Sunday, December 02, 2007

A survey of Not to Scale

Patrick Duegaw, Juste Pour Reir (click on the image to enlarge it); image from Strecker-Nelson Gallery, Manhattan, Kansas

On the last Friday evening of each month, some of the local art galleries in Wichita hold open houses and receptions called, appropriately, Final Friday. This is something I have known about for some time now but had never attended before; however, now that circumstances in my personal life leave me with some extra time on my hands, I've attended the last two. Blustery weather and the promise of rain kept attendance down for November's Final Friday, but I'm glad I went, for that night I was introduced to the work of Patrick Duegaw. (The faces in the triptych you see here are self-portraits.)

Duegaw's new work, exhibited at the Fisch Haus, a multipurpose artists' collective and exhibit/performance space in Wichita's warehouse district, is called Not to Scale: The Construction of Two Rooms. Local folks need to know that, now, this show is on view by appointment until December 15. Here is Fisch Haus's description of the show; here is a sympathetic review of the show in the Wichita Eagle. The triptych isn't part of the show, but its media and look and feel are very much in keeping with the works in the show.

Below the fold: a description of the show's layout, and some observations.

As the linked pieces above relate, Not to Scale consists of over 40 separate works--a combination of "blueprints" for the "rooms" referred to in the title, self-portraits of "The Builder" (Duegaw himself), false starts, depictions of tools used--and some described as "wrong tools for the job," texts referring to the construction process, and a diptych of the finished rooms, each with a seated figure, one a woman and the other a man.

What makes this show so effective to my mind is the interaction between the pieces and the exhibition space. Usually, the small foyer of the Fisch Haus serves as just that; for Duegaw's show, though, the first thing the attendee sees, on the wall opposite the entrance, is two large (approximately 5' X 5') blueprints for the room to be constructed; elsewhere in the room are some of the above-mentioned false starts (one, for example, contains a text discussing the inherent dangers in building a time machine) and an amusing self-portrait of The Builder that shows 3/4 of his face and wearing a dust mask and safety glasses. The much larger multi-use space contains the depictions of tools, other self-portraits, and the diptych of the finished rooms. The first thing that struck me about the exhibit is that the titles for the pieces weren't on the near-ubiquitous Little White Cards that one usually sees; instead, the titles were chalked out on the floor of the space itself, along with guidelines of the sort that carpenters use for marking the placement of boards or other features. In other words, the exhibition space did more than just provide wall space for the works. It became the construction site for the "rooms"--that is, the exhibition. The works themselves contribute to that feel. They consist of multiple layers of images drawn onto pieces of sheetrock that are imperfectly fitted together, as though someone working a jigsaw puzzle is trying out the pieces to see if they might fit, yet all contained within a precisely-measured space. Appropriately, the depictions of tools used in the "construction" all are on 18" X 18" squares; those tools designated as "wrong tools for the job," though, are on rectangles of varying sizes--these don't "fit" this particular job or its requirements. The resulting feel is that of a workspace, a tension, a movement back and forth between an in medias res under-construction-ness and a finishedness.

The diptych, the resulting "construction of two rooms," with its man and woman together yet separate from each other and accompanying text which implies a failure on someone's part (the Builder's? The couple's?) is poignant to look at. The rooms are there, constructed: the Builder appears to have succeeded at the material, empirical level, his blueprints brought to fruition. But rooms have functions, too, both literal and figurative ones; and those functions, their success or failure, depend in some measure on the people who will put those rooms to use. As I understand the diptych, that ultimate success or failure is still in abeyance and so is, in the moment, uncertain. Of course, it's no great leap, either, to read the exhibition as a sort of allegory for the creative process of the sort that Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea sometimes gets read as: as one in which the artist's final realization of his work inevitably falls short of what he had originally envisioned.

Almost all the pieces in the show are for individual sale; and while I certainly appreciate that Duegaw is a working artist and has to eat like the rest of us, I found myself wishing that there were some way of keeping the entire show together. Together, each of these works, even the false starts and the Wrong Tools, "construct" the whole. But then again, I suspect that keeping this exhibition intact in a sense works against the grain of one of its points. After all, a Wrong Tool for this job will, sooner or later, be a Right Tool for another job . . . and in any case, tools are means to ends and not ends in themselves. And one doesn't have to know what went into the "construction" of the two rooms to appreciate the finished diptych of those rooms.

Duegaw, like all serious artists, is interested in craft; what makes his work (what I've seen of it, at any rate) intriguing to me is that "craft," in its sense of "making" and "construction," is as much a subject of his work as the actual images his work depicts. In Not to Scale, the images' foregrounding the ideas that Art both is work and performs a kind of work . . . and then, once the particular work of this exhibit is done, the artist's sanctioning its breaking up to perform other work in other places, add up to what was a thought-provoking Friday evening.


Sheila said...

Y'all got some cool stuff going on out there in Kansas.

John B. said...

We do indeed, Sheila. It takes a bit of seeking out; but more to the point, my seeing this particular exhibition was just dumb luck: I'd almost decided not to go out that night, for one thing, and the 30th just happened to be the one day of its public exhibition.

A further comment: I think what most appeals to me about Duegaw's work is that it's clearly contemporary in its feel yet it hearkens back, in its themes, to that time when artists weren't called "artists" but "artisans": the emphasis is as much on the work--the process--as on the work that is the finished product. I like work that pays homage to and extends a past that we've all but forgotten into the present.

So Mr. Duegaw, if you're reading this, I'm saving my pennies . . .