Artists Space

Hunch & Flail

June 21 – July 29, 2005

Curated by Amy Sillman as part of the Artists Select Series.

Hunch: an intuition, an internal sense of knowing something.
Flail: to thrash about awkwardly on the verge of imbalance.

Artists: Phyllis Baldino, Jackie Gendel, Karl Haendel, Hilary Harnischfeger, Olav Christopher Jenssen, Pam Lins, Lisi Raskin, Greg Smith, Michael Smith, A.L. Steiner, Garth Weiser, Wallace Whitney.

Hunch & Flail is about proceeding from a gut feeling. It is a show about artists who work with the teetering uncertainty between knowing and not knowing, the intuitive and somatic process of constructing resolutely handmade objects and systems. This show brings together the work of twelve artists using diverse media who share a common embrace of process as a determining factor in arriving at form. All of them proceed through psychological spaces of sublimation and instinct, private realms of the anxious, the intuitive, the fallible and the absurd, armed with an optimistic trust in material intelligence and an openness to the risk of embarrassment or failure.

This exhibition itself originated in a gut feeling, a desire to look at work that welcomes the unknown or the possibility of failure by refusing the predictability of a fabricated finish. All of the work of the artists in Hunch & Flail, whether photographic, sculptural, or painterly, reveals the physical characteristics of messing around in the studio.

Their work thinks through manipulations of the material itself, and with an openness to the conditions of error, detour and detournement leads outward to clarity (or at least pleasure) of form, meaning and text. Their work moves from the ground up, from inside out, rather than from the top down. The artists in Hunch & Flail demonstrate diverse forms of this procedure, and differing definitions of uncertainty. Some works in the exhibition are driven by chance, some by a purposefully unstable construction. Some works in the show are puzzling rebuses; some are hermetic streams of consciousness. Some works follow a determinate set of rules, but traverse realms of the ridiculous. Some works in the show are fraught with psychological slippage from the get-go as they are built upon issues of memory or desire.

Phyllis Baldino began her “Unknown Series, Excerpts” in 1994 with a collection of cast-off objects found in thrift stores, and then invented an accompanying persona of varying age and gender to use these forlorn objects. Each brief interaction between person and thing is a hopeful and abject attempt to make sense of something unknown. This is the first time that the complete series of 30 one-minute vignettes has been shown together in a gallery.

Jackie Gendel’s paintings mine the emotional and the absurd, functioning as both abstractions and portraits. Her expanding cast of characters shuttle back and forth in between stages of recognizability as they shift from silent blobs to raucous explosion and back again, through the physical, twisting, pouring act of painting itself.

In his graphite drawings, Karl Haendel blurs the line between the condition of the photographic and the instability of memory, language, and appropriation. Though each individual drawing may be a faithful reproduction of the image it came from, these images are sifted and culled intuitively, and their meanings remain unfixed and in flux with each different grouping and architectural situation that Haendel builds for them.

Hilary Harnischfeger’s work with paper is a literal archeology of tough and fragile layers. By cutting up, forcing together, stacking, peeling, gluing and patching both front and back of her surfaces, Harnischfeger arrives at works that reference landscape both as topographies of ponds, ledges, clouds, aquifers, and as a record of the material incursions that she has wrought upon the paper’s surfaces.

Olav Christopher Jenssen’s paintings are murky notes and inchoate gestures scrawled on empty fields. Their appearance, sometimes visceral and sometimes decidedly visual in their restraint, riff on European gestural traditions of formlessness and the graffiti, rather than the heroic gesture of the mark known from the Abstract Expressionists.

Pam Lins’ sculptures begin as fragments of random narrative cobbled together into free-associative structures that are constantly being assembled, disassembled and reassembled and seem to be constantly on the verge of collapse and just out of reach of explanation.

Lisi Raskin invents psychic sites of an alarming future and a disastrous just-past. She begins with concrete imagery and narratives of landscape and terror—bunkers, radioactive test sites, portals—and then pushes this imagery through a set of distortions and projections as though through a psychic funhouse mirror. The work finally converges in entropic, disorderly, materially charged spaces of dirt and bodily play.

Greg Smith’s videos lead us through double-edged investigations of extreme, goopy materiality and quasi-narrative psychological situations. The constantly unfolding chain of changing and discarded material in his work only externalizes the frustration, confrontation, and rapprochement that his characters are enacting.

Michael Smith’s drawings reveal a meandering thinking process through which he generates notes, plans and images for subsequent large-scale videos and installations. These drawings are circuitous and private streams of consciousness made of a clamor of interior utterances, false starts and intimate observations.

A.L. Steiner’s videos are a barrage of raw, rapid-fire snapshots, the silt of an excessive and voyeuristic sifting process. As though desperate to feel the physicality of their subjects, the videos uncover an underlying vulnerability and embarrassment in a series of stuttering, blinking synaptic moments

Garth Weiser’s large paintings are generated from small, casually-built paper models, and the photos and gouaches he makes from them. The works chosen for this exhibition are these more intimate preparatory works, which illuminate the fragile and ephemeral path of his process, and his deft translation of architectural, figurative, and still life subjects into the more austere painterly grids.

Wallace Whitney’s muscular paintings are accumulations of impulsive physical actions in often unstable gaudy colors. His work reflects a will to get lost through process in both a literal forest of marks and a forest of painting signs.