Philadelphia based writer, Alan Beyersdorf, contemplates the work of Gary Kachadourian and Michael Siporin Levine in Grizzly Grizzly’s March exhibit, Sadly, occupied. In his braided essay, Beyersdorf explores the efficacy of communication, thinking and the recognition of objects, meditation, Ohio, and memories of smoking cigarettes in his ‘97 Chevy Lumina.
Come and Wrap Around Me
There’s a big part of me that wants this essay to make sense. I have a strong desire to connect and to communicate. I think this might be at the heart of why a lot of artists make art, why a lot of writers write. But there’s another part of me that knows true communication is impossible. Maybe everyone knows that. So when I tell you about my time at Grizzly Grizzly’s latest exhibit Sadly, occupied, with Gary Kachadourian and Michael Siporin Levine, know I’m doing my best.
* * *
I rang the buzzer to get into the building, knowing it was the wrong one. The gallery floor creaked every now and then. A lot of things do and I liked that. But instead of walking through the gallery, I decided to sit against a solid white column. I’ve been sitting a lot lately. Sometimes, when sitting, meditating. I wanted to be completely enveloped by my surroundings, yet hold back from identifying with them. You could say I tried. You could say I failed. The objects in Sadly, occupied stirred figments of my past, whether or not they meant to.
A horse that looked like Gumby’s. Printed black objects. Projections. Transparency. Projector sheet. What is transparency? Texture. A horsehead like Midsummer. Building layers. Visual and conceptual layers. Language in cohesion with abstract shapes. Horses.
The overhead projectors reminded me of childhood and adolescence and how awkward those can be and were. There are two sides of the show, black and white and their blending, shadows and their opposite. I’m supposed to be blending talk of art with visual language, with verbal language. Thinking about those distinctions, black and white, grayscale. All the experiences were blending.
Sitting on the weathered hardwood floor, staying constant, I heard the sound of clear tape being ripped up from the floor, then the song from Michael Siporin Levine’s video, the singing of a cowhand, reminding me of being back in Ohio. Back then, kids my age always named their cars and I named mine Ariel. I wonder if they’ve always done that? Still do that? The old woman who Ariel had belonged to had a stroke. She was my dad’s hairdresser’s mother-in-law. So I got the car cheap. A ‘97 Chevy Lumina. I was listening to Joan Osborne’s “Lumina” a lot at the time. I found the connection to the car serendipitous. I named the car Ariel because I’d been reading a lot of Sylvia Plath. The street the old woman lived was named Ariel, too. I’d never named a car before.
* * *
There’s another part of me that doesn’t want this to make sense. Well, not that I don’t want it to make sense, it’s just that I know it won’t. Some things just don’t make sense as much as we would like them to. Some things need to be experienced first hand. And even after they’ve been experienced, they still don’t make sense. So while I know that what I’m writing here is making sense and not, I don’t let that bother me too much. I try not to. My memories of the gallery and personal reveries won’t be the same as yours. My impressions won’t be your impressions. And when I rattle off the following sequence of words, transferred notes I took while checking out Sadly, occupied, I know that some of it will connect and some of it won’t. It’s a risk I’m willing to take.
An assembly of a port-a-potty as a buildable 1/12 scale model, in paper and clear tape. Ghostly and distant, abandoned. Positive and negative shapes. Cut-outs. Two-dimensional spaces. American – Americana – Destroyed. Destructible, stacked booklets of port-a-potties. And toilets.
Of course there’s always the concern to “get” the show. But I don’t think about that too much anymore. I don’t think it’s up to the artist to make sure the viewer gets the work. That would feel a little condescending. Also limiting. As if there is only one right way to take it all in. My first impressions of the sharp contrast give way. Remembering cubism, synthetic and analytical. What is there vs what’s added in. Is cubism the premise? Playing with depth and dimension. At second glance, what I thought was a soley paper object is mixed media, electrical wire and staples. The hole in the port-a-potty is not a real hole, but an image of a hole. The print made up of billions of dots. I think Duchamp relevant here.
* * *
I used to drive Ariel out past the township lights and smoke cigarettes in the spring frost. Made my bad circulation worse. Drove out to where I’d often see small herds of deer retreating into the thickets.
