4.13 / Review

Blanking Out

By Sarah Hotchkiss April 8, 2013

Despite being filled with objects and images that reference the passage of time and the certainty of death, Blanking Out, Will Rogan’s second exhibition at Altman Siegel, is a lighthearted and genuinely funny show. The wooden and metal sculptures, delicate mobiles, and black-and-white photographs exude warmth—a product of their materials and their oblique references to their subject matter. If the objects in Blanking Out are memento mori, they are not the grinning skulls one might expect. Instead of dreading the inevitable, Rogan’s work argues, why not fill your time with small pleasures and graceful artworks?

The show’s central piece, Recent ruins (2013), combines the structure of balanced dominoes with black-and-white headshots of sixty artists from an unnamed exhibition catalogue. Zigzagging across a triangular pedestal, the sculpture is a wall-like trail of miniature faces. All are unrecognizable (to me), but they were once included in a show deemed worthy of an associated publication; now the nameless artists, rescued from the recycling pile, are frozen in time.

Looking at the anonymous heads, one asks: Are they alive? Are they famous? What did they make? Isolated from their original context, the artists’ faces provide no answers. Recent ruins recalls “Metamorphosis,” a short story in David Eagleman’s book Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, in which the author proposes: “There are three deaths: the first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.”1 In this case, the artists live on through their photographs, as symbols of a precarious life in the arts and the near-impossibility of lasting renown.

Other works in the show conjure more established art-world ghosts. Two photographs of a box-like clock with only one hand, Seconds (one) and Second (two) (2013), recall Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s Untitled (Perfect Lovers) (1991). 

Will Rogan. General Transmissions, 2013; gelatin silver print; 25 3/4 x 29 3/4 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Altman Siegel, San Francisco.  
 
Will Rogan. Blanking Out, 2013; installation view, Altman Siegel, San Francisco. Courtesy of the Artist and Altman Siegel, San Francisco.
 
The balanced wooden sculptures Cradle to the grave (1) and (2) (2013) provide angular supports for what look like small brass versions of Salvador Dali’s melting clocks. And rarely can one make a mobile—there are three in Blanking Out—without summoning the spirit of Alexander Calder. Many of the elements in the show were constructed from leftover materials from the production of Recent ruins. Make the most of what you have left, could be Rogan’s argument, whether it is wood or time. But this statement does the show a disservice; the viewing experience is far more engaging than tidy summations and hackneyed phrases imply. 
 
If the first gallery creates anxiety over lost time, the second gallery encourages viewers to abandon such worries and engage in its balancing acts, magic tricks, trompe l’oeil paintings, and funny details. General Transmissions (2013) is the trickiest of the bunch. The photograph shows a view of a grassy yard and the titular business, but upon closer inspection it reveals a bizarre scene within a scene within a scene. Natural and commercial landscapes collide in a mural on the building’s side, which contains another image of General Transmissions and another mural. A fish jumps out of a lake across several layers of the mural’s internal scenery. Attempts to explain the photo beyond this would lead to confusion, at best, and the complete diffusion of the image’s strange magic, at worst. When images defy description, they thrill, and General Transmissions has just this impact. 
 
Rogan points to the unknowable again and again. The two photographs that make up Canyon (2013) show a rocky landscape haunted by creeping shadows, but whatever’s behind the bend remains hidden from view. Double zero (2013) captures the image of a person or object poised on the edge of something big. A domino-size piece of dark wood with two compass-like points on its face sits on top of an impossibly thin white stick, placed vertically and with no visible means of support. It seems to counteract gravity—a perfect contrast to the mobiles so clearly shaped by the same force. Double zero suggests a condition of balanced stasis with zero as both its starting and finishing point. 
 
Rogan prevents Blanking Out from becoming morbid or sentimental through his careful attention to materials, which unify the exhibition and bring to it tactile warmth. Wood, brass, string, beeswax, paint-coated prisms—nothing is glossy or sterile. Blanking Out serves as a reminder of time spent, time remaining, and the countless pleasures to be found in the meantime. 
 
Blanking Out is on view at Altman Siegel, in San Francisco, through April 13, 2013.

Notes

  1. David Eagleman, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives (New York: Vintage), 23.

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