Just a smear against the swirling seascape opening beneath him, a young monk casts himself from a rocky cliff into the teeming uncertainty below. And then again. And again, 5 times a day, every day without fail: an ascetic novena for a fallen brother who lost his life for love.
This is the image captured in 35mm film and mounted on a living room size carpet by photographer Julio Pardo; “El Salto del Fraile, Lima (Peru)”. The title translates to ‘the Jump of the Monk’ and refers both to the site and the action that occurs there. The artwork, alluding at once to desperate self-destruction and a life affirming abandon seems an appropriate opening image for “Dark Days”, a group show curated by Clementine Nixon on view at Eyelevel BQE Gallery (364 Leonard St.) through Jan 2, 2011.
The show, though intimate, cogently tackles lofty themes including beauty, life, death and the sublime. Nixon, an artist herself, gives an impressive first turn at curation and models the show after a favorite aesthetic discourse, Edmund Burke’s 18th century “A Philosophical Enquiry into Our Ideas on the Sublime and Beautiful”. The artists were asked to read and consider Burke’s definition of the sublime, and the resultant work compiled here is surprisingly cohesive and intriguing. Primary among these is the large “realist” oil painting by Jean-Pierre Roy, “A Palace of Intimate Measure”. (which appears courtesy of the artist and Rare Gallery, New York) This fantastical nature tableau includes a mountainous rampart that emerges from a jungle floor. This shape enigmatically recalls the Devil’s Tower of Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, theatrically enhanced by yellow searchlights and bright orange construction cranes that cut and pepper the picture plane. This is a Tower of Babel for a post American world.
Similar in shape but with a cool remove is “Sentinel”, a large black metal three dimensional transmission tower that looms in the corner of the gallery. Built by artist, Peter Lapsley, this alluring pylon has four rectangle disks that radiate from its center. Covered in porous wood, these antennae may exist less to transmit than to collect information; perhaps to alarm the impending breech of our collective toxic tipping point.
Of note also are Lance Lankford’s haunting death mask installations which pit human form against primate, effectively blurring the divisions between them and the striking paintings of tattoo/artist Thomas Hooper, which layer skulls, enneagram and nimbi, resulting in objects worthy of meditation and veneration in their own right.
Burke’s treatise and distinction of the sublime over beauty denotes the transition from the Neo-classical age toward the Romantic, marking the pendulum swing away from structure toward content, form toward feeling. In this show however, I’m grateful we get both.