I've always had a strange fascination with natural disasters. I remember getting very excited just before a big storm hit Florida: the smell of the air, the crazy wind made visible with the furiously twisting oak tress. Maybe it had something to do with the chance of danger, the romanticism of adventure, or just that something different was happening to break the routine. What ever the reason, when the lights went out in the neighborhood and my family had to break out the candles and flashlights, I was enthusiastically glued to the window, watching the action unfold outside, and feeling...special (silly, I know). Luckily, these storms never did much damage to our lives directly, aside from a few tree limbs falling on my dad's car, or perhaps my interest in them might have changed.
Attending Michael Ruglio-Misurell's show, Project #12, at Gallery 400 Wednesday night, I was reminded of this childhood attraction. However, where I enjoyed being overwhelmed by the power of nature, Michael's obsession is composing an aftermath.It looked like Florida threw up 1985.
All the banal structural materials of back office theme parks, or bathroom stalls in Ft. Lauderdale's first gay club, were glamorously disheveled. Carefully arranged in total disorder, urinals, two-by-fours, sheets of metal, mock signage, palm fronds, socks, beer cans, and coffee cups framed peaks and valleys of environmental mess. I wondered how much garbage they made during install that they simply left around within the space. I wondered how aggressively satisfying it might have been to destroy all these things, to then build into something else. Upon entering the space in fact, it was immediately humorous imagining the making of this work, especially in its final stages---the final touches and clean-up before the opening. At what point in the destruction process do you stop and say, "Okay, now let's fix this up a little?"Formally, the installation is compelling---sensational in scale and with plenty of crannies and details to explore, which often result in an overall sense of amusement. Michael is surely challenging the space, completely altering the gallery, leaving only the front desk unharmed. It's materially complex; but thematically, a bit campy. The "Enter at your own risk" sign congers Disney's Blizzard Beach or Universal Studio's retired Earthquake ride. And as structurally intriguing as it may be, the sheer mass is indulgent and luxurious.
Gallery 400 gives the artist a small budget for the exhibition, which Michael undoubtedly spent on thrift store objects---chairs, tables, lighting, etc---to fill-out his piles of found stuff. Many of these things are manipulated, cut-up, reassembled, propped into place, thrown around with crumpled papers, wood paneling, and pieces of corporeal construction. Items with "use value" become art. The art, in this case, is a beautifully arranged pile of trash. At the close of the exhibit, this art will most likely be thrown into a "real" garbage heap somewhere (similar in form, only dislocated from the gallery context--rendered worthless). And this consequence seems ineffectual to most.
I have a feeling Michael is in part playing on the excess of human consumption, yet an ethical dilemma exists with making nothing out of something. But then, that is another elusive question of art + value I guess. The true disaster might be the waste of the aftermath of art. Ah!
Wishing you a safe hurricane season!
Images at top:
1. Still from the show (aftermath of surface)
2. REAL aftermath of hurricane in Florida (compositionally interesting, yes, but tragedy overrides the need for representation.)
3. Poster for Earthquake Ride at Universal Studios in Florida
(If Universal's Disaster blockbusters prove anything, we like destruction. Dramatic devastation is visually alluring, in fiction. Besides the formal qualities, though, what is the fascination?)