Puppet or Puppet Master?

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Posted November 12, 2009 in Arts & Culture

At a crossroads in life, do you proceed left or right—take the blue pill or the red—travel on the road most taken or tread off the beaten path? It is this notion behind Abraham Cohen’s Everyman’s Talmud that inspired David Leapman’s paintings for Contemporary Art Space’s current exhibition, “Fate and Freewill.” Curated by Leapman and displayed in the most unlikely of spaces, Leapman’s home, the aptly-titled exhibit embodies the long debated philosophical issue: Whatever your decision, whichever road you take, are you guided by an unseen hand or is your choice purely of your own accord—are you led by fate or free will?

 

“Fate and Freewill” showcases 10 artists from the U.S. and the U.K.: Lee Tusman, Sarah Sparkes, Hannah Schwadron, James Rielly, Danny Rolph, Leapman, Stuart Elliot, Daniel Sturgis and Jessica Snow. As the second show by Contemporary Art Space (CAS), an unmolded malleable project gathering artists and collaborators to put on non-contemporary art shows in Riverside, it seems that an exhibition on this subject is only intensified by its presenter. The project, with unlimited possibilities, doesn’t stand for anything and if it does, it stands for everything; in other words, it can become anything. Its destiny, in the hands of artists and collaborators or fate, perfectly embodies the theme of its current exhibit. It is, in many ways, like a painting.

 

“The painting is created in another register of existence, and although the artist is there mixing color, applying it in large thick uniform fields or thin skeins of glaze, the work is being created of its own volition, and this determines the character of the painting,” explains Jessica Snow in her artist statement. “The artist grapples with this paradox, tries to rein the whole thing in, but gradually succumbs to the painting’s assertion of its own will, and the results of this process can range from a catastrophic disaster to an enchanted wonder. And that blow to free will, whether its effects devastate or come as an enormous relief, could only be fate.”

 

Snow’s work throughout the exhibit embodies this battle between fate and free will as colors collide off-center in abstract form, depicting the struggle between the artist’s free will and personal fate pitched against that of the painting. In the end, her pieces, seemingly chaotic at first, hang peacefully, calming through their bright array of colors. 

 

In For What We Are About to Receive, Sarah Sparkes also struggles with the inevitable “consumption” by the predetermined ending, as stated in her artist statement: “ . . . we will all be consumed.” The table runner with repeatedly printed words, “We are all doomed,” juxtaposes fabrics of domesticity and reminds us that despite the free will of fabric choices, there may be another factor contributing to the outcome of our lives and leaves the question lingering of how free our choices really are.

 

Where Sparkes evokes hints of fear, Lee Tusman provokes hints of laughter through his own version of pop art, recycling old clothes to form a large quilt of random once-advertised slogans: “You can” and “Leadership conference.” The gathering of clothes from donations to found articles and the process in which they are combined to become one piece lends to the idea of whether it is fate or free will that determined their current state. The mismatched size, color and portions of clothes used are geometrical but unsymmetrical, similar to themes in Daniel Sturgis’ paintings. In Reasonably Relaxed, Sturgis mixes the expected with the unexpected—checkered backgrounds that don’t line up and circles either randomly or purposely placed—illustrating the exercise of free will against ruling norms. Or perhaps it is fate that disobeys symmetry? 

 

Did Eve act on her own accord or was it her fate to take the apple? Does nature follow the rules of numbers—0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8—or does it ebb and flow unexpectedly? Do you turn left or right? Do you thread a given path at all or perhaps lay out your own road?

 

“Fate and Freewill” at Contemporary Art Space, 27petalthinkers.wordpress.com. Thru Nov. 14 (closing event 7-9PM Nov. 15). By appointment only.


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