Allison Hrabluik

Diaz Contemporary

Allison Hrabluik’s recent show featured a video, a sculpture, and three pictorial works exploring landscape and the idea of a rural life revolving around the seasons, winter in particular. Hrabluik’s projected video Rossendale, 2006, incorporates stop-motion animation of a man performing menial farm tasks, such as pitching hay, sawing wood, drawing liquid fuel from a barrel, and tinkering in a workshop. These simple jobs are made strange and symbolic by the jerkiness of the movement and the continual alternation between scenes of actual labor and images of toylike models of the farm’s structures, tools, machinery, and other equipment, including a lovingly rendered miniature wood-burning stove.

The video is set in a large white space that resembles a gallery or studio, encouraging a reading of the work that analogizes and compares the travails of laborer and artist. Reminiscent of French Realists’ efforts to present rural labor to a Parisian audience—as in Millet’s Man with a Hoe, ca. 1863, or Courbet’s The Stonebreakers, 1849–50—Hrabluik uses digital means to portray her protagonist, whose anonymity is ensured by a hooded snowsuit and dark glasses. For the average urbanite viewer, however, his covered and bundled-up appearance may seem suspect, especially given the fact that he occupies an interior in which he is seen setting fires. An audio track includes the ominous roar of a chain saw as well as the sound of coughing and muttering.

A suitable accompaniment to the video’s images of stacks of wood and the sound of sawing, Hrabluik’s sculpture Flemish Tree, 2007, is made of papier-mâché and collaged prints on paper. It takes the form of a tree trunk supporting the bases of branches that have been cut down, perhaps for fuel. Irregularly shaped prints of tree bark in drab shades of green, brown, white, and gray have been laboriously applied to the trunk’s entire surface. These prints register as torn and faded photographic simulations and serve to productively distance the work from its arboreal referent. Like the stop-action representation of the farmer, this technological mediation increases the object’s symbolic complexity and resonance: As indicated by the title of the show, “Two Portraits and a Landscape,” the life-size but lifeless sculpture may register as a melancholic portrait of those who narrowly envision the natural landscape as an exploitable resource that may only be objectified or dissected by the acts of sawing or by looking through a camera lens. And yet, one cannot help but sympathize with the sensitive handling of details such as the delicately frayed paper edges flaring outward at the base of the trunk. Such tensions between the personal and the mechanical support the reading of Hrabluik’s project as an ethically charged attempt to construct the landscape as a site of humble gestures, human dignities, and honest labor while always pointing to an industrialized world that tends to efface all such interventions.

Dan Adler