downtownexpress.com
Volume 19 | Issue 32 | December 22 - 28, 2006

Art

“Special Reconnaissance”
Group show
Through Jan 19
Gigantic ArtSpace
59 Franklin St.
(212-226-6762; giganticartspace.com)

Courtesy Gigantic ArtSpace

J. Henry Fair, “Coverup” (2006)

Land grab: man versus nature at GAS’s group show

By Shane McAdams

It is often said that art is one of the best windows through which to view the wider cultural landscape. If this is true, you would expect to see a lot of art that reflects what seems to be a growing, palpable concern about our country and who’s in charge of it. Indeed, whatever your leanings are, it’s hard to deny the amount of art casting a skeptical eye on the government’s environmental stewardship and the efficacy and integrity of the current military adventures in Iraq and beyond.

At Gigantic ArtSpace, a squad of such skeptics aspires to “take [reconnaissance] back from the Department of Defense” in an exhibition entitled “Special Reconnaissance.”

The dozen-and-a-half artists in Special Recon owe something to The Situationists and Guy Debord, as well as the countless dissenting voices that rose to a fever pitch in the summer of ’68. Thankfully, these artists seem to have learned something from the prevailing hubris and sanctimony of the “days of rage” and look more prepared to open books than throw bombs. For a show whose most moving works are rooted in surveillance and interventionist tactics, their approaches are more sagacious and sober than you’d expect.

A collective calling themselves Red76 interrogates the concept of revolution in hand-painted wall text. The basic notion is that one man’s revolutionary is another man’s terrorist, but the potential flammability of such a discussion is surprisingly averted in favor of circumspection and accountability. These aren’t the mustache-twisting, trench-coated variety of artist/radicals from the movies; these are students of dissent who would change your mind over a few beers.

Equally clinical in its approach to art is the Center for Land Use Interpretation. With the fidelity of Meriwether Lewis, CLUI records, documents, and archives photographs and descriptions of bizarre structural confrontations between man and nature. These range from oil pipelines, to abandoned housing developments, to Indian burial sites — subject matter whose meticulous documentation would be amusing if it wasn’t for Matthew Coolidge’s professorial description of the project that accompanies the slide show of the bizarre, banal, and eccentric structures.

“The Folk Songs Project,” comprised of members Alastair Dant, Tom Davis and David Gunn, developed “Manchester: Peripheral (phase one),” an interesting sound project that comes to viewers through an interactive kiosk playing donated sounds, activated on-screen by willing participants. The sonic palette features everything from a conversation in Polish to homemade hip-hop. The sounds blend together to form an abstract, audio breakdown of the cultural landscape in Manchester, England.

Somewhat unsettling but visually intoxicating are a series of C-prints by J. Henry Fair that capture in high color a series of disturbing encounters between man and nature.

A yellow liquid seeps into a serene blue lake in “Pool.” “Coverup” depicts a truck spraying a turquoise land makeup onto the side of a defoliated hillside. It’s an ambivalent experience that speaks well to our society’s general anxiety about synthesized pleasure.

Aside from Fair’s toxically sweet prints, the best moments in the show are the multi-media projects. Paintings and drawings by Darina Karpov, Haley Hughes and others, play necessary and worthwhile supporting roles, but would be lost without the mentioned leads.

It looks like this generation of agitators has learned that the best way to make people listen to you is to have something worthwhile to say. The artists in “Special Reconnaissance” leave the histrionics to the pundits and instead employ more responsible tactics to get their message across. Instead of fighting fire with fire, or water, or even restraint, they fight it with a study of flammability.

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