Cardboard is ubiquitous in our society. It is one of the foundations of our current economy allowing for the efficient packaging and transportation of goods. It touches our lives everyday and it scarcely registers with us. We have become so used to its presences that we just don’t pay any attention to it.
Attention is one of the tools we use to gather information about our world. It is a primal function one that has allowed us over the course of human history to pay attention to those thing that are life giving or life threathing. We focus our attention at will when we are motivated to do so. One motivator for shifting our attention is a change of context of something in our enviroment. A couple of things happen when we place our attention on something. The first is that as we see the thing we are paying attentiion to in more detail the second is that we begin seeing it in places that we had not noticed it before.
By shifting the context of cardboard from our daily environment at large to the gallery we are forced to focus more of our attention on cardboard than we normally would. We consider what we know about the attributes and uses of cardboard and apply that to the art before us. The artist must recognize the same uses and attributes as the viewer and play on them to bring meaning to the art work.
There is the work of several artists represented in the show an each focused on the subject of cardboard from a slightly different angle. One piece plays with the ideas of modern technology and our expectation of instant results. There are pieces that play with the definitions of what they are made to represent. Understanding how we respond to the painted image cardboard is elevated as it becomes the subject of paintings and asks for our attention in the same way a more traditional subject would. Cultures have always produced images of what was important to their mythology from easily accessed materials i.e. wood, clay, fiber. By rendering familiar religious and cultural imagery in cardboard, one of today’s most plentiful materials, these ideas and the frameworks from which choices are made and meaning is derived are examined.
Have fun with the show. Watch how your mind refocuses your attention and using what you know about cardboard ask questions about what a given piece is pointing to and what questions it is asking. We are all part of the same cultural experience so the answers are not hidden.
Variously the dictionary defines a shrine as: a holy place because of its association with a sacred person or relic, typically marked by a building or other construction; a place associated with or containing memorabilia of a particular revered person or thing; a casket containing sacred relics; a reliquary; or, a niche or enclosure containing a religious statue or other object.
All the pieces in this show meet the formal aspects of shrines to one degree or another but vary widely in what they enshrine. One of the pieces speaks to ways that death is defied if lasting effigies are erected. Other pieces draw on current cultural practices of enshrining family culture and erecting memorials to the recently departed. There are pieces that start with traditional shrine or niche shapes but alter the established content in ways that asks questions about our expectations and how they effect our interpretations of what we are viewing. Some works speak to the effort and scale we commit to mark that which is seen as sacred, while others look at our society’s current move away from the mysterious.
We are a culture that uses shrines to honor the celebrity, remember a disaster, mark the location of a traffic accident or drive by shooting and are still able to recognize the heritage that makes theses acts of enshrinement significant.
In total the works shown here form a visual and intellectual exploration of an impulse and a practice common to every culture and society.
The work of all artists traces culture. It is a bit like the work of archeology uncovering and studying the bits and pieces that made up a society. The artist, of course, chooses what materials or objects will be used while the archeologists must be content with what can be found. But, both draw inferences and create elaborate constructs from the cultural artifacts that they work with.
Artists often start their work with what is closest to them so the initial encounter with a work may seem to be personal and even private. But, none of us exist in a vacuum so the images used to make art must refer, at some point, to the greater culture as well as the personal. The artist’s tools allow them to expand meanings and extend concepts by the juxtaposition of images and the use of signs and symbols. While archeology draws information from objects the artist adds meaning to the objects or images used. We do respond to art works for their formal value but our understanding of an art piece is dependent on our understanding of the culture or subculture that it refers to.
Steve Dent’s current work is a good example of these ideas. Steve is using family snapshots as the subject of his new painting series “Recollection”. While family snapshots have personal meaning these images also serve as markers for the culture of the seventies. The use of rich layered backgrounds that are full of obscured detail is a device that reminds us of the myriad of cultural and personal moments and the actions and interactions that make up our understandings and reactions.