The artists of “Incremental Disruption” comprise a fascinating triumvirate. NAO director Karine Jouenne’s curatorial statement references technology writer Michael Schrage’s influential arguments for the transformational power of small, incremental changes, stating that the exhibition “explores aspects of ‘incrementalism’ on a conceptual and aesthetic level.” I would add that the incremental disruptions of which Jouenne speaks occur largely in relation to our preexisting notions and experience of landscape – most of the work in this show operates based on reference to landscape, whether the character of the reference is literal, metaphorical, abstracted or altogether fantastic.
Vaughn Bell’s video explores our relationship to nature through engagement with landscape. Using long shots, real time and live sound to evoke a subtle sense of presence and authenticity, Bell invites the viewer to simply stop for a moment and observe the slightest shifts of light or clouds, reflected in the calm surface of a lake. The use of reflection operates as a distancing device as well though, reminding us of just how removed we are from the image we’re watching. Bell’s portable garden, complete with detailed instructions for care, seems an attempt to introduce elements of nature, in particular the experience and enjoyment of the natural, into the indoor, urban environment of the gallery.
William Betts offers flawlessly crafted stripe paintings with an innovative twist; each painting is based on a sample of digital information taken from a personal photograph. The sample is extruded and the resulting image applied to the panel using a painting machine that Betts designed and built, thereby in the artist’s words, “introducing elements of industrial production to a traditional endeavor.” Due to the precision of Betts’ process in combination with organic source material, his work operates on a completely different visual level from run of the mill stripe paintings. Interestingly, the artist states that “void of forms or context, the visual sensation is isolated from memory and association that would dilute the experience…hopefully the work maintains a comfortable ambiguity between what is known and what is possible between the pictorial truth and our aspirations.” However, I would argue that while the artist isolates us from the “pictorial truth” of his personal images used as source material, the paintings contain a complexity and quantity of visual information that invoke the power of one’s own memories; I quickly found myself attaching my own images to Betts’ stripes, certain that one was a sun-drenched beach scene, another, a verdant field.
Jamey Morrill’s sprawling factory farm run amok brings to mind Bosch and Dante, but in contrast to those artists’ aesthetic of excess, Morrill’s apocalyptic vision is monochromatic and incredibly clean – baldly, terrifyingly sanitized. Seduced by the euphonious sounds of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, plastic black and white Holstein cows crowd around the entrance to a pristine white maze of pipes, holding tanks, production lines and smokestacks. In the center of the installation, two lines of cleanly severed half-cows attached to rows of pipes converge, such that the consequently exaggerated perspective suggests a vanishing point beyond the gallery walls. A cow-dozer hybrid pushes a pile of half-cows into a factory burner, smokestacks belch, and nearby, in a truly surreal touch, a milkbottle-discotheque pulsates with rhythm and light. In his statement, Morrill observes “So well conceived is this system that the perceived enemy is no longer humans but the cows themselves. Childhood dreams and curiosity once lost are not easily reestablished, as the mentality and momentum of the herd exerts its pressure.” The near-obsessive repetition of form and color throughout the installation enforce a frightening sense of completeness, heightened by the notable absence of waste or gore. “Incremental Disruption” offers work of simultaneous complexity and clarity while leaving ample space for one’s own imagination to play. Don’t miss the experience of seeing it.
"Incremental Disruption" is on view until Apritl 10th at NAO Gallery located at 535 Albany Street, Boston.
All images are courtesy of the artists and NAO Gallery.