It’s especially challenging to write about a show with two artists. But maybe it isn’t. The show is just one show and the two artists invite you into their minds. We’ve likely had experiences with porta-potties, a public private space. The gallery is intimate. A place to sit on the floor and reflect. Framed and unframed images, archways, vessels, repositories. The longer I sit the more unlocks. Fabricated reality. Is this what we’re all doing? Are we all just fabricating our own realities?
For many years I’ve been fascinated by the shift that takes place between thinking and the recognition of an object. I’ve learned through mediation that external objects are always present, but it is thoughts in the mind that can cloud or obscure the objects, sometimes to the point of not being able to see the objects at all. Reproducing reality to mimic the mind. The presentation of the object is the framing of the object in the artist’s mind. Working long on a meditation, not caring so much about extremes and leaving less to leaving. Is this a meditation? That’s to say nothing for the black and white, all monochrome throughout. Some people think that meditation reduces the whole world to gray. No extreme happiness or sadness. I don’t agree with that.
I was hoping to not be affected by others while writing this piece. But as it’s an art show, people were coming in and out. Sooner or later I should get up and move around. I resist the urge to stare at the thing with movement and sound, the thing on the screen. Though I still think about it as I move my eyes around the room.
Joan Osborne’s “Lumina” plays in my head. “Lumina, come and wrap around me. Lumina, take me through the snow.”
Alan Beyersdorf is an Ohio-born writer, artist, and museum educator living in Philadelphia. Alan received his Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Rosemont College in 2015 and Bachelor’s degrees in psychology and English from the University of Toledo in 2011. He has written for the Barnes Foundation and the Global Water Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, among others. He recycles paper as well as his internal narrative, and hopes to move toward the former and away from the latter. You can find more of his work at alanbeyersdorf.com.
Gary Kachadourian makes scale drawings of objects, surfaces, and locations that exist in the public or personal space that he regularly interacts with. Each selected object, surface, or location is measured, photographed, and drawn to scale, scanned, adjusted in scale and printed in book, life-sized poster, or room covering form. He has recently begun working on a new set of books utilizing scraped aquatints of illusionistic depictions of public spaces and buildings. After living in Baltimore, MD for 58 years he is now living Tulsa, Oklahoma as part of the Tulsa Artist Fellowship. Recent exhibitions include the The Nothing That Is, CAM Raleigh; Tree Lined Street, Space Gallery, Portland, ME; 12th National Drawing Invitational, Arkansas Art Center; Forest/City at FAM/Western Carolina University; Home Maker at Purchase College, SUNY; Floorplan at PLUG Projects, Kansas City, MO; Baker Artists Awards Exhibition at The Baltimore Museum of Art. His books and posters have been carried by Atomic Books, Printed Matter, and Quimby’s Bookstore. He received a Mary Sawyers Baker Prize and a Joan Mitchell Painters and Sculptors Grant in 2011 and the Trawick Prize and a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Grant both in 2013.
He was the Visual Arts Coordinator for the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts, formerly the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Art and Culture, from 1987 to 2009 where he coordinated grant programs, exhibitions for Artscape, the city’s mural program and numerous temporary public arts projects in the city of Baltimore. In 2012 he completed his MFA degree at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
Michael Siporin Levine is a visual artist, working in drawing, printmaking, video, animation and installation. Michael graduated with a BFA in studio art from the University of Connecticut (2011), and an MFA in printmaking from The Lamar Dodd School of Art at The University of Georgia (2014). This spring Michael is the Visiting Artist in Residence at Counterproof Press at the University of Connecticut. In the fall of 2016 Michael completed an Artist in Residence at Knox College where he taught Experimental Printmaking, and produced work for a solo exhibition and mixed media installation. From May-September of 2016 he was the Print Fellow at the Wassaic Project Artist Residency in Wassaic, NY, where he developed his own work as well as assisted visiting artists with screen printed editions. In 2015 he was selected to participate in a public art installation as part of the Southern Graphics Council in Knoxville, TN. In the spring of 2014, Michael received a grant from the Latin American and Caribbean Studies institute at the University of Georgia to travel to Cuba to work alongside artists as he studied contemporary Cuban printmaking. His work has been shown in museums and galleries throughout the United States, including The Georgia Museum of Art (Athens, GA), The Asheville Art Museum (Asheville, NC), Athens Institute for Contemporary Art (Athens, GA), The Joseloff Gallery at The Hartford Art School (Hartford, CT), and Art Space in Willimantic (Willimantic, CT).