dug-up, stuffed, collected, and displayed for public and private enjoyment and for posterity.  The works are not unlike a lot of Minimalist art of the '60s and '70s.  The subjects in the works have been essentially stripped down to their essential parts (or being).  Each subject depicted, whether it is an elephant, gazelle, or a flamingo, becomes immensely important - they demand to be considered as they are now, without distraction.  These prints are really a meditation – the mantra of which is "Now that I have really seen you…what now?"
When it comes to figuring out where we are, who we are as individuals, and what we are doing in this world, it can help to take a look around and see how we relate to each other and to the things around us.  By placing ourselves squarely in the midst of the past and present, we can sometimes find points of reference, like landmarks on a once familiar route.  Through the artwork of these three artists, we are able to escape and simultaneously remain grounded by relating to the work in a very personal way, and by doing so, to situate ourselves firmly in time.

--Andrew Stalder is an artist who lives in the DFW area and is a member of the Art faculty at Tarrant County College, Northeast Campus.

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