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Review of Faculty Art Exhibition at UW-Stout

Art Canary “The Twin Cities-Area Student Arts Writing Initiative”     November 2007
By Darren Tesar & Patrick Gantert

The following dialogue between Darren Tesar and Patrick Gantert was recorded on October 3, 2007. At the beginning of each fall semester, the Department of Art and Design at UW-Stout has a faculty exhibition in the Furlong Gallery on campus. This conversation does not cover all of the work in the exhibition but it does, however, address the works of art that we felt a strong affinity to either positively or negatively. We are both 5th year Studio Art majors in the departments of painting (Darren) and sculpture (Patrick). We have been acquainted with the majority of the faculty members in the exhibition for at least three years. This relationship allows for a stronger knowledge of the history of the exhibition and also the history of each artists’ personal work. The following individuals are the members of the faculty that we discuss in this interview: Tectonic Industries (collaboration of Lars Jerlach and Helen Stringfellow), Michelle Barfoot, Ryan Hurst, Craig Cully, Charles Matson Lume, and Andy Ducett.

Tectonic Industries. (Collaboration of Lars Jerlach and Helen Stringfellow)

Patrick Gantert: I find the piece to be successful.

Darren Tesar: Same here, I find the art to really encompass much of what conceptual art has been addressing in the past thirty or so years.

PG: It does reference conceptual art, the use of white vinyl text, not very much attention paid to production, no real process of construction.

DT: I agree the work is even fully integrated into the space. The words, however, make reference to objects, processes, and ideas done by past artists. I cannot help but find works of Christo and Jean-Claude and John Baldessari within the work.

PG: All the statements have qualities or ideas of an artist being able to use anything to make art. The phrases seem somewhat arbitrary or nonsensical.

DT: Yes, they are, and there is an evolution as a viewer descends the lines ending with the most pertinent phrases being at the end. These last lines are the standard contractual or managerial space relations with galleries, which are now conventions legitimate as making an actual object. These phrases bring all the different threads of artistic production together. Lastly, these lines do not allude to any real belief in any transcending or intrinsic reason for the art making process nor any authenticity in the structuring, which lead to a feeling of superficiality. I really like the beginning “a crustacean with a plot” and how the singularity of the subject evolves into more of a system, thus losing the original identity.

PG: The first one I read was a crustacean with a plot. It seems like a crustacean has a certain notion of a whole, which I associate with a fleshy stagnancy or perhaps a beginning.

DT: I like the possibility of these stages of evolution, with reference to mitosis and carpals starting and splitting and evolving into something more architectural and eventually diminishing the subject into becoming more of a place, which loses grounding in the physical and becomes more systemic.

PG: Overall this work becomes an institutional critique because not all the art being made by faculty and students is really out of touch, but some of it is. What I mean by this is that some of the work associates itself much more with modernist technique and method but some of the work, like Tectonic here, transcends modernism and breaches into a more post modern understanding where the use of a conceptualist language may stand in as a critique on itself. It almost becomes ironic in that sense.

DT: It surely is. Some artists become so attached to the mediums or subjects they work with, while this piece has a very reserved and institutionalized quality. For example, an artist like Ryan Trecartin goes to great lengths to encompass a whole post-modern condition, using tons of garbage, while Tectonic uses great restraint to achieve similar results with a lot less stimuli.

PG: The piece really opens up after you spend some time with it. It is really interesting to see how this piece really treads on the line of being a critique on things done before, while being a critique on itself. The work doesn’t escape the use of text and referencing minimalism so in that way I see it talking about origins.

DT: It still retains a real physical presence, almost like a contemplative memorial with the text slightly hovering on the wall; it really meshes with the space.

PG: I like how you use the word memorial, Tectonic allows the work to start to talk about the history of art and has this “fuck you” to everything while it recedes into the wall, thus becoming a piece of the “white cube” notions of gallery space. In my opinion, the phrase “white cube” talks about gallery space as restricting and allowing artists only a limited vocabulary. That is something that post-modernism actively critiques and rejects which is what makes this piece a fascinating contradiction.

