February 23, 2012

Do you like this?

The Cress Gallery at utc has just opened four collaborative works by nine artists collectively known as Okay Mountain. This collaboration brings yet another stunning and provocative show in the Diane Marek Visiting Artist Series to the Cress, which is now on display until March 20.

Eight of the nine artists attended an opening reception to discuss the four works they installed at the Cress Gallery. Assembled at the gallery were Sterling Allen, Nathan Green, Ryan Hennessee, Carlos Rosales-Silva and Michael Sieban, who are all based in Austin, Texas; Josh Rios, currently in Chicago; Pete Duggins, now in Cambridge, Mass., and Justin Goldwater, now in Los Angeles. Tim Brown was unable to leave Santa Barbara for the opening.

The talents and specializations of these artists span the spectrum of media from theory and concept to video and skateboard design, and they overlap in a number of areas. More remarkably, their collective vision and ambition—not to mention 18 hands—allows them to bring out works that react to deep cultural contexts with intricately playful elements. Common objects play a major role in the development of these works and they serve to direct our thoughts towards underlying cultural issues and activities with satirical verve.

Okay Mountain materials presented include the massive “Wheel” (2011), “Multi-Station Machine” (2011), “Roadside Attractions” (2012), and “Water, Water Everywhere, So Let’s All Have A Drink” (2010). This last piece hangs as a 28-minute video loop.

Ruth Grover, curator at the Cress, eloquently summarizes the direction of this installation: “Blending humor with irony, Okay Mountain creates work that weaves an engaging yet dead serious commentary about our contemporary existence.”  

Not to belabor the obvious, but these artists are men. That fact notwithstanding, their commitment to a rigorous cultural prodding tends to place their work outside of  “typical” gender stereotypes, mostly through a “we’re all in this together” attitude that flows through their pieces. As actors within their work, though, they may be happy to play out various strategies of gender futility.          

Part of the video presentation includes a sepia-toned, old western-style film called “Yellowbellies” in which segments reveal two of the artists practicing strategies of concealment. Nothing like clowning around to relieve a sense of oppression; but wait a minute, doesn’t the need to hide suggest a form of oppression at work? Thus operates the paradoxical, satirical strategy of cultural hide-and-seek.

Okay Mountain has received significant recognition for other projects, particularly for the award-winning “Corner Store” at the Pulse Miami Art Fair at Art Basel Miami, in which they made a kind of fantasy convenience store where art collectors could purchase strange products that are also art objects. As much fun as all this acquiring may be, the whole process of participating in this installation brings attention to art as “commodity.” But since this attention emerges, the larger impact redirects our thoughts to the role of art in culture, a question far too deep for exposition here. Still, you can purchase “food for thought” at this “Corner Store.”

Okay Mountain’s “Roadside Attractions” bears a thematic similarity to “Corner Store,” in which the observer stands before a wooden rack filled with invitations to explore anything from an “Alchemist’s Laboratory” (apparently not what it seems) to any number of destinations. Try to avoid tearing up from laughter as imaginary destinations beckon.

The video loop that mimics channel surfing through Okay Mountain’s television sensorium, from the inertia of “One Knife To Rule Them All” to the animated turtle and owl to the very live psychic channel, may enthrall you for more than one turn through this fantasmagoria. These visiting artists have brilliantly situated the video loop so that it directs attention away from the other two very large pieces of significant intensity, just like most TV serves to distract us from daily circumstances.

“Wheel” stands about waist high on an average adult, and it’s big enough to fill a small room by itself. There seems an undeniable design confluence with the game show “Wheel of Fortune,” but the many demarcations here indicate the sort of things that could occur in the course of a day and, perhaps, a number of them on a heavy day. The stillness of this wheel suggests motion in the paradoxical way that our own existence occurs in relative motion. For most, “stillness” means motion at intense speeds through space and time.

“Multi-Station Machine” simply reeks of cognitive dissonance. Nathan Green smiles as he explains how he and the other artists researched and conceptualized the massive wooden, surreal melding of Inquisition torture machines with contemporary exercise equipment. How much can you take, the piece asks.

From magical consumer fantasies to darkly philosophical ruminations, Okay Mountain will massage your mind with threatening illumination.

Okay Mountain

Free • Through March 20

The Cress Gallery of Art at UTC Fine Arts Center

752 Vine St. (423) 304-9789


February 23, 2012

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