Vancouver

“2048 KM”

Or Gallery

Spartan in spite of its hedonistic references, “2048 KM” was a modest show featuring Vancouver and Los Angeles–based artists indebted to Ed Ruscha. The selections were positioned within a contemporary discourse on ideas of the city and the self, constructed through music, film, tourism, and art. Alongside work by Ruscha himself, curator Melanie O’Brian included Kathy Slade, Ron Terada, and Robert Arndt from Vancouver, and Mungo Thomson, Euan Macdonald, Anne Walsh, and Kerry Tribe from Los Angeles. “2048 KM,” referencing Ruscha’s penchant for car trips, is the distance between LA’s Chateau Marmont, a castlelike hotel on the Sunset Strip frequented by international celebrities, and Vancouver’s Or Gallery: data as road movie.

This exhibition was almost completely black and white, with a starkness that now reads as stylish. Its lists, grids of headed notepaper, books, and video presented dematerialized artwork in familiar though partially upgraded and re-embodied forms (Walsh’s lists are on rag paper, Tribe’s book slickly printed). Ruscha was represented by two books, housed in a vitrine that somewhat awkwardly reconfigured this artist-run gallery as a museum. Given the fact that Ruscha is hailed as a precursor to local conceptual photography, it was unsurprising to find Every Building on the Sunset Strip, 1966, which filters suburbia through the indifferent aesthetic of amateur photography. But O’Brian curated a lighthearted show, exchanging the distancing effect of anti-aesthetic strategies with the deadpan comedy they tend to generate.

Thomson’s audio piece, The Collected Live Recordings of Bob Dylan 1963–1995, 1999, is rich in its economy, its speakers broadcasting only the applause and between-song noise from Dylan’s live albums. The audience, in communal ecstasy, speaks an exuberant, emotive language, though that voice retains an uncanny sameness across thirty-two years and diverse locales. Dylan’s applause drenches Slade’s Award Samplers, 2003, embroidered texts derived from Oscar speeches. Earnest, preachy, or self-deprecating, these messages collapse the distance between celebrity and fan.

Walsh’s Sound FX Library, 2004, five pigment prints scanned from a seemingly infinite index of film sound effects that includes BIG LONG BOING and BODYFALL IN AN EMPTY BATHTUB, has its origin in the dilemma initiated by Pop and Conceptual art’s approbation of unlimited forms and subjects. Walsh’s colorful yet numbing lists provide a sense of expressive language, rich in subtle inflection yet bound by narrative conventions (here of horror, suspense, and science fiction). Terada’s work took the form of the exhibition invitation and poster, which exclude Ruscha’s name but infer his presence through their composition and the use of a typeface that evokes his work. Terada’s posters, alongside Arndt’s cryptic missives on Tracey Lawrence Gallery letterhead to O’Brian (“I’m under the influence”), comment upon the demand that critical lineages be constructed around artists in an increasingly professionalized structure. The poster’s banal graphic of a rising/setting sun casts this lineage as a cyclical story of the wax and wane of careers, as the eclipse of the ’60s is suffused in the warm glow of nostalgia.

“2048 KM” presented contingent responses to such problematic scenarios, positing a precedent in Ruscha’s alternately blank and enamored take on the vernaculars of film, signage, and suburban architecture, while acknowledging that the protoconceptual forms that he once played against this glossy surface are now contiguous with it. Unpredictable, fleeting moments of belonging, exchange, pleasure, and even boredom modulate the overdetermined experience of the concert, the film, or the exhibition. At base is a sense of absurdity, as when Walsh offers a connoisseurship of hard versus soft “boing.” Some works, such as a quirky book by Thomson that provides suggestions for projects including hanging a dark cloud of balloons over the gallery, verge upon the cloying, but at their best they are, to quote a 1981 Ruscha, 1/2 STARVED, 1/2 CROCKED, 1/2 INSANE.

Trevor Mahovsky