“Wabi Sabi: Impermanence, Imperfection and the Accidental” at Alter Space

by Admin on 04/02/2014

The Japanese term Wabi Sabi represents rather than defines a broadly encompassing aesthetic, which is not translated and more often paralleled with idioms or abstracted phrases, generally focuses nearer towards ideas of transience and imperfection. Like the word itself that evades clear terminology, the multiple mediums and approaches employed in the artwork in the “Wabi Sabi: Impermanence, Imperfection and the Accidental” by the participating 24 artists currently on view in Alter Space’s gallery, guest curated by MicroClimate Collective‘s Glenna Cole Allee and Victoria Mara Heilweil, reflect a multitude of interpretations of its meaning and representations of the aesthetic. In celebrating this imperfect word and its visualizations, the group show stands in defiance to the almost unattainable perfection boasted in stark minimalism, and the planned obsolescence design pervasive in the economy and culture of the modern era.

One of the central themes that remains a focus by many artists in the show is production of work which reveres the historicity of an object by highlighting the visual markers of this characteristic: from its cracks or discoloring caused by use, and erosion and degradation caused by passage of time. These key elements are symbolic of mortality and the fragility of life, often evoking melancholy from Wabi Sabi. While some artworks in the show integrate this time-worn feel into art objects using older materials or structures, a touching diptych of pillows by Kija Lucas illustrate this simply and remarkably well. Lucas isolates two worn pillows by both emotion and time, stripped of their cases, and takes photographs that exacerbate their intricate textures, colors, and rips or tears. “The things we use embody personal histories. Our strange intimacy with domestic objects allows them take on debris from body and the home showing changes that accrue with time,” Lucas says. However, rather than placing the pillow on view, Lucas isolates the objects to bring these aesthetic features from its stains and wear to the artistic surface. This distance is often what will define an aesthetic, simply offering an opportunity to look at or further to examine objects, ideas, and things in a different, perhaps more ‘artistic’ way, foregoing its practicality or intended use: “the transformation from object to photograph strips away their usefulness, creating the distance necessary for critical examination,” says Lucas succinctly.

“[Wabi-sabi] nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect,” writes Richard Powell in Wabi Sabi Simple. Multilayered poems by Rodney Ewing which obfuscate reality and fiction give these ideas form in the group exhibition at Alter Space. Ewing’s poems begin with an understanding that history is never complete, and a story is never comprehensively told by just one narrator. “The stories we learn about individuals–whether they be historical or taken from recent headlines–can be incomplete narratives,” he says. “Since we are so fond of colorful stories, I thought it would be interesting if the events that describe non-fictional characters were actually taken from fiction.” In his large-scale illustrated text works Ewing blends phrases and stanzas from the prologue of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man with abstracted portraiture of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassin, James Earl Ray. The combination of these seemingly disparate events, one an utter tragedy in American history and the other a work of fiction published over a decade before the event took place, addresses similar contemporary social and intellectual issues of race and nationality, and examine larger issues of individuality and personal identity. Says Ewing, “The fiction is meant to establish empathy and invite introspection upon the actions of these persons.”

Lastly, curators Allee and Heilweil ensure the exhibition includes an exploration of the notions surrounding fleeting moments, an awareness of its ephemeral nature as well as the importance of taking in the immediacy of the moment, including a subtle suggestion of  site-specificity and nostalgia that is so prevalent in the general understandings of Wabi Sabi by inclusion of one-time only performances and impermanent art pieces. These include an “alchemical painting performance” by Tobias Tovera, a performance by Kent Manske & Eric Kneeland screen-printing on the gallery’s walls with assistance of opening reception attendees. At the closing reception, Adam Donnelly & David Janesko will document the exhibition and visitors with a site-specific camera that creates pinhole photographs. Artist Timothy Armstrong will create a flour and water drawing outside of the gallery that will be left for famished birds to consume, and the wind to sweep away. These moments of art-making and its manifestations remind audiences these moments, artistic and otherwise will not last beyond the dates of the exhibit.

“Wabi Sabi: Impermanence, Imperfection and the Accidental” will be at Alter Space, 1158 Howard Street through April 12, 2014