Leslie Shows: Carbon Freeze
Jack Hanley Gallery
August 28 -- September 23, 2006
“ . . . if I had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
is also great
And will suffice.”
Leslie Shows offers either the point after or the point during a large destructive event. We are not sure of whether the event is human or natural, but we know that canyons can collapse in on themselves, that a crater in a desolate landscape can glow mysteriously crimson. After the said event occurs, the unpopulated world is left with only the passage of time, its unused boxes, and scattered information.
The events in Shows painting, frosted in muted tones of color dissolving into ice and black, are played at a low key. In fact when an event occurs, usually denoted by a Morris Louis bleed in the middle of the canvas, we imagine hearing maybe a few cracks in ice, the drift of snow into a cave or nook. The world washes away, mountains slide into rift valleys. After, it seems that the only sound is that of the freezing, which is silent enough to notice. Think of those videos of avalanches, sounding more like a dangerous murmur rather than a spectacular explosion.
Accompanying these bleak landscapes, another Shows idiom is the interior space littered with the remnants of a lost world. Consider Salt Mine Storage Facility – Matter Transference, 2006 with its space carved by some ancient industry with stored boxes waiting for a people that probably won’t come. One thinks of Anselm Kiefers’ Germany’s Spiritual Heroes, 1973, a splintery, creepy room. Kiefer’s space is claustrophobic and suffocating, and the small fires or snakes are the symbols of a dread that is unable to be killed, an ancient barb in your side. Shows space is similar but quite different, fading deep into the earth. We continue down its tunnel. Shows is even more effective when she doesn’t let you out as in Salt Mine Storage Facility – Maths, 2006. Here, you are trapped. You are the only person around.
The propensity is, of course, to view Shows painting as foreboding or apocalyptic in some way, though the adjective apocalyptic is over used and stretched too far in the world of contemporary painting. In fact you could call a large portion of contemporary art “apoctopainting” -- Franz Ackermann’s large frenzied planes crashing into a soup of color and razor blades, Angela Gualdoni’s lonely, crumbling modern buildings, Kristin Baker’s melodramatic traffic explosions, ending not with a tow truck but with the destruction of the universe. The apocalypse, if we can call it that, is all around or it is coming. We aren’t quite sure.
One thing that separates Gualdoni and Shows from Ackermann and Baker, however, is that they play the “ice” card instead of “fire” when it comes to the end, proton decay and carbonic freeze instead of the great contraction or the friction of exploding particles. I tend to favor this sensibility. I like to imagine the end with a certain amount of nuance and quiet instead of drama and spectacle. Ackermann and Baker, in some ways, seem to enact the culture that they critique. They offer spectacles with a footnote of warning, while doing little formally to offer much to the contrary.
Gualdoni and Shows offer an alternative, even if it is just to shut up for a moment and think about where all the modern vices and industry are headed -- for Shows, straight into a frozen canyon. The silence is effective and comes across like a moral imperative that she actually believes.
Image Courtesy of Jack Hanley Gallery