Utahlizing Time

Set out early to dash across Utah from dawn until night, conducting studio visits with an array of creative workers. It was a spectacular example of the breadth and depth of thinking, and innovation, going on in contemporary art in this state; again, the first state in the country to have a state funded arts council (1899).

Peter Everett, works in his stunning, rural compound, tucked away in a mountain canyon. His paintings have an enigmatic, thrumming energy; they seem almost to hum with a totemic, science-fictional, monolithic presence. He collapses layers of figurative and abstract elements between screens of geometric patterns, which are themselves often broken or interrupted. One has a sense that these works are portals, gateways or brilliantly-colored wormholes between realms, states of mind, or firmaments. 

Mitchell Barton runs Washer/Dryer Projects. It is a physical site, in his laundry room, in Murray, Utah, but also (or more accurately) it is a semi-locational, interactive collaboration between Barton, and the artists he believes can utilize the space most effectively. Artists apply with proposals from across the state, the country, and internationally. Barton works on behalf of the artists, to install their works to their specifications. Often neither the artist nor an audience will see the work in person, and yet, it is no less of an exhibition than those in traditional gallery spaces. After the dates of any show, where do its archives exist? Barton's innovative enterprise sits between topography and digital ether. This intimate, site-specific idea, nevertheless seems limitless in its reach. The modesty of the space, its dimensions and limitations, mean that artists have to think carefully about how to work within it. They have to plumb their inventiveness for their installations to be fruitful. The element of humor inherent in the space, lends Washer/Dryer Projects a marvelous sense of playfulness and light-heartedness. It is a super example of how art can be conceived, and implemented, or seen to be implemented, in the unlikeliest of places.  

Wendy Wischer and John Mack, live and work in Cottonwood Heights, Utah, in a home that they are currently remodeling to further accommodate their practices. It is a house of great creative zeal. Wischer’s work is an exquisite melding of environmental concern, scientific investigation, and artistic response, into a sort of technological romanticism. The results often convey an almost supernatural element of the land's histories. Her current focus is a subtle and deeply emotive treatise on how our collective footprint, politics, and economics threaten and change fragile natural habitats. Of particular resonance, literally and metaphorically, is Displacing Vibrations(2019.) Wischer, and geologist Jeffrey Moore, recorded seismic reverberations within Utah's red rock arches, part of national monument landscapes that have been decreased in size, to allow industry to tap—and potentially destroy—the resources. The subterranean rumblings have been choreographed with photographic animations of the rock to create a rich visual soundscape that—almost imperceptibly—"breathes" in rhythm. 

John Mack’s sculptures and interactive works are inspired by the seemingly oppositional but inter-common worlds of the deep ocean and outer space. He makes exceptionally crafted, ribbed, and concertinaed, wooden, and metal forms that could be stingrays, or spacecraft from the fifties heyday of science-fiction imaginings. Beings, aliens, or Atlantis’ inhabitants, they seem out of place or incongruous, away from their originating worlds. The sculptures evoke the mysterious epics of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, andJourney to the Center of the Earth; and the awe, suspense and horror,of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Elsewhere his larger sculptures have technological, and surveillance aspects, that seem ominous, even threatening; abstract motifs of blinking metallic eyes, fins, or spidery legs, so that we come face to face with the unknown realms of Nemo’s Nautilus, or the protagonists in John Wyndham’s, The Day of the Triffids. Mack percolates these themes though, so that there is a subtler sense of unease at what these objects might be, or do to us. 

