Santa Fe

David Ireland

Laura Carpenter Fine Art

There’s a segment on the Ren and Stimpy show—a commercial for a toy called “Log.” It’s a log. The commercial tells you about all the fabulous possibilities for fun with a chunk of wood, i.e. you can dress it up in various costumes (cheerleader log! jock log! Civil War log!), you can throw it down the stairs, or at your sibling. The whole thing comes complete with a jingle: It’s Log, it’s Log, it’s Log, it’s better than bad, it’s good." It’s this particular mixture of smart stupidity and nostalgia that’s right at the heart of David Ireland’s installation.

In part, this is because most of the work is made of logs. There arc stacked logs, logs with painted ends, cut logs, logs with Ireland’s initials branded into them, bundled logs, logs in cabinets, and ethereal, track-lit logs. It makes you think of Freud’s story about his nephew, in “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” 1920. Freud’s nephew takes a spool (another chunk of wood) and throws it away, shouting “fort” (gone). Then he drags the spool back into the crib and joyously shouts “da” (here). It’s his way of dealing with the separation from the Mommy imago, as well as the imminent and painful entry into the none-too-tender embrace of the big Other. With his logs stacked up like Lincoln Logs, or put away in cabinets the way toys should he, Ireland recalls a time when you could feel like you had mommy back, and all your needs were met, just by playing with your toys. Now, of course, it’s a more complicated matter. As much as anything else though, Ireland’s work is an attempt to undercut the mechanisms—galleries, museums, curators, etc.—of the big Other as manifested in big Art. According to a much-quoted statement of Ireland’s, you don’t make art by making art. Instead, it’s a kind of side-effect. You live your life and art just happens, like the accumulation of memories. Since much of Ireland’s work has been an exploration of the remnants and/or construction process of previous work, it’s possible to read all the logs as precisely that: the past stored up color coded, initialled, branded, and bundled. Or just stuck in cabinets for your perusal. Of course, since even our own memories are pretty impenetrable, Ireland’s are too. The logs refuse to vanish into metaphor altogether, and like logs, insist on performing the function of objects (which, according to Merleau-Ponty, is to object) as well.

It’s charming to see art objects vacillate like this; two pieces in the show did it particularly effectively. One was a room. Each of the four walls had been painted a different color: blue, green, yellow, and red. In another nostalgic gesture, all the colors brought to mind Formica table tops—like your grandmother’s furniture from the ’50s. Midway up the red wall, there was a concrete lump. Like most of the work in Ireland’s installation, the lump wants to have it both ways. So it might be rising skyward, frozen in mid flight toward transcendence. Or it’s just a lump, momentarily interrupted in its plunge toward your now upturned face.

The other piece is a more graphic illustration of the same principle. It’s a trough, white-washed and lined with plaster, upturned at both ends. There’s another concrete lump inside the trough; start it rolling at one end, and it will roll toward the other end, finally settling in the middle. Poised/trapped between the poles of the dichotomy of your choice. You may find this experience either comforting (the pleasure of recognition) or enervating (the shock of recognition). But this is where Ireland’s work really gets its strength—by hanging itself, and us, in the interstices. And like/unlike life, this refusal to commit doesn’t make it any less attractive.

Mark Van de Walle