“Cosmos Factory” at Cirrus Gallery

Artweek Magazine
December 2008/January 2009

The crucial phrase in a magic act marking the moment of transformation, hocus pocus, Catholic liturgical formulae hoc est corpus meum, or, this is my body—positing an ultimate equivalence between the cosmic and the human.  Cosmos Factory, a group show curated by Brad Eberhard at Cirrus Gallery in downtown Los Angeles, brings together a small number of artists who effortlessly manipulate the ether with only the most commonplace materials.

Abstraction in almost any medium works as a manipulation of simple ideas and symbols; if the artists of Cosmos Factory are concerned with the effects of the celestial on the mundane world of the human, or vice versa, they are in line with many concerns of the seventeenth century that were largely swept away by The Enlightenment.  Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, for example, believed that all rational thought was based on a complex manipulation of simple symbols.  In his effort to construct a mathesis universalis, the beginnings of formal logic and calculus, he studied permutational poets such as Quirinus Kuhlmann and Georg Philipp Harsdörffer, who believed in the direct link between the microcosm and macrocosm and they their protean verse had an influence on the celestial.

Joshua Callaghan, in his piece Untitled (2003-04), produces roughly 300 improvised sculptural groups by rearranging a limited number of orange traffic cones—creating, not a universe exactly, but crisp orange constellation against a black backdrop.  It’s no longer expected—and perhaps even disdained—that artists work on the level of divine manipulation, but a playful blurring of the border between the earthly  and the otherworldly is appreciated.  As a counterpoint, Amy Maloof’s Father Son Holy Homegrown (2008), a painting of a brownish constellation against a white backdrop, consists of a trio of squashed roma tomatoes on watercolor paper, playing off the trinity, Rome, the Shroud of Turin and the highly religious format of the triptych.  In so doing, Maloof deftly and simply presents a version of the divine that modifies viewers’ perception of the earthly, and of the humble tomato.

Much of the work in this exhibition pushes beyond Umberto Eco’s hermetic paradigm, “As above, so below,” a neat summing up of the correspondence between the macro and microcosms.  Another piece of Maloof’, Two Car Garage (2008), represents this shift in a direct manner through photographs of bodies of water that seem to have been collected at thrift stores; what is seen in the reflection of the water does not match that which is above the waterline.  A subtle twist is added by hanging the works sideways so that the reflection line is vertical, leveling the relationship between above and below, Callaghan performs a similar act in Large Map (2008) by painting unfolded maps black and arranging them in such a way that, taken as a whole, it could be a map of one small corner of the cosmos.

A simultaneous contraction and expansion occurs in Cosmos Factory with both irregularity and regularity.  Nathaniel DeLarge’s 105152151014058 (2006) appears to be a map of celestial planets echoing Callaghan’s Large Map, but is actually a map of strip-mall signs seen along the artist’s typical routes around Los Angeles.  These types of inversions open a tear in the relationship between the macro and micro; space becomes heavy and elastic as the artists manipulate general theories of the celestial from twentieth century, and leave behind seventeenth century notions of the cosmos.  Brian Cooper’s Constellation Construction (2008) offers viewers a vision of an impossible wood construction; multiple perspective points disappear into the picture plane creating a visual fragmentation that resolves itself into a synthetic sense of totality.  Here space is elastic yet no longer heavy.  The viewer is no longer presented with a direct correlation between the human and the celestial, but is instead offered various entrances to the excess dimensions of a looking-glass world.

A strong contemporary division exists between arts and sciences, as if they were two separate cultures.  Cosmos Factory shows us that artists are still able to describe a universe with similar acumen, though perhaps a better sense of humor, as astrophysicists.

--Mathew Timmons

Other artists in the exhibition included Amy Green, Tran Truong and Dani Tull.

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