You Are Not Here, You Are Still There and Think You Are Here

High Energy Constructs in Los Angeles’ Chinatown currently features a compelling exhibition of work by three young LA artists. You are not here, you are still there and think you are here is a persuasive hybrid of futuristic optimism and intensely felt ennui. The competent craftsmanship of Christian Cummings, Michael Decker and Marie Johnston is contrasted by the artists’ psychedelic color schemes and faux-kitsch materials, creating an instantly familiar yet paradoxically distancing scenario: you feel as though you have encountered a heartfelt rephrasing of your contemporary reality yet you have simultaneously encountered relics of a world that never actually existed. Continue reading for DailyServing’s review of the show.

Review by Catherine Wagley for DailyServing – Photo by Joshua White

When I first walked in to High Energy Constructs, I had little interest in which artist had made what. I instinctively felt that this whole show must have been a collaborative effort-the most telling sign of an effective group exhibition. The work seemed to be on a single wavelength and I pictured Cummings, Decker and Johnston sharing a studio space as they constructed the sculptures for you are not here. However, each of the three artists makes a distinct contribution to the exhibition’s milieu and each artist has a distinctly different sensibility.

Joshua White

Cummings, Decker and Johnston all received their BFA’s from California Institute of the Arts and Cummings is currently pursuing an MFA at University of Southern California. Cummings and Decker have performed “Ghost Drawings“-a ritual in which the blindfolded artists use an Ouija Board to summon spirits and ask them to execute drawings-at a variety of venues, including the Santa Monica Museum and New York’s Creative Time. During the artists’ Creative Time performance, Barnett Newman deigned to join them, making the barefaced statement that “Art History is Fundamental but not Necessary.” The Ghost Drawings have a sentiment similar to that of you are not here; they un-ironically dabble in the otherworldly while also making a weighty, albeit somewhat ineffable, statement about contemporary art and life.

Joshua White

As its title suggests, the exhibition at High Energy Constructs effectively deals with here, there and not here. Cummings’ plastic casts of five pizzas, titled Everything, seems at first glance to deal with an immediate and tangible reality. However, the mantel-piece-like sculpture is actually dauntingly inaccessible-Cummings has turned pizzas into a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the tradition of wall-mountings. Even the sleekly appetizing painting of cookies and milk has a twist-exhibited upside down it becomes “Ghost and UFO,” an alien but kitschy reminder of ordinary object’s imperviousness. If Cummings’ work is the here that we can’t access, than Decker’s work is a slightly fanciful rendition of the there that we want to ignore.

Joshua White

Decker’s beautifully crafted mortar and pestle, cushioned by a white pillow in a red pillow case, calls to mind a cross between Claes Oldenburg’s farcically oversized objects and Lisa Lapinski’s aimless constructions of unusable historically charged furniture. Decker’s Bad Medicine Club flawlessly magnifies the need to cushion unpleasant realities. Yet there is nothing sarcastic or specific about Bad Medicine Club; on the contrary, the sculpture is heartwarmingly sincere and open-ended, as is its even harsher counterpart, Decker’s Charred Craftsman.

Joshua White

The Craftsman, a beheaded bobble-head who uses one hand to holds his head by a chain and the other to wield a golden hammer, is as utopian as it is critical. While the sculpture depicts a beaten down emblem of consumerism, it also exudes a feeling of imperturbable drive. The charred craftsman is out to fix what he can of the world, even if it takes him four years to drag his head from Chinatown to downtown proper.

Johnston’s anthropomorphic sculptures synthesize the exhibition, acting as the idealized the not here, the otherworldly haven. Johnston’s Xgd, Retduben, OOOp Horbenden , Seeeepee, Fii depicts a family of six figures, each distinct but existing in aesthetic harmony with the others. Her work, made of rope, sculpey, wood, and cement, pristinely meshes craft-like materials to create amenable aliens, as if synthesizing kitsch and high-art formality could render a new reality.

Joshua White

You are not here, you are still there and think you are here has all the youthful vigor of a utopian art movement, yet the vigor is intelligently checked. While Cummings, Decker, and Johnston all dabble in mystique, they do so from a position of stagnation and flux. Having set themselves up as being neither here nor there, they proceed to throw out precisely crafted propositions that probe contemporary reality. These propositions, while conscious of their own improbability, are not ironic. Rather, they are genuine, pristinely-crafted possibilities with a socially-conscious pallet.

Joshua White