Two new shows at neighboring Raleigh galleries, Flanders and Lump, use vastly different means to draw on similar reservoirs of friendship, community and lineage, showing how even solo art is always, in some sense, a collaborative process, either directly or stretching across time and space.
Less frequently than I'd like, I see an artwork that fixes me to the spot. I don't want to leave its presence. One such artwork is Chris Watts' transfixing video, "Nee Nee," in SO MUCH TO SHE, a two-artist show with Aaron Fowler at Flanders Gallery.
In about 20 minutes, "Nee Nee" captures the performance of several rituals in Watts' Brooklyn studio, which is transformed into a mythological space right out of Jack Smith's bacchanalian experimental film Flaming Creatures. As if entranced, young men perform purposeful actions in a colorful dimness. One crouches, wide-eyed, carefully wrapping a pair of sneakers in black plastic. Another drops handfuls of silver glitter all over his face and bare chest, the sound of it mixing with an electronic track by Jesse Clasen.
The movements seem charged with precision and reason, but they don't convey reason literally, and the rituals are open to the viewer's interpretations. The men might be honoring their materials or descendants, or seeking transcendence. They remain outside of understanding, claiming the artist's studio as an autonomous, intuitive zone. Luring you in to apprehend all of the imagery, the video is more riveting than hypnotic.
A native of High Point, North Carolina, who splits his time between Brooklyn and Paris, Watts went to Yale University with Fowler, who's also based in New York. Fowler appears in, and co-wrote, "Nee Nee." His solo work weaves hair and a wide assortment of found and studio materials into hip-hop-inflected, large-scale versions of women's jewelry. "Ms. Brown (Earring)" and "Ms. Workheh (Earring)" are collaged portraits incorporating weaving, paint and photography.
Too beatific to be caricatures, the women's faces are set against a dazzling background of compact discs that overlap like scales. About the size of a car tire, the whole image is mounted within an earring-shaped frame of gold corks.
"Aaron Fowler Looks for a Way Out of the City of Destruction" displays his full material vocabulary, combining photographic imagery with plastic bags, clothing, mirrors and more on the surface of a large, freestanding backlit panel. Life-sized, the artist is pictured traversing an urban landscape under the protection of the floating names and faces of friends.
In an homage to the people in his life, Fowler seems to posit himself as a collaboration. Watts also names friends in several two-layer paintings on transparent silk, wrapped around the fronts of frames to great optical effect, as the paint and transferred images on the front layer casts shadows on the painted layer beneath.
While Fowler and Watts honor their creative origins and communities, Durham's Harrison Haynes continues a more abstract personal investigation into the relationship between music and visual art. Lump shows 10 new studio photographs from the Les Savy Fav drummer's ISOLATED TRACKS.
In this series, Haynes makes almost impromptu sculptural arrangements out of Mylar and packaging tape, pine tree branches and hornet's nests against backgrounds painted safety-orange, which irresistibly fills the eye. At the show's opening, several people said, almost with embarrassment, "I love the orange." It sounds like a dumb thing to say, but the sheer pleasure of the color relates to the intuitive pleasure of music, which can benefit from but does not need meaning and reference to enjoy.
This is impulsive work. Haynes isn't conducting an exhaustive or linear investigation into music and the visual; he's willingly succumbing to curiosity about it. Nor is this pursuit primarily notational. Though one image depicts the first two bars of James Brown's "Funky Drummer," the others represent musical instruments and parts of recording equipment.
"Double Tracking (Two Heads)" and "Trap Set" are as literal as Haynes gets. Hornets' nests become the record and erase heads on a reel-to-reel audiotape machine, and a pine branch becomes a drummer's brush.
But in four images, Haynes merely fastens vertical strips of tape to the backdrop, like the strings of a harp. With open titles like "March" and "Libido," it's difficult to know if these are metaphorical depictions or arcane expressions of music.
Perhaps the clue is in the fact that Haynes shows photography of sculptural assemblages rather than the assemblages themselves. The photographs document a material thought-process, and that process is Haynes' real medium.
This article appeared in print with the headline "People who need people"