Jorge Rojas is a Mexican artist, living in Salt Lake City, Utah, whose practice includes performance, painting, video, sculpture, and community engagement. Often made in, and as, response to political fracture orcultural stresses, his sense of urgency and concern transforms his art, into active social machinery. His interests range from spiritual histories, and interpretations of ancient rites and customs, to abuses of power. Hands Up, Don't Shoot, is one of the most affecting and powerful performative responses yet, to police killings of people of color. Simple, direct and deeply emotive, Participants loudly proclaim the titular phrase, while falling to their knees, or standing, hands behind heads. It was first performed in the Salt Lake City Public Library atrium in 2016, as part of the city's performance art festival. A central element of the piece's serrating immediacy is the sight of white people—so empirically ignorant of the trauma, fear and effects of racial profiling—joining black and brown people in the protest, itself a reclamation of an alarming, forced posture. Rojas places us all in the firing line, while taking down social protections, class difference, and committing us all to a purposeful, determined resistance. In knitting together gestures of surrender and defiance, of both the disadvantaged and obscenely comfortable, Rojas forges collective sensibilities and social oneness—wholeness—as a momentary stance, with profound and lasting presence. 

Stephanie Leitch works with gravity to form slow moving magma-like creations of black pitch, that might take weeks or months to come to rest, at least temporarily, from suspended vessels. Mirrored gelatinous planes, in traditional painterly forms, breach their frames and hang over the edges, globs of wrinkled tar reaching for the floor. Puddles, and stains, become autonomous works themselves. The pieces seem to cause time to slow, while viewing them, as if they are pendulum counters to the relentlessness of digital living. In other works, Leitch uses droplets of water or oil, with a mesmerizing, quietness and delicacy of touch, to refract light and shadow, or to elucidate the physical qualities of liquids, such as a single water droplet contained as a sphere by the bonds between its atoms, atop a pinhead. Leitch might be considered a sort of molecular artist, combining science and creative expression in deft, transcendent, yet modest gestures.      

Jean Richardson uses found or discarded items—envelopes, tumbleweeds, pencils, crockery, packing materials, bottles—to construct subtle visual patterns, repetitions and broken, or disrupted linear fault-lines. The results are poetic remonstrances to travel, distance, time and the melancholy of redundancy, and “unbelonging.” In Destination Unknown, she has constructed large wallpaper planes from yellow envelopes, that look like topographical maps of barren, sun-baked fields. These objects once contained something—gifts, administration, love letters—sent and delivered, and now emptied of their cargoes. In another series, tumbleweeds, have collected the pink foam chips used to pack boxes. They appear as exotic spindled plants, with rose-colored flowers, rather than the dead skeletons, and prettily-hewed stuffing that decorate them. Whether in her objects, or her videos—a lonesome figure adrift in the Great Salt Lake; a ball of umbrella hoods in the vast expanse of Utah’s Salt Flats—throughout her practice Richardson strikes an eloquent, romantic, balance between the lost and found. 

David Brothers’ monumental stage sets are a magnificent evocation of the cheese, bells, and dollar-drop circus, the Las Vegas grandeur, and staged, celebratory hysteria of American game-show culture. His studio is a cavernous space on an industrial complex in Salt Lake City, filled with props—cardboard palm trees, puppets, lighting equipment, billboard signs—that are the viscera of American pop-cultural commercialism; the innards of the blazing, technicolor cavalcade that is America's TV Dream. And they are the opposite of that too, or perhaps they reveal the machinations behind the “irony curtain.” To visit his workspace, and stand on that stage, lights flashing, heat emanating from the set like an electrical storm, but in total silence—no crowds, no camera, no action—is to be reminded of the emptiness, the construct, the sales pitch in which we all are either involved, or subject to. There is a wonderful eeriness, ghostliness or even ominousness to that graveyard shift that is Disneyland, with the rides running, and no one on them. Brothers also films and photographs set pieces, narratives, and scripts, in which he works with actors to create vignettes and storylines that recall Twin Peaks, surrealist theatre and the dark undercurrents of Miami noir neon, flickering strip-lit, rural, truck-stop bathrooms and the desperation of the American social underbelly. Brothers riotous and fascinating evocations are as seductive as the cash prizes, fleeting fame, and glittering promises of the culture he investigates.