Does Not Migrate, November 3 – December 1, 2011

Original press release:

Triangle Arts Association is pleased to present the work of three of our Artists’ Workshop alumni, Matt Ager, Craig Drennen and Gamaliel Rodriguez.

Does Not Migrate presents a conversation between three very different artists who in one way or another seek to upend the traditions of looking at a work of art.

For his current series, Craig Drennen has organized his studio practice around the play Timon of Athens, written by William Shakespeare between 1605 and 1608. It is considered to be Shakespeare’s most difficult and obscure work, and is the only one of his plays not performed in his lifetime. Proceeding through the cast of characters listed in the dramatis personæ, Drennen produces a distinct series of works based upon the contemporary associations suggested by the characters.

For the character Old Athenian, Drennen has produced a series of mixed media works that combine a photographic image of Udo Kier from Blood for Dracula with an expanding and contracting neutral gray wall painting.

On the surface, the works are austere and present themselves as a sort of visual non-sequitur that could be taken at face value. Drilling deeper into the work, a formal reading of the combined elements could quickly support a theory that postulates the neutral gray wall paintings as a visual pun defining the relationship between the notably inaccessible Elizabethan play and an equally obtuse 1970’s art film. Either of these takes would be equally satisfying if it weren’t for the fact that Drennen clearly presents his process as a low-hanging fruit begging the viewer to delve deeper into the work. For this reason, it is arguable that the viewing of these works actually begins when one starts to ask questions and follows those questions up with research. For example, who is Old Athenian in the context of the play and who is Udo Kier? Unless one is equipped with a deep and sprawling cultural knowledge base, the task of unpacking the work in this way will require in the least a smart phone and a thirst for following juicy albeit potentially misleading historical cultural threads. Ultimately, what the artist offers is a carrot leading the viewer into his own complex psyche, one capable of creating the work on view. This is not to say that if you start plugging questions into a search engine you will solve this puzzle. It is, however, an attempt to incite an experience within the viewer that mirrors the path to the work of art’s creation.

Gamaliel Rodriguez’s meticulous soci-realist paintings and drawings further complicate the issues raised in Drennen’s work by compounding the conceptual underbelly of the search for meaning when viewing a work of art. Wherein Drennen’s work presents itself as a didactic puzzle ripe for analysis, Rodriguez’s virtuosic handling of his medium charms the viewer into remaining on the surface. His use of something as pedestrian as ball point pens to recreate antiquated illustration and printmaking techniques is seductive, lulling the viewer into a passive euphoria concerned only with the surface.

Rodriguez, however, is ultimately interested in a considerably more abstract goal: how to activate our most primitive instincts. In Misfire Case 1, Rodriguez renders an image of a military industrial site that is engulfed in smoke. At once enigmatic and concrete, the image serves to tease out all of the associations that may be made about the meaning of smoke and fire in service of exploring the complex human emotions of security and insecurity. In Untitled Case Report 001, Rodriguez takes this a step further by presenting the viewer with the image of a brain scan depicting the chemical reaction that occurs inside the brain when a human encounters a situation of insecurity. In a sense, the later image attempts to present a factual reading of the prior and by extension reveal a scientific rendering of Rodriguez’s line of questioning. By viewing these works in reference to one another Rodriguez points to a universal human reading and in a sense denies the individual viewer the capacity of having a unique reaction.

While Drennen and Rodriguez create through pre-determined conceptual platforms that offer any number of immediate or deferred potential readings, Ager’s work is disorientingly simple. His precarious and delicate arrangements simply present themselves to the viewer and there is no research that can be done to untangle why they are or how they are. There is no one to ask any questions except of oneself. His titles aren’t even suggestive of a potential reading. It is as if there is no technology outside of the moment in which these works were created; that objective reality is a fluctuating facade we all agreed to believe in, until now. The only clue Ager offers that points to the fact that this is not purely formal work is his use of recognizable objects.

The 3rd, for example, is a sculpture composed of a standard polished aluminum water bottle seated atop a nondescript wooden plinth balanced atop four exceptionally impractical wooden dowels. This composition is now a single piece of art placed in a gallery, yet its components each once performed an independent function that served a purpose for someone. For one reason or another, each item was discarded. It is this subtle conversation between intention and reality that makes Ager’s work so compelling as it turns our conceptions of what anything is inside out. Bereft of explanation, the viewer is left to either empathize with the objects and their arrangement or dismiss them entirely. This choice speaks volumes about our society’s continually evolving relationship with objects. Ager has, in a sense, invented an updated version of the Rorschach test.

Each of these artists in one way or another presents an alternate way of viewing their work that transcends the confines of the physical space in which the viewer encounters them and the surface level information that is being communicated. By presenting the viewer with the suggestion of a life outside of the viewing space these works open up the possibility of a more profound experience for the viewer and by extension a more profound relationship to the artist.

Matt Ager is an artist living in Clapton, London. He attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, in Maine and BA(HONS) Sculpture at Camberwell College of Art, London. He had a recent solo exhibition at Gallery Primo Alonso, London in 2011 and participated in group shows at Shoreditch Town Hall Basement, London, DUMBO Arts Festival, Brooklyn, NY, Departure Gallery, London, Stanton St. John, London, Monica Bobinska Gallery, London, and XVII The Shop, Cambridge in 2010.

Craig Drennen is an artist living in Atlanta, GA. He is represented by Samsøn in Boston and has shown in the NEXT, NADA, MACO, and Volta art fairs. His work has been reviewed in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and Artforum. He was a 2006 participant at the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture and now serves as dean at Skowhegan. He teaches drawing, painting, and critical writing at Georgia State University. Drennen was also recently named a finalist for this year’s Artadia Award in Atlanta, GA.

Gamaliel Rodriguez received an MFA from Kent Institute of Art and Design, 2005. Rodríguez is represented by Galeria Espacio Minimo, Madrid. Recent solo exhibitions include: 2009: The Concepts of fuel and full, Galería Espacio Mínimo, Madrid. Selected group exhibitions include: 2011 Domus Atrium 2 (DA2) Salamanca, Spain.: ARCO 2011, 30 Feria Internacional de Arte Contemporánao, Madrid; The End of History – and The Return of History Painting, Museum voor Moderne Kunst Arnhem, Netherlands. 2010: PINTA London, The Modern & Contemporary Latin American Art Show, Pinta Art Projects, London; ZONA MACO, Feria Internacional de Arte Contemporáneo Mexico, Mexico D.F; ARCO, 29 Feria International de Arte Contemporáneo, Madrid. SOLO Projects, CIRCA Puerto Rico ’09, The International Art Fair Caribbean, San Juan, Puerto Rico; NOSTÀLGIA DE FUTUR. HOMENATGE A RENAU, Centre del Carme, Valencia. Recent Grants and Scholarship include: 2012 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, 2011 The UBS Prize, Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, 2011 The Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture Scholarship 2010: Triangle Arts Association International Artists Workshop Program, Brooklyn, New York and The Emerging Artist Grant. SCOPE FOUNDATION The International Contemporary Art NYC. USA. in 2007.

Installation images (Courtesy of Etienne Frossard):