Monday, April 17, 2006

Some Notes on a Lecture by the ParkeHarrisons

I attended a lecture by Shana and Robert ParkeHarrison on the 30th of March. (This was over two weeks ago; sorry for not writing it up earlier). The wife and husband team gave a lively perfomance, discussing (among other things) their influences, their working process, and the development of their oeuvre. They were both dressed entirely in black. Their show of staged composite photographs, The Architect's Brother is up at Ithaca's Johnson museum through June 11. I hope to eventually write more about it and some of the other excellent exhibits currently up there. The show will also be traveling around the country through next year.

Briefly, the show consists of hazy dream-like monochrome images, depicting the exploits of a dapper, dark suit-clad Everymanplayed by Robertas he struggles and works with a ruined, post-apocalyptic landscape. To this end, he uses a variety of fanciful technology, variously suggesting primitive magic, Da Vinci drawings and post-industrial refuse. "Brother" is divided into five series: "Exhausted Globe," "Industrial Landscapes," "Promisedland," "Earth Elegies" and "Kingdom", each showing different episodes in a vaguely defined ongoing narrative. The show is also split between small framed pieces and larger unframed works on panels. You can read more about it in this Cornell Daily Sun article as well as in this piece (and another) from the Boston Globe. Modern Kicks weighs in on the show here.

The ParkeHarrisons began their talk by discussing the wide-ranging nature of their backgrounds and the eclectic influences they thus brought to their project. They consider themselves to be interdisciplinary artists rather than photographers. Aside from Shana's dance background and Robert's studies in photography, they mentioned sculpture, theatre and performance art as aspects of their work. At one point, Robert mentioned "being scared of performance art", but also fascinated by it, as an entry into staged photography. (As a former art student, intrigued by the freedom and inventiveness of the genre, but too nervous to actually perform in front of people, I am sympathetic.) They also mentioned being inflenced by literary sources such as Samuel Beckett (one slide they showed was of a work entitled "Harvesting Godot"), Franz Kafka, Bruno Schultz and Octavia Butler, as well as the films of Andrei Tarkovsky.

Science and ecology were also mentioned as sources of ideas, although I don't see their work as being informed by a detailed knowledge of these fields. C
ertainly during the talk, these were only discussed in the most cursory way. This isn't necessarily a criticism; much of what goes under the labels of "political art" or "science based art" is overly didactic or simply dull. Whether this is simply a front for political apathy or a principled stand for the autonomy of art, I'm not sure.

The two showed slides of a several visual artists they considered influential or like-minded. Most were well-known contemporary figures. They stressed their interest in "contemplative" artists (not exactly sure what that means), and work that can be interpreted at multiple levels. Artists shown included Louise Bourgeois, Dorris Salcedo, Robert Rauschenberg (especially his collaborative work with Merce Cunningham and others), Joseph Beuys, Wolfgang Laib, Anslem Kiefer (not a favorite of mine), Christian Boltanski, Fransciso Clemente, Annette Messager, Michael Rovner, Anthony Gormley, Casper David Friedrich, Philip Guston, Robert Wilson, and William Kentridge. They mentioned being increasingly interested in painting.

I was a little surprised that they didn't mention the work of Mark Tansey, whose monochromatic paintings also combine the mythic with the deadpan. In particular, "Passage" reminds of me Tansey's iconic image of Jackson Pollock walking on water (which I can't find a picture of, sorry). Both pictures depict a heroic (or mock-heroic) figure lost in concentration, wrapped up in his own ridiculous endevour. Everyman even resembles Pollock in these photographs.

From there, the ParkeHarrisons delved into a chronology of their work. I'll be writing that up, hopefully later today (sorry for the abrubt ending here).

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Anonymous JL said...

You're spot on with the Tansey comparison. Obviously he's more baroque in terms of his obsessive art historical references, but there's definitely a resemblance (and the ParkeHarrisons aren't above a few references of their own.)

I'm intrigued by the interest in/gestures toward performance art. I remember hearing about this when the exhibition was out here as well. Just a quick thought, but often what we are left with in the aftermath of a performance piece is the documentation--photos, video, text, props, whatever. That's what's then collected and typically displayed in historical treatments of the performance. Here we have a couple who are producing highly polished (and in the case of the largest pieces, extensively hand-worked) photographs, but wanting them to be considered at some level as the same sort of residue, if you will. I'm not sure I buy it, though it certainly underscores the importance accorded to performance today.

7:12 PM  
Blogger arthur said...

To me, the ParkeHarrisons' work is more reminiscent of stage plays than what I most typically associate with performance art. They're "staged" in a way that's quite traditional in both photography and figurative painting. You're right to point out the difference between this and the usual kinds of performance art documentation, which are often more interesting as physical evidence or as mementos than as self-contained formal objects. Of course, the field of performance art is broad one. So some of it does closely resemble traditional theatre. And to be fair, the artists did stress their distance from, as well as their interest in the genre.

10:54 PM  

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