Monday, October 13, 2014

Trending Now...Some Assembly Required

 Trending Now…Some Assembly Required
By Tom Wachunas

    EXHIBIT: TrendFACTORY: Stark – Prints by Leslie Mutchler, THROUGH OCTOBER 27, Main Hall Art Gallery, Kent State University at Stark, 6000 Frank Avenue NW, North Canton. Gallery hours are Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. / Sat. 10 a.m.-Noon

For more information contact Jack McWhorter at 330.244.3356 or  Leslie Mutchler web site at

    Note to my students: If you decide to write your paper on this exhibit, I suggest reviewing the chapter on Alternative Media. Give special attention to Conceptual Art and Installation Art, which will hopefully spark some connections.
    Billing this as an exhibit of prints by artist Leslie Mutchler, an assistant professor teaching 2D and 3D Foundations at the University of Texas at Austin, is only a little deceptive to the extent that it could set up an expectation of seeing a traditional display of fine art prints. While there is an “edition” of images here, in the form of triangular patterns printed on multiple cardboard sheets gathered into wall-mounted racks, they’re actually a secondary focal point. Here, assuming the posture of the casual, passive observer might prove unsatisfying if not inappropriate. This installation is a hands-on collaborative experience – an assembly plant of sorts, designed so that viewers become active makers.
     After following the artist’s general instructions (posted in very large text on a wall and demonstrated in a video loop) for assembling her 2D prints into a 3D form, paricipants then enter the digital world by photographing their constructions and emailing the picture to the posted tumblr address. The last step in the process is to disassemble the form and leave the remains on the floor of the gallery for “recycling” (though for whom or for what purpose is not made clear).
    Mutchler’s printed designs aren’t particularly remarkable art works per se so much as elements or steps in a larger process. In this context, gallery visitors could regard them as found objects to be appropriated for another purpose. From that perspective, they bring to mind the seminal thinking of Marcel Duchamp and his “readymades” (a term he coined to describe pre-existing, found objects).
    The most notable of those was Fountain (a porcelain urinal he placed on a pedestal) from 1917, which wholly usurped historically established ideas (a pre-existing system) about artistic originality. It was essentially a declaration of the supremacy of the individual artist, not history, in setting the parameters of art.  What he set in motion nearly a century ago is still very much a major component of postmodernist artistic concepts and practices – a “trend” if ever there was one. In commenting on the significance of Duchamp’s employment of appropriation, critic Hal Foster wrote in 1985, “…the artist becomes a manipulator of signs more than a producer of art objects, and the viewer an active reader of messages rather than a passive contemplator of the aesthetic or consumer of the spectacle.”  
    I think Foster’s assessment captures the overarching spirit of this installation. On one level, TrendFACTORY could be seen as a metaphor for how we embrace given (or found) systems of manufacturing, delivery and consumption of a product. Further, there is the suggestion/implication that the making and dissemination of art is a social act.
   Evidence of the collaboration with Mutchler will ultimately exist not as a material object for display in a brick-and-mortar gallery, but on line as a virtual symbol of individualized decisions. Uploading a symbol of the maker’s activity in effect imprints the internet with the maker’s presence, which is of course itself an ongoing, ubiquitous trend these days. If you participate, you might consider your virtual sculpture as a surrogate selfie.

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