The Space Between Us

Chris Spinelli, Erik Sanner
October 2009

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About the title

The title “The Space Between Us” was taken from the book of the same name by Thrity Umrigar.* Though its story (set in India, and taking an impassioned look at gender, class, and other charged relationships) is a far cry from our sunlit gallery site, we have used it as a kind of literary ‘found object’; inspired by its resonances, we curated this show.

About the Artists

Erik Sanner was born and raised in Massachusetts, and lives and works in Harlem. And if his videos, stills, and installations could talk, they’d be obsessed with the process of their own creation.

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“Real time”-the actual time when an artist is busy at work in his studio-isn’t something we, the public, generally gets to see. Viewers are usually only privy to the final product: a painting, a drawing, a video. That said, it’s precisely this “real” [read: “private”] time that forms the cornerstone for Sanner’s work. Not content to simply paint, Sanner video documents his hand as it holds the brush…the numerous altered states his canvases go through…the other artists with whom he collaborates. Thanks to software that Sanner, himself, writes, he speeds the painting imagery up and slows it down; randomizes it again and again until the painting becomes a viewing experience, an installation that can never be seen the same way twice.

To create the series “Continuous Wave,” Chris Spinelli (who lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn) takes old love letters, long abandoned, and keys blocks of their text into Morse Code translators he finds on the Web. The subsequent dots are dashes are painstakingly drawn by Spinelli onto fresh sheets of paper-and often stained with coffee, much like the letters that inspired them.

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There is a sentimental quality to Spinelli’s surface, and especially his touch. Yet there’s a coolly Modernist pleasure to be had from the abstract compositions themselves. Are we betraying Spinelli’s lost love if we allow ourselves this formal, retinal experience?

Or, in some profound sacrifice, did Spinelli’s lost sentiment bury itself into the paper’s ‘ground’ and become reborn again as art?

Spinelli (not without a sense of humor) pushes these inquiries into a more social arena with “Gugg, Gugg, Gugg,” his visual meditation on the birth of, and role of, the Guggenheim Museum, founded on the collection of Hilla Rebay and designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright’s spiral is seen here as flat form; likewise, Rebay’s hopes for a Utopian art-gallery experience are fodder for Spinelli’s reductive musings.

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Does Spinelli imply that we might do better to visit the “Gugg” in our minds-casting it in the Ideal role that its high-priced admission fees and unflinching architecture never let it play?

In our Video Viewing Room, “Chapter 31” (2007) confirms that Spinelli isn’t above making ironic use of his own artistic ambitions as well. Look closely and you’ll see that Spinelli has employed paintings (which he’d made, a year prior) into the set pieces behind his performed rants. Quietly, those paintings attest to the fact that Spinelli had (or has?) ambitions to be recognized as an ‘artiste’ worthy of exhibition.

What would Hilla say?

*Umrigar, Thrity, The Space Between Us, HarperCollins, New York 2007.