Christopher Russell: GRFALWKV
April 5 - May 3, 2014
Mark Moore Gallery, Los Angeles
By SHANA NYS DAMBROT, MAY 2014
Christopher Russell is doing it all wrong. He takes pictures in which he seeks out explosive lens flare, inky creeping shadows, smashed-apart prismatics, and other flagrant optical distortions. Once printed, he slashes, slices, scratches, hacks and sometimes accordion-folds those photographs with razors and other implements of destruction. Even when the scratching results not in violent decay but in dense, elegant patterns, elements of nature or architecture, texts, or the occasional figure, the effect is still to obscure the original photograph. He renders his photographs as dimensional and analog objects through privileging their physical vulnerability. In the time of the internet, he makes labor-intensive artist books in unique and limited edition. He writes elliptical and interpretive novels with little relationship to the true events on which they are often loosely based. He relies on his own compromised memories of popular culture, stridently eschewing the dead-boring luxury of the Google, preferring authentic imperfection to commonplace factuality. In the digital age, he prefers objects and experiences to streamlined, straightjacketed information. In the slow-burn problem-solving of his studio practice, he allows himself to be meticulously seduced by the unpredictable.
Russell’s recent exhibition at Mark Moore Gallery presented two series of these modified photographs (the Aftermath and Explosion suites) and a singular handmade book (the eponymous GRFALWKV) -- all of which represent the pursuit of connected ideas about endings, transformation, insidious and caustic entropy, and myth-making. Drawing connections between Hollywood suicides, art world corruption, nuclear war, and sundry tangents, Russell uses the emotionally compelling strategies of the labor-intensive and hand-produced to flood ambiguous images with a profound sense of metaphor and allegory. Forest scenes, creaky houses, webbed silhouettes of tree branches, lonely wolf cubs, accidental rainbows and hyperstylized typographical layout all contribute a dual sense both that there is an infinitely profound well of secrets to learn in these pictures -- and that there is no way to get there from here. Their dark rhythm as installed across the walls is hypnotic rather than meditative, maddeningly whispering so that the viewer is compelled to peer deeply, to lean in and get as up close as the frame allows -- only to come away with a sense of the things at issue, rather than a definition of them.
“As senses coalesce, light and sound unify forces, luminosity conspires with bedlam. Explosions offer the reluctant eroticism of rage and beauty.” That’s a particularly salient bit of text from the oversize book at the center of the show and the room. GRFALWKV (2013-14, carbon ink, pigment-based fountain pen ink, spray paint, pressure-sensitive adhesive, paper, in cloth and collages marbled boards, 18 x 24 inches) is a triumph of obsession and ink-stained fingers, both replicating and usurping the printed-page technology in what could rightly be considered the anti-Kindle. Its text is evocative rather than declarative; its imagery and illuminations hearken to the iconography not of the photographs, but of the scratching used to alter them. Animals, institutional and romantic architecture William Morris-inspired wallpaper interference patterns, and sometimes earnest, sometimes inscrutable copy design all converge to make of the book what the scratching made of the photos -- something that is both subversive and transcendent, both more and less conventional than expectations might dictate; taking all the wrongest roads and ultimately arriving at an even righter destination.
Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is the Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and a contributor to Whitehot Magazine, KCET’s Artbound, Flaunt, Fabrik, Art and Cake, Artillery, Palm Springs Life, Riot Material, West Hollywood Lifestyle, Jenkem, and Porter & Sail. She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes essays for books and exhibition catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange, and the Brain Trust of Some Serious Business.
Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff
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