Chadwick Rantanen, Untitled, 2008 wire, paint, glue, tape, books, rock dimensions variable Courtesy of the artist and Jancar Jones Gallery
September 5 - 27, 2008
Jancar Jones Gallery
965 Mission, Suite 120
San Francisco, CA 94103
By Airyka Rockefeller for Whitehot Magazine
Finding the Jancar Jones Gallery in downtown San Francisco is a bit like locating an elusive, shimmering bit of gold within a heap of long-accumulated urban debris. In a vintage building primarily used for offices, down a winding hallway, perched at the top of a small staircase, Ava Jancar and Eric Renehan Jones have established their gallery. Within their tiny space, the co-curators offer works of minimal gesture, which are neither flashy nor seductive, yet still compelling.
Currently, Jancar and Jones are showcasing work by Chadwick Rantanen. The 27 year old, recently based out of San Francisco and now a graduate student at UCLA, was first featured by Jancar Jone’s in the gallery’s debut show this spring. In his current solo exhibition, Rantanen’s makeshift sculptures are assembled from his experiences growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness in Wisconsin, manifested from an assortment of packing blankets, dirty rope, rock, wire, stacks of used books, dry-wall, marker, plastic bags, ragged carpet and a television playing silenced National Geographic footage of wildlife, all the jungle’s color siphoned from the surface, where we most expect it. Throughout the exhibition, Rantanen’s use of color appears definitively dulled down, as if in denial of itself. He seems to be transitioning the vivid into the tame, urging activity toward neutral gear.
A narrow plastic-wrapped and rope-bound package is humbly situated behind a water pipe at the gallery’s doorway. It rests there, as if waiting for transport or disclosure. Unlike the other (all untitled) works in the show, this piece contains the information: “The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved and The Well Beloved” (Penguin Classics) (Paperback) by Thomas Hardy. The aforementioned novel is nowhere to be seen, but indeed it is here, inaccessibly and temptingly imprisoned within two heavy panes of Plexiglas, kept safe by a tangle of sturdy knots. It is a fiction we believe in more easily, as it remains unknown, out of reach, still unread.
Additional books appear elsewhere in the room, though these are clearly worn and mangled, their spines missing titles or else masked out with messily attached tape. The presence of information is suggested, yet not its availability. The lived-in domestic materials both within and surrounding Rantanen’s pieces give the impression of displacement, as if remnants have been transported from a dingy, cluttered garage. Without a functional context for these ordinary objects inside the clean constraints of a gallery, the works seem paused along their extended route, curiously deprived of their familiar roles. A carpet cut roughly to match the tiny room’s dimensions, then folded over on itself like a deflated, dusty body supports a tower of objects which themselves seem barely settled within the corner, as if on their way out or on their way in, fragments of a situation that has already altered.
By depriving familiar objects of their expected function, isolating them from their practical purposes, and minimizing their saturation, entertainment-value and information, Rantanen questions when an object becomes an artwork. He also asks how what is in proximity to artworks, whether architectural elements, framing devices, or pedestals, begin and end. The viewer’s expectations of such frameworks and givens are thus comically negated. The more obvious the material the less power Rantanen gives it through naming. Likewise, it is only the removed elements that are revealed through the use of naming. Rantanen leaves us sure of only the impenetrable and the isolated, dizzying us by denying comfortable, connective tissues. That which has been repositioned, isolated or tamed then suddenly speaks, elegantly but humbly, within a sanctioned space. What is present is acknowledged only in disguised form, where attention is drawn to the overlooked by way of its denial.
Perhaps the elusive, isolated and anonymous nature of arrangements and subjects in Rantanen’s work emerge from his personal history with the Jehovah’s Witness faith, for whom history is ultimately refashioned as benign, wherein reality generates the fantastical, and objects are removed from their contexts so as to render them curiously unquestionable. By attempting a similar trajectory through his experimentation of art objects and their associated environments, Rantanen draws attention to the function of familiar objects within the realm of art and exhibition spaces.