Composed and PerformedMarch 12, 2013
Glitter and dirt; earthbound objects and slices of psychedelic space; the white cube and the club: these pairings are all present—and at odds—in Sadie Barnette’s exhibition, Composed and Performed. The exhibition is minimal in the simplest sense of the word, consisting of just four new works. The disjointedness between these discreet pieces also makes Composed and Performed initially difficult to read. Barnette is clearly an artist of the post-medium-specific age: the single photograph, the lone installation, the solitary sculpture, and the artist’s book (several copies of which are present) are as different from one another as the works of four separate artists.
The broad reach of the verbiage supplied by the gallery to explain Barnette’s work mirrors her aesthetic eclecticism. While it indicates that the work somehow corrals her various interests—among them “extralegal economies, luxury as drug, counterfeit capitalism, glitter as hypnotic, outer space as head space, the everyday as gold, family and lived identity experience, and the party”—the complexity of thought present in Barnette’s work goes beyond this laundry list of sparkling abstractions.1 What is most striking in the works in Ever Gold’s three rooms is an exploration of entropic degradation and the contours of distinction that define both our past from our present (or future) and ourselves from that which we are not.
Entropy is a natural process of degradation: the movement from order to eventual chaos, or “maximal disorder.”2 Of the four works in the exhibition, the two of most interest in terms of this idea are grouped together in a small central room. Along the wall, Barnette’s untitled installation is composed of numerous white frames leaning against a wall in a loosely arranged stack and, in an adjacent corner, a vintage audio receiver, painted a clean white and partially buried in a pile of dirt on the gallery floor. These two works function to mark different points within the same system. The blankness of Barnette’s audio receiver unmoors the object from the specificities that once defined it: its brand, its indicators, and even its worn quality that may have developed from years of use. Simply painted in a neutral tone, this piece of equipment is transformed from a functional object to a symbolic one. With the strength of its neutrality, this audio receiver can stand in if only momentarily for the entirety of the analogue age. The dirt that surrounds and covers the receiver is the product of entropy, the final stage in a material degradation of matter.
The soil also recalls the work of artists like Robert Smithson and Walter de Maria, who used earth to evoke the processes
of time. Barnette’s sculpture recalls not only Robert
Smithson but also Mike Nelson, whose 2004 recreation of Smithson’s Partially Buried Woodshed (1970) brought a
facsimile of the structure and (quite a lot of) sand into an Oxford gallery space.Both partially buried and constructed from cool, white materials, Nelson’s Woodshed and Barnette’s receiver appear as vestiges of some other time, traces of a material world that crumbles and will eventually merge with all the other broken-down matter.
In Barnette’s installation in Composed and Performed, simple white frames contain sheets of glittering paper. These holograph-like planes shine in silvers, blues, oranges, and reds that change depending on one’s point of view. While this cluster of frames points toward many things—such as minimalist abstraction—it also evokes psychedelic experiences that are central to Barnette’s process and interests.3 If Barnette’s first work in the show deals with entropy from the perspective of decay, perhaps these bright and shiny elements call up that initial moment when order is broken apart.
Rosalind Krauss and Yve-Alain Bois begin their 1996 article, “A User’s Guide to Entropy,” by paraphrasing Robert Smithson’s description.
Entropy is enacted in the moments when the boundaries are broken—in this example, when the boy begins mixing the black and the white sand. Looking at the references at play in Barnette’s work, it seems that dirt is the endgame that absorbs the decay of the recent technological and material past, but it is psychedelic experience as a form of mental transcendence that functions as the little boy. Breaking out and beyond barriers of self, time, and space, the present becomes an uncertain territory—a huge box of gray sand.
If Barnette’s works really play out the idea of an entropic process of decay, then one must wonder: What is the ordered universe from which Barnette’s objects break out, off, or down? Elsewhere, a press release for an exhibition by Barnette makes the compelling observation that, for Barnette, “Specificity is universal.”5 In Barnette’s endless exchange between areas of investigation—the white cube and the club, Oakland and any other city, art history and psychedelics, the newly minted and the out-of-date—we see the breaking down of these distinctions. And, perhaps most compellingly, our subjectivities within this broken-down system become more ambiguous and harder to place. That which begins in glitter and light ends in a pile of dirt, and we find ourselves no longer tethered to systems of order.
Composed and Performed is co-organized by Ever Gold Gallery and Jamie Alexander of Park Life, San Francisco, and is on view at Ever Gold Gallery, in San Francisco, through March 15, 2013.