DT: That’s a good point. It still has a real aggressive vocabulary toward art history and even schizophrenic in some ways, yet is still readable, which goes to show while that trying to defy definition, we are able to expand our definition to encompass almostanything. These words to some come off as free associative, but we can relate many things with these words in terms of art and even humanity.

PG: It really does bring out the falsities of art making in conceptual art, which is interesting and it uses a refreshing restrainment. Other pieces by Tectonic INC are more confrontational and this one recedes and yet retains its sarcasms.

DT: The sarcasm in the work or the overall intent also depends on how much one knows about art and the more you know the more it seems to open up. To what extent a viewer knows the contemporary visual vocabulary; the more they will see the pervasive existential reflection. The work here is a good example of when art addresses its own legitimacy, value, and impact and, in doing so, usually finds sarcasm and irony as useful means of communication. In conclusion the work here is not only fighting for continued legitimization, but is also embellishing in artistic fraudulence.

Michelle Barfoot

DT: There is a great deal of space between the two paintings, which form a diptych. I have to restrain myself; I am just trying to bring these two works together. The biggest question that I have for myself in this art is that I think there is going to be a definite dialogue between this kind of digital media and the sensuality of paint. Somehow legitimizing the 3-D cutout by incorporating it into a painting. To the painting dismay, little sensuality in the painting is coming through.

PG: Yes, often times it is easy to tell when someone has been trained as a painter and moved into the realm of graphic design or some kind of digital imagery in favor of painting and you can tell that the artist did have a love for it, but this just doesn’t have that quality. It has an extremely sparse paint application and this kind of digital integration just doesn’t feel believable.

DT: The color needs to be more vibrant than it is. The flowers have this almost sexual posing to them and they have really been entirely diluted by the use of white here. The digital media actually contains more vibrancy than the painting.

PG: Right, and I think that becomes really problematic when you are trying to incorporate the digital element into painting. It is simply the fact that the digital component doesn’t situate itself on the paint very well. It’s like you’ve just taken a digital cutout and stuck it flatly onto the painted surface, it is a bit like oil and water. I feel there needs to be more transparency in the media itself or a painted element applied over the media to help with integration.

DT: It’s the lack of physicality in the paint that is causing some turbulence. The cutting is handled pretty well and from a distance, you know, you could maybe believe in their integration, but you rarely stay six-feet away from a painting. This is especially true in a painting of flowers, which is something, that, normally, you would love to look into and investigate. Once you get close enough, you notice this digital media applied to it. In my opinion this creates a problem, for the painting is attempting, with flat application, to mirror the digital image, while conversely, the digital image is trying to mimic the painting. The two forms of media struggling to incorporate each other’s aesthetic lead to little tension and visual disinterest.

PG: Something that may be a redeeming factor in the work is this mastery of Photoshop technique and the masking that occurs by placing portions of the painting in the web of the dragonfly wings. So, it does have that play between painting and digital and, to a certain degree, that becomes interesting but it doesn’t legitimize the painting only because of this mastery of the digital.

DT: Yeah, the two components need to be refined before we can celebrate any kind of cohesion here, so I would be spot on with you in that respect. I feel the work needs less equilibrium in terms of the two mediums used.

Ryan Hurst


PG: So, the three ceramic vases displayed here are called ‘Corporate America’, ‘Homogenized Landscape’, and ‘Schmuck’. I think it becomes blatantly obvious, when you look at it, what this work is about and I don’t think that is necessarily a bad element in the vases. Oftentimes, it becomes poor judgment to have this slap-in-the-face aesthetic but here I think it reflects the nature of what he is discussing with this anti-corporation, anti-patriot vibe. It also reflects the nature of mass media in its loud presentation. Sometimes it becomes important to be slapped in the face a little bit because people don’t pay attention to many of the cultural pitfalls put forth by big corporation and mass media daily, but I also think that the media and technique chosen is not quite as nuanced as I would like it to be. I mean you can be entirely ‘in-your-face’ about something and still be quite beautiful.

