San Francisco

Reuben Lorch-Miller

Liminal space was the operative theme in Reuben Lorch-Miller’s recent exhibition at Catherine Clark Gallery. Visually and verbally, formally and conceptually, Lorch-Miller’s photographs, sculptures, videos, and wall-painted texts consistently explore the idea of ambiguity. Eight selections from a series of color digital enlargements titled “From the Oblivion” (2003–2005) set the tone here. Their subjects appear arbitrary—a tornado, a snowy mountain, a heavy-metal musician—though the spirit of Richard Prince’s early appropriations hangs heavily over them all. Lorch-Miller’s works originate in digressive Web-surfing sessions during which the artist plucks images from the ether and carefully edits them into obliquely connected groups.

Enlarged to a scale at which their pixels begin to lose definition, the subjects of “From the Oblivion” threaten to become more ambiguous still, yet they remain recognizable to varying degrees. They’re also very familiar as markers of contemporary art that focuses on processed information (fellow Bay Area artists Anthony Discenza and Rebeca Bollinger take a similar route). Indeed, at first glance, it isn’t entirely clear that Lorch-Miller is doing anything new with this idea. The show exuded a self-consciously formalist opacity—in a published statement, Lorch-Miller describes the installation as “a collection of tonal elements.”

The malleability of meaning, however, is among Lorch-Miller’s main stated interests. “This collection is neither definitive nor closed,” he writes, and his work is most effective when he engages this idea playfully. Untitled (Nowhere), 2004, is a black hooded sweatshirt with the word NOWHERE hand-embroidered in white block letters across its front. The piece taps into the popular sartorial trend of “shouting out” to one’s ’hood, one’s home, which in this case is a void. That the zipper cuts the word into NOW and HERE allows for a rather different proclamation. The tone of the piece, consistent with its casual, unframed presentation, is smart but lighthearted.

Even better is Untitled (Helicopters), 2004, a looped video projection that employs a literal instance of hovering to explore the gap between appearance and meaning. Here the whirring blades of a swarm of helicopters generate a symphony of ambient noise that alternates between lulling and grating. The aircraft seem to float, bobbing only slightly in their patch of blue sky, and their mesmerizing weightlessness deflects attention from their use as surveillance, security, and law-enforcement tools. The digital special effects that augment the straight footage are nearly seamless—it could all have been filmed at some real-life media spectacle (Michael Jackson’s trial, for instance) or cribbed from a bombastically choreographed action movie. It’s undeniably engrossing and unexpectedly meditative, yet our enjoyment of an image associated with militaristic oppression feels particularly perverse.

Untitled (Helicopters) is not the only piece in the show that blurs the distinction between apocalyptic pessimism and hopeful beauty. Everything Ends, 2004, is another enlarged digital image, in this case pumped up to the scale of a nineteenth-century landscape painting. The colors are warm oranges and reds, and the scene is clearly a maritime sunset, yet the shot’s degraded resolution allows it to hint at nuclear explosion. It could be Armageddon or the start of a brand new day.

Glen Helfand