by Barbara Desmond
This group show, organized by independent curator Kenny Schachter for a
new non profit performance/gallery space, takes the large scale spectacle
on the "health care problem" far beyond the tokenism of the electronic
town meeting without, as they say, losing "the individual touch".
Rare enough are those incursions into political art-making where the ultra-serious
spirit of the work dares to solicit even an occasional laugh. Rarer yet
is that group show which, trumpeting a collective agenda, also resists keeping
at bay unseemly evidence of a too personal fixation emerging in the transference
from curatorial imperative to individual artistic sensibility. Make no mistake
about it, "Pre-existing Condition" returns again and again to
the state of illness in America and takes on the "private practices"
of the profit-driven private sector that it sets out to bash. But, at its
best, this show unleashes a surprisingly related examination of the "pre-existing
conditions" for making art which, for members of this group, are dictated
by (but not limited to) economic necessity, random salvages and the endless
supply of mass media, mass market images there for the looting. The riot
of personal intentions that produced this show, as witnessed in the artists'
statements included in the accompanying booklet, engenders a bifurcating
vision that ought to raise serious questions about the privileges of the
private sector and the profit-hungry and exclusionist practices of art world
and medical world alike. An appropriate inaugural for this new not for profit
Instrumental to the non-Soho ambiance of this Broome Street show is the
Puffin Room itself, an unevenly lit, almost cavernous space. Territorialization
is minimal in this room where lurching installations and irregularly placed
overheads conspire against some of the more self-contained elements of the
show. Jarg Geismar leans a bundled mattress primly
against a supporting beam, pairing it with a clothesline sporting nurses'
blouses looped lengthwise through the upper space. Gathered white curtains
gape large openings at either end of the installation. However archly voyeuristic
this frame, Geismar's mise en scene could not be more obtrusive, more discontinuous
or scream absence and intervention any louder. Dora
Avramovic's daunting floor to ceiling wooden upright attracts to its
surface every ventilation, irrigation and evacuation device imaginable.
The material of choice is plastic and many of the objects included suggest
crude surrogates for hospital counterparts. Avramovic pushes the joke just
far enough; meat baster and vacuum hose smartly pun possible medical twins
but the prevailing feeling here remains one of "functional disintegration".
Toward the middle of the floor, Rachel Harrison's
six-piece installation spins out from an absent center a rough circle of
assemblages and found structures that have been revived only just enough
to act as barriers. Ropes attached to some, threaded over ceiling fixtures
and reattached allow the parts to act as ballast for each other--still,
the work totters perceptibly. An unsteady aluminum walker stands eerily
apart. The four-part wall piece, Ricci Albenda's
"Breathe" plays with variable materials and a single constant.
"Breathe" recurs once in each of various types, mediums, materials,
sizes and, it is to be wondered, speech acts. A command? An interrogative?
A proposition? Or, perhaps, just an assumption that this wall-piece eloquently
discards? Among the many paintings, Steve Gorman
contributes a large canvas papered with glossy cut-outs--body images, off-color
renderings of meat cuts and, recurring regularly, a frozen cameo of a smiling
blond nurse. The images appear to be culled mostly from instructional and
anatomical manuals, with the bold exception of the infamous Benetton deathbed
Two works in video complete the show. Kenny Schachter's
"Phoenix" crosscuts footage of institutionalized senior citizens
with homemade and health insurance advertising stills couched in the faith-inducing
idiom of the health care peddlers who vie with ambulance-chasers and sex-lines
to tap into the anxieties and desperation of the late night TV theater.
Finally, there is Jonathan Horowitz's video
installation, a triptych study in randomness and narrative generation. Horowitz's
sitcom laugh-track, projected loudly from the installation's place at the
far end of the room, plots every itinerary through this space; likewise,
the deliberate and animated style of the sitcom bits dropping in maddening
alternations through Horowitz's TV monitors/slot machines makes every body
on the screen look cornered and contained. Stripping it down to its "purest
form", the sitcom delivers up narrative along with its side-effects--compulsion,
entrapment, hypnosis. No digging is needed to place this piece in context--when
has illness not been packaged as narrative? When, for that matter, has "before"
and "after" counted more or felt more arbitrary than in the gamble
with health coverage?
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