Uri Aran: By foot, by car, by bus
Gavin Brown’s Enterprise
620 Greenwich Street, New York
January 14 – February 25, 2012
The gallery of swarthy visionary Gavin Brown has changed locations several times over the years, from a double-front storage space on Soho’s Broome Street in the early 1990’s, to Chelsea, to its current, quieter West Village corner. What remains consistent, however, is the quality of artists Mr. Brown chooses to inhabit his walls. By foot, by car, by bus is Uri Aran’s first show in New York City since Geraniums, the show that closed Rivington Arms three years ago.
Cookies and coffee lids make for queer landscapes. A quote from John Scott Haldane, a Scottish physiologist known for his self-experimentation with poisonous gases and for inventing the concept of the miner’s canary, implies perhaps that limits are being tested, and that Aran as both enabler and clerk of this new knowledge has something at stake.
The modes of navigation in the title of this Israeli-born artist’s exhibition reference the very nature of language, its metaphysical grids, potholes, and molehills, and call attention to the fact that there are many ways to arrive at any given destination. For Aran, this destination is communication, more specifically, communication of emotion. This is a subtler excavation than Mr. Brown’s enterprise has seen previously, courtesy of the more literal Urs Fischer, but one that invokes the spirit of the mines in its search, by probing into the depths of human perception to unearth new realms of hierarchy and classification.
In this expansive undertaking, Aran comments on the difficulties of communication by way of “bureaucratic formalism,” with images, video, sculpture, and sound. Aran redesigns our world through careful arrangement, manipulating the objects in our everyday lives, and in doing so unspools their narratives and associations so they may come together in new forms. “The infinite possibilities of producing meaning through the interplay of sign and signifier—I address this aspect of language through repetition, re-organization and quotation,” he says. He takes everyday and found objects, from childhood as well as from office life, and places them on tables and desks to make formal, material, and cultural suggestions about labor and leisure, their interplay, and the commoditized aspects of both.
Since 1797, the word desk has been used for office or clerical work, to hold sheets and sheets of words, communications, war missives. Desks enable a dialogue between multiple voices. Aran regards the desk “as a meeting place for time and aesthetics,” and his desks contain charged topographies. They serve as surfaces by which the artist complicates our understanding of the cultural forces of labor and leisure, and of the structural links between these forces.
On these desks are framed black and white Sesame Street stills, rusted mini globes and sports balls keychains, pots, plaster hands, a pair of tennis rackets mounted on the wall, shavings and dust, glasses missing lenses, and varying arrangements of Chips Ahoy. Cookies for Aran, a recurring motif, are a formal material, “a visual component of the composition” and a “unit of information.” By placing these objects together, Aran forms suggestions, proposals, a kind of game. He defamiliarizes each piece of the puzzle, as if soaking them in water before fitting them back together into a larger, puffier, blurrier picture.
Kosuth is one clear influence in this picture, particularly in his chair writings: “Fundamental to this idea of art is the understanding of the linguistic nature of all art propositions, be they past or present, and regardless of the elements used in their construction." Like Kosuth, Aran invokes a visual, verbal, and physical object code. Kosuth believes that an integral component of art was realizing that all art propositions are linguistic in nature, regardless of the objects involved in these proposals. Awareness of language is a key component of Aran’s work, and is approached through irreverent play.
Aran creates a space in which the viewer may freely inhabit his own associations as his mind searches for meaning, patterns, and ways to understand the chaotic visual tableaus. Here the mind’s attempts to navigate by logic soon collapse. You can begin to group by shape, color, repetitions, however. I thought: “four-eyes” when I saw two pairs of glasses arranged, and slid happily between the many juxtaposed images of a lion, “king of beasts,” and a dog, “man’s best friend.” Blobs of blue punctuated the words these images called up.
“I hope the slippages in meaning that occur make the viewer aware of the difficulty of communication on both a linguistic and a visual level.” The learning that takes place lies in becoming comfortable in the in-betweens of language, in the slippage, and in the increased awareness to how our subliminal mind arranges, categorizes, and creates meaning from all kinds of language.
Perhaps the result of the emptiness we encounter when unable to solve Aran’s riddles in the way we’re accustomed is space created for new, for imbuing objects of our choice, means, and relevance with meaning. A plucked roadside flower could overtake the dozen red roses on Valentine’s Day, for example. Aran succeeds in unhinging the viewer, in forming patterns and abandoning them to complicate our language as we understand it, and to raise awareness of how we express what is most important to us: emotion, truths and truisms, and identity.
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