1.10 / Review

Second Look: Article X

By Laura Cassidy March 10, 2010

Johansson Projects presents recent work by David Trautrimas and Kristina Lewis in an exhibition entitled Article X. Trautrimas contributes archival digital prints of found objects resituated as monumental structures in expansive Cold War landscapes. Using this format, the artist can be meticulous about the lighting, perspective, color, patina, and scale of his constructed environments. Meanwhile, Lewis installs handcrafted objets d’art directly in the gallery, relying on the space’s infrastructure to dramatize and distinguish each piece. The organic movement of her live wires, erupting from their outlets, and her menagerie of flying creatures, made from shoes, zippers, and tape, complements Trautrimas’ inanimate structures.

Formally, the show is well balanced. Trautrimas and Lewis execute their respective visions of architectonic and biomorphic sculptures with precision and grace, transforming everyday objects into artful compositions. Conceptually, however, Trautrimas’ digital prints carry more weight. In the post-production phase, he solidifies the sociotechnological implications of his work, which far exceed Lewis’ whimsical exploration of mundane materials. His photographic series, The Spyfrost Project, resonates with political commentary. The artist merges historic military sites with disparate household artifacts to conjure haunting premonitions of the post-industrial future.

Kristina Lewis. It leaves a shining wake, 2010; zippers, thread, cotton piping; installation dimensions variable, 84 in. long. Courtesy of the Artist and Johansson Projects, Oakland.

The title of this exhibition, Article X, reinforces its historical significance, foregrounding the collective memory of the Cold War, which exacerbated the rivalry between superpowers for decades until industrial capitalism and conspicuous consumption eventually prevailed. In 1947, Foreign Affairs magazine published The Sources of Soviet Conduct, which outlined the reasons for our country’s defense against the Soviet Union’s communist regime. The byline to this article covertly read, By X, and it was coined the X Article. Eventually the author’s identity was revealed as American diplomat George F. Kennan, whose opinions may not have accurately represented U.S. policy, though the article remained charged by its initial secrecy and suspicion. The digital prints on view at Johansson Projects are imbued with this feeling.

Dave Trautrimas. The Brilliant Device, 2010; archival digital print; 20 x 30 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Johansson Projects, Oakland.

Trautrimas photographed landscapes associated with the Cold War across North America to serve as backdrops for The Spyfrost Project. They include images of the Manhattan Project area in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and a network of radar stations in Ontario, Canada. Having documented these “real” landscapes, Trautrimas then worked to monumentalize various artifacts of consumption from the Cold War period. He pulled apart and photographed an old record player, refrigerator, heater, and a few microscopes, then superimposed these abstract parts as military structures within the landscapes. This deceptive digital technique proves only mildly realistic, but the significance of his painstaking work is its strained cohesion, not its accuracy. The austerity of warfare and the conflicted ideology of a free-market economy are embedded in these pastiches of time and place. The patinas of the finished photographs are extraordinarily beautiful and compelling. Although the Cold War has concluded, Trautrimas suggests that its symptoms persist into the 21st century.

Amidst these politically charged landscape photographs, Lewis’ labored sculptures gain historical relevance and aesthetic value. In a private room tucked away at the end of a narrow hallway, Lewis’ It leaves a shining wake (2010) is suspended in darkness. This serpentine creature is constructed with silver zippers, and its undulating spine glimmers under the spotlight from above. White threads hang delicately from its underbelly. What would otherwise be a whimsical dream-like sculpture becomes, in the context of global industrial capitalism, an indispensable tribute to freedom as a separate and laudable pursuit. Johansson Projects has done well in pairing these two artists. The juxtaposition shows that Lewis liberates objects from their mundane functions, and evokes the agency and latent potential of our routine lives.

Article X is on view at Johansson Projects in Oakland through March 20, 2010.

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