Monday—a journal published by University of Washington School of Art
Dan Webb: The Visitor
Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle
September 7 - October 28, 2017
Less Event, More Encounter
Far from the imperium of treatise and consulting room, we dabble in the contingent art of persuasion, the gathering together and trying out of a personal poetics. And soon, lovers, friends, and rivals become targets for our witting dismay. We usher out and away from the mirthless kingdom of theory and system to interest ourselves in what we remember having