It used to be thought that artists were dominated by the visually oriented right side of the brain, while word- and logic-oriented people were dominated by the left. But a new age of understanding has complicated these gray matters.
Science has retained the view that right and left have characterizing tendencies, but now knows that the left hemisphere actually handles some visual-spatial tasks and the right brain processes some elements of language. The emphasis now is on the gestalt of the brain and their interdependent, cooperative relationship.
The contemporary art world has also given up on old dichotomies and embraced interdependence and interaction.
“Night Regulation: Storytelling in the land of text, identity and pictures” aims to capture the contemporary artists’ treatment of the touchpoints between words, text and pictures at the Radiator Gallery at RadiatorArts in Long Island City, now through April 6.
“The aesthetic coexistence of words and pictures dates back to ancient cultures and reached a high-water mark with Conceptual Art of the sixties where linguistics sought to elevate idea over form,” the gallery notes say. In “Night Regulation,” curator Patrick Neal, who also paints and writes, has selected works of “our more permissive art climate of the twenty-tens.” Form is once again elevated to interact with textual ideas.
RadiatorArts founder Tamas Veszi said the gallery — located on the third floor of a walk-up but with call-ahead elevator service available — had a pre-existing relationship with Neal when he came up with the idea.
“The way he approached the show about text and art, which is always difficult, and not new, but [asks] ‘How do artists deal with it right now?’” Veszi said.
“Expect the Be(a)st” by Maria Dimanshtein displays its title in the style of the cutesy plaques sold in greeting-card stores, sporting de rigeur generic evergreens. One can imagine a Polyanna encouraging us to ignore the letter “a” within the parentheses and “Expect the Best” from the soothing trees even as the mythical Cassandra warns us to heed the letter “a” and “Expect the Beast” from the ominous forest.
The optimistic thought and the pessimistic one occupy the same sentence while each retains its unique integrity. Attached, bonded but not merged, each is undiluted.
This kind of “both/and” thinking, contrasted with an “either/or” mindset, tracks with the contemporary school of thought known as post-post-modernism, or meta-modernism. Modernism’s rules broke from tradition, post-modernism broke from rules and meta-modernism reacts to and deploys what came before. It mediates between modern and post-modern, values dialogue, takes paradox in it arms. “Transitional” interior design is a concrete example, blending, borrowing and balancing classical, postmodern and other styles in a single room.
“Untitled” by Andrew Prayzner is a favorite of Neal for its sensational foreground and prosaic background. The text “Frog & Scorpion” meanders across both the dramatic foreground, red-gauze curtain and flame and the banal corporate-office background: dropped ceiling, fluorescent lighting.
“All of these works have that kind of duality,” Neal said.
The text may reference the parable of the scorpion who stings a frog mid-river while riding its back, having explicitly promised not to do so. Before both drown, the frog asks “Why?” The scorpion answers, “Because it’s in my nature.” Other searing answers are often substituted to elucidate agonistic modern paradoxes, as in: “Because this is the Middle East.” These stories came to mind amid the imagined humming of a failing fluorescent tube.
JF Lynch’s “20 Letter Maquettes,” three-dimensional clay figures collected in an old breadbox, give body to alphabet letters. One appears to be scrambling out of the box. A unibody lower-case “i” with an integrated dot reclines on a ledge as a dominant feline would.
Loren Britton, who explores transgender issues and uses the pronoun “they,” has created irregular paper pulp canvases and populated them with references to primitive communication. Their “Come to the Water” includes a figure that’s instantly recognizable as a reference to the late artist Keith Haring, who is considered to have created his own artistic language with visual forms and no text. “Train-s” mimics a written language, its symbols connected by curved lines.
“It’s almost like Lascaux,” Neal said, referencing the famous French complex of multi-generational storytelling cave paintings dated to around 17,000 years ago. “What is early communication? Is it a picture or a word?”