An Answer To a Zen Question / a Wind Instrument
A small, honeycomb-like construction of black and green metal, displaying a repeated representation of Chewbacca’s head, is shelved below a longer, steel, pipe-like apparatus – its colors, pattern, and shape resembling a snake, didgeridoo, or tribal tool. On the same wooden shelf, above them, is placed a curvy but thin, black, bronze object – its undulating points and waves reminiscent of an EKG display.
On the opposite end of the gallery, a white vinyl downspout sits bent and burnt, but clearly not awaiting rescue. The marks of fire are clearly visible in its twists and folds, discoloration, and shrunken, melted parts. Out of all the sculptures in the show, Whyte confesses that this piece, unlike most of the others, was the result of pure chance. In other words, he did not meticulously craft it, but rather “set up the conditions for its existence” by starting a fire. The sculpture, entitled The Morphology of Flow almost resembles a seagull, and mimicks the form of the object directly beneath it, The Dividing Tongue. The two racquetball rackets (formally belonging to the artists’ mother) placed directly above these two pieces have been neatly fused, altering their functions – not rendering the new siamese twin dysfunctional, but the objects within it useless in terms of their original intended functions. Together, these three objects compose their own installation, In Search of Water.
An enormous compass, capable of creating a circle thirty-six feet in diameter, takes up an entire wall of the gallery – repurposing the measuring device as a signifier of the labor that goes into building a community. Attached to one end of the compass is a sharp steel point, tensely hovering just above the gallery floor, and on the opposite end, a wheel and a can of spray paint are securely fastened. Whether the device is ready for work or destined to rest seems unclear. Regardless, its intimidating size demands attention… But, arguably, not as much as the giant, pale mint green horn standing in the center of the room. Victorious, albeit somewhat bizarre, and much larger than the other horns in the show, this one guards the rest, and also acts as an invitation, (it is playable) a prop from a strange viking dream. The reference to music, illustrated in the presence of horns, strongly reinforces the importance of the collective creation of sounds to what defines a culture and a community. Additionally, the use of such a traditional instrument, and one that does not require electricity, is automatically setting the sculpture into a more historical context.
The title of the show – Potential Artifacts of the Northwest Territories (at Re:View Contemporary) implies that Whyte is providing a proposal for history. These sculptures, many of them resembling a traditional archetype of “artifact”, and some, not so traditional, are presented in a manner that is not only asking for historical interest, but also suggests that the spaces in Hamtramck – such as Popps Packing, created by the artist and his wife, Faina Lerman, should be considered spaces of archaeological interest. Whether these objects are a product of their social practice, or vice versa, should not even be posed as a question. Their inseparable nature, rather, must be emphasized lest we forget that the art object is only a small representation of the culture, time, and space from which it emerges.
These tools, almost all of them long and thin, function less as technological devices and more as items of memorabilia. Whether or not their presence will one day be an indicator of a specific location and time – no one can accurately predict. But, to hint at a memory, a mental space, precedes the placement of the objects into a historical category anyway, and this is precisely their function now.
All images courtesy of Marissa Jezak, Graem Whyte and Re:View Contemporary.