DT: In reference material he is using (vases from antiquity used to preserve cultural practice and happenings), there was a lot of meticulous rendering. I guess I celebrate with him this idea of preserving a cultural history, but it has this kind of angsty, nihilist, naïve quality about the rendering rather than a more technical craftsmanship. That starts to scream a whole different language of a punk rebellion.

PG: I listened to Ryan speak the other day during the artist talks here in the gallery and he did bring up punk rock and mentioned that it was more or less all that he listened to. I think that certainly does come out in the work. However, I think the problem with a lot entail. It just seems like a slight disconnect.

DT: In addition, within punk ideals, there becomes an overload of too many signifiers and too much commentary spread thin. They all start to fall together instead of having conviction in a single ideal. These give us numerous things to look at like symbologies of snakes, fallen soldiers, iconography of corporate America and a loss of dependency on raw materials like pots. I think that it becomes a mouthful for this work to handle and it falls into a trap of how much one is able to explain.

PG: I would agree, it would be easy for him to make a much more concise statement rather than utilizing this post-modern idea of wanting everything right now and all at once.

DT: To address a different aspect, the color is a wise choice. Black and white is very universal, like newspaper, black and white, so he was very poignant in that respect but visually the color and imagery becomes quite an overload and a bit much to handle all at once.

Craig Cully


PG: This painting is called ‘The Consummate Victim’s Son and the Perpetual
Provocateur’s Husband’. Craig talked about the painting being about his mother, wife, and himself. His mother came to visit them and he felt as if he were a mediator because his mother and wife do not get along well.

DT: That helps open the meaning of the painting a bit more. Are all three subjects meant to mimic each other’s presence; they seem to have the same look about them.

PG: He didn’t talk much about whether or not they were meant to mimic each other but I think that forms cooperating and co-existing is usually inherent to a painterly language.

DT: It’s a great painting; it is quite astounding the way the artist has created a great symbolic narrative. It exists in this very ambiguous space and instead of the space being neutral; Craig uses color to activate the space and play into the already occurring scenario.

PG: It is a beautiful space to enter into. There are moments of intricate, meticulous craft as in this blue and white dress with the very ornate patterning that his wife is wearing. Craig’s formal sensibilities and understanding speaks of a respect for art history in its referencing of Chinese ceramic painting technique. The work displays the artist’s attention paid to detail and a true care for his craft.

DT: In certain aspects it is really classically driven, but at the same time you have these areas of highly chromatic color that elude to certain time periods, such as the 1980’s or 1950’s with the choice of fabrics.

PG: It is quite re-assuring to see a painter breath some life into a medium because painting is definitely losing some of its clout in recent years. Even as someone who would not label himself a painter, I think that paint is one of the most visceral materials an artist can use and that alone makes me appreciate a push for a new school of painters.

DT: For sure, with a contemporary art world that reveres banality, which is a place where painters are struggling to survive in, it is nice to see some that go against that standard and really succeed. These colors really become quite violent like the shredded box lying on the floor.

PG: Initially, Craig’s painting didn’t invoke any type of anger, but upon spending more time with the work, the artist has done a remarkable job of building tension through a sophisticated painterly narrative.

DT: Without understanding that the painting draws from an actual account of a situation, I felt the scenario seemed set up, static, and didn’t have an actual history, thus feeling very constructed. Knowing it is this real life moment, that information breathes new life into the story and composition. The awkward positioning and overall idiosyncratic scenario inside the painting is actually charged with a feeling of melancholy.

PG: He obviously has a great sensibility about color and space. That in itself is really interesting because that starts to talk about efficiency of the painting, efficiency of composition and knowledge of color inside this space that appears to be, for the most part, quite non-descript. I also think, in regards to your previous statement, that it becomes important to use imagination in this work. At the same time as the figures are personal to Craig (his wife and his mother), they become objects for us as viewers to attach our own personal meaning to. That duality is quite nice in the work because there are times when autobiographical work becomes very exclusionary. I think, in this case, it treads the line well.

DT: The painting plays very symbolically and becomes quite charged in that way. I mean it’s not trying to take a slice of a realistic moment but instead he’s imbuing what painting can do really well; heightening and emphasizing certain things and it’s achieved here for sure. There is a certain collage effect when placing the subjects in the space and they do not feel really grounded. However, there is no doubt about the proficiency in application
and very exciting contemporary dialogue.

Charles Matson Lume

DT: We’re looking at work by Charles Lume entitled “She doesn’t know what it is like without it yet (for Helena Beatrix Lume). The use of the corner is quite nice. Charlie’s sensibility for architecture really brings a revival of the space and sentimentality back to a space usually associated with punishment or isolation, yet Charlie turns this space into a place of artistic intimacy by closing one off from the rest of the gallery space to interact directly and make contact with this object.

PG: The familiar, love-letter, two hump heart and its placement definitely speak of a revival of images and of the figure as an object, which looks to be a figurine of a middleaged woman that came from a garage sale or an abandoned toy which is interesting when you look at the image of the heart and its overuse and overproduction of the symbol, but I think this piece brings back some of the quite contemplative nature the heart had and should have again. What I mean is that often we overuse symbols in a culture obsessed with instant gratification and immediate understanding. The heart image has certainly met this fate to the point where all sincerity has been stripped away, but Charlie strives to restore some of that sincerity. The piece makes us find the importance once again, a symbol of not only love, but also intimacy and caring in general.

DT: The figure could be seen as bringing in elements of domesticity. Since this female figurine is middle-aged and dressed in nostalgic housewife attire, it is possible the figure alludes to a sense of guidance over his daughter, to whom the piece is dedicated. This young girl for whom the world of experience is very fresh and free from the assumptions and constructions, will inevitably become informed and directed. Soon she will grow and become socialized, like this figurine, literally into a corner. I think this freshness in seeing things anew and the freeing of them from their predetermined purpose, which is seen through the raising of a child and their curiosity for life. Charlie really celebrates taking these objects that are mass-produced and, with light, brings out some new purpose or voice that would have never had the chance to speak.

PG: Another facet of the work that we haven’t touched on yet is in comparison with Charlie’s larger works with light, mirrors, and luminous objects that happen to be massproduced, domestic, and ubiquitous. These smaller works, like the ones seen in this exhibition, seem to be like sketches for other larger works. His small corner pieces talk about the same things formally and become an access point for Charlie’s larger installations. The smaller format seems easier to digest than the larger pieces.

DT: In these more intimate and immediate uses of light and mass-produced objects, one can actually attach to a signifier due to the object possessing a form, or being representational. These smaller works extract an underlying presence within the object themselves and not what they transform into, but more about the identity of the underlying meaning. Alternatively, the larger installations require the viewer to become a spectator since that are so perceptual; they are more about light and shadow’s sense of space and lose definition, which makes a beautiful transcendent experience

PG: The interplay between these two bodies of work is really interesting; these sensational and even visceral larger works that tackle ideas of phenomenology, much in the vein of Robert Irwin’s light work, and then these smaller corner pieces that seem to explore the same phenomenological notions with more nuance. When I use phenomenology in this context, I mean to say the way we perceive aspects of our surroundings, light included. Charlie, in my opinion, is using light as a metaphor for poetic interpretation of illuminating the subtleties in the day to day. In that sense, he ties together conceptualist phenomenological practice with a quiet notion of certainty in self and place.

DT: Yeah, it really has a presence to it; there is a center to it rather than the overwhelming multiples that are found in the larger installations.

DT: Now we come to the same object turned away in the corner…with a lost head and arms and it’s called, “as ancient as art itself” and this one’s dedicated to Mark Hollis.

DT: There is an interesting difference how this one communicates more of an archeological find and definitely references a feeling of loss and since it is a massproduced sculpturally anonymous form, with its arms and head hewn off, it retains a sense of beauty by means of romanticizing a lineage of the past. In this case, this object is deliberately hewn and is a massed produced object.

PG: I don’t know, when I saw this I was having a hard time getting a good read on it. I think the title had something to do with that feeling. I wanted Charlie’s piece to be more like what you were talking about, this romanticizing with art and different kind of process, but I don’t know. To me, the work didn’t feel that way, but instead felt a little bit more in a sense of a roadblock and the heart. This piece has an interesting play between the gesture of the figure and the heart because the heart seems to speak about a love or commitment and brings back the ideas hearts really should have and as said brings back a sincerity to the meaning, but I think juxtaposed against this figure that seems to have her slammed into the wall and stuck. This is definitely more of a violent and depressing look at the work. It feels like less of a point and more of a pushing in, a roadblock, or a stopping point funneled into the center. Charlie’s message here almost seems like you’re working against something that you feel really drawn to, yet there is no progression once in it.

DT: That is a really beautiful read into it. I think we can look at th writings of Annie Dillard and how she writes about this kind of purity only obtainable when born, and the degradation of the body throughout time and how the body will never retain this purity again. There are no plateaus, but instead a complete degradation of body and accumulation of assumptions limiting perception. I like to think of these ideas coupled with a tinge of optimism with the heart being a sign of perseverance or complacency. Not complacency in bad way, but in an essential way in order to have a ground or comfort in order to have this love.

PG: We really haven’t talked about beauty and for Charlie this is extremely important. Beauty is something that has lost a lot of meaning, much like the heart, as it is more thoroughly and widely discussed. There are so many conflicting opinions on what is beautiful and what is not. Often, the art dialogue and constant venting of critics and intellectuals can become exhausting and tiresome. I think it is nice to see Charlie bring a subtle voice into an art world that is quite loud and more confrontational.

DT: Or it becomes the opposite, complete banality and just another tired institutionalized statement that becomes work or feels like work to enjoy. With this piece there is a care about beauty and a sense of searching for what he loves, yet remains very quiet. He doesn’t follow suit to artistic dogma, but is more concerned with human experience and pleasure.

Andy Ducett


DT: All right, we are here with a work by Andy Ducett and the title is “Where did you come from, memoirs from the past, present, and future or the underlying connections that facilitate our everyday architecture”. The title is as much as the drawing itself, but it is great. Why try to simplify so much chaos?
PG: I agree. I like the title. It is very wordy and might even seem a little superfluous at times. However, when you actually get up and confront the drawing, it initially has this feel of just a cluster fuck of images and you are confronted with architecture, cartoons, and illustration. He is obviously proficient with a pen and it is extremely rewarding spending 10 or 15 minutes with this drawing and involving yourself into the smaller narratives within the larger ones.

DT: In the drawing, I really like the use of smaller narratives inside larger metanarratives and their lack of hierarchy in terms of importance. I feel that this drawing is about everything in the artists experience becoming homogenized and drawn in a style similar to old political cartoons, which I can’t take myself away from and don’t want to. I like to juxtapose the poignancy that of the political cartoon, which becomes lost in the mix of all the chaos that is happening. It becomes straining, but fun to try to find the catalyst of one to another, which is almost impossible. The job of the viewer is to go into the work and make sense of what is happening. Nonetheless, just like history, the subcultures, characters, or events you may connect to and find are only so many plots and points and still miss out on numerous other moments in time. You can almost create your own knowledge of the history of the work that will differ in experience. Even what you and I see in this drawing will be different.

PG: That is what’s great about it. There is too much stimulus and imagery for everyone to have the same opinion about it. For you and I to be looking at these action figures right here is a really slim chance. I find that really interesting when Andy uses the word “everyday architecture” because when you look at the piece it really does feel like the inside of someone’s head and its like a mental landscape. It distills what his installations are comprised of and puts them in a 2D format. This makes the narratives and ideas of his installation work extremely digestible since it is not sculpture and you don’t have to walk around it. It is not really asking the viewer to do anything physical more than leaning forward and getting close. It allows you to access a lot of larger ideas in this format.

DT: Yeah, intellectually some of the installations that Andy has done where he has these objects juxtaposed against each other there isn’t a thread that will really tie the signifiers together, thus creating confusion and disorientation and can be somewhat difficult to try to get beyond. For example the signifying quality of a fan in the drawing might be blowing onto these necessary characters of a plot that aids in the theatrics and in some ways becomes secondary to the historic or iconographic element, yet Andy’s drawings are nondescript enough to still mend everything together. The uses of the real objects integrated into composition are more cinematic and in turn become something that can appeal to larger audience instead of having to do more footwork intellectually by putting yourself in these objects. This is not to say this piece doesn’t have intellectual clout because it does.

PG: Another way he seems to tie everything together is that he talks about notions of taxonomy and compartmentalization, which is really what his drawings are. It is even more so what the installations are, but I think when he starts to talk about taxonomy it becomes that much more understandable when you understand his Midwestern background and talk about taxonomy or this hoarding of shit, of keeping things in your garage. I think it is great that he is trying to distill this information and somehow understand and organize everything he has in this life and put it all out as some conglomeration or solid statement. Humans ask themselves questions like: Why do I have this thing or that, and how did this thing come from this and vice versa? I think this is what Andy is struggling to externalize in both his drawings and installations.

DT: (laughing) yes, there is no deterministic hold on the piece what so ever, but it doesn’t come off as pretentious either. I really enjoy these pop-culture references like the famous Star Wars battle at Hoth next to Notre Dame. It doesn’t seem that it was deliberately intended to be that way, but more the case that the drawing takes on its own life and becomes very intuitive in placements of his thoughts. It doesn’t come off heavy handed or staged.

PG: His ability to create depth and draw three dimensionally and understand how a form recedes and how things come forward is extremely remarkable. I know I couldn’t do this. It is pretty phenomenal.

DT: It is hard to come by an artist who is so inviting, yet still, as a viewer, have much to add to the conversation. People could just stay at Hoth and decide not to try to understand some of the more political undertones or even try to deduct some larger condition of the world we live in. Andy’s playfulness is not only accessible, but also technically adept. He uses color very well and sparingly, for instance the pee pool.

PG: (laughing) Its funny we approached this drawing from a conceptual standpoint at first because the work does lend itself to that, but I think in terms of technical proficiency, Andy’s drawing ability and prowess should be one of the first things discussed. The architectural drawings in and of themselves are pretty astounding.

DT: I also love how clean, yet how fecundate the drawing is not only in concept and composition, but the presentation is lovely. The choice to put the drawing behind glass is very effective.

In Closing

DT: Overall, I would say there are some promising new works by artists who have always pleased in the past and its good to see them excelling and having a contemporary voice. However, I feel that many works here are not doing anything to progress this institution as being progressive. Instead I feel many works here are fulfilling the conventions of already set standards. It certainly does become quite easy to fall into comfortable niches and that is not always a bad thing, but I also feel that educators should be making strides in their own work so as to impart that experience to students.

PG: I agree with that. There are a few faculty members that have been really great and have always engaged me with their work in the past. There are a few that are a surprise and good to see, like Craig Cully. He is a great newcomer and I look forward to seeing more of his work. However, overall there were quite a few entries into this show that weren’t engaging. It has been quite fascinating for myself, and I am sure you as well, to watch the ebb and flow of these exhibitions over the past five years. Addressing the professors’ changing sensibilities at the same time as my voice changes and matures has been, whether I liked the work or not, an enlightening experience. We are lucky to have a resource like this on our campus, as it has always challenged my aesthetic and conceptual sensibilities and understanding.

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