Tuesday, December 16, 2008

“Liminal” Art

In recent exhibitions, I’ve noticed many examples of works depicting oddly juxtaposed images and even eerie scenes hanging in the local galleries. Since I am not a huge fan of Dali, I tend to walk pass these dreamlike works. Perhaps they are simply too eerie so make me uncomfortable with which to spend time. One of the current shows at Manifest Gallery, Contemporary Printmaking, forced me to realize I cannot easily ignore what seems to be a Surrealist trend emerging in the local arts scene.

These artists do not refer to themselves as Surrealists, but the incredibly detailed etchings of Andrew Au and Craig Fisher’s Rights of Spring as well as many others in the show reveal odd combinations with sometimes nightmarish results. Even Angela Katona-Batchelor's Curiosity, the show's only sculptural piece, brings together etched butterfly wings, a milkweed pod, and and a vial. Perhaps these artists are making obvious connections in imagery or simply plays on words. I certainly hope the work of the artists in the Manifest Gallery show is not as simple as this. This is not to say the art making is simple. Printmaking is not. Furthermore, the process does not seem to allow for the automatic and free association characteristic of Surrealism that painting seems to better serve. So what is this eerie trend?

Karla Hackenmiller’s Liminal Deploy included in the show is most interesting to me. One of the smallest of the pieces in the show and certainly the most abstract, her etching depicts a network of tiny lines and shapes of incredible detail that seems to expand and bubble from a single point. With the artist’s Liminal Series, Hackenmiller explores the human thought process and the relationship between brain activity and abstract results. As Liminal Deploy illustrates, her interest is in non-linear thought processes. While this is a pure line etching, it reveals an organic set of forms. Hackenmiller remarks in her artist statement about our cultural interest in the World Wide Web, especially open-source applications that encourage if not rely on an investigation of cognitive creative brain functions.

The more I consider Hackenmiller’s Liminal Series, the more I think she has answered the questions I have had about the works in this and many other shows I’ve seen recently visited. Surrealism was a cultural movement of the 1920’s. In this new century of art Hackenmiller’s “Liminal” may be more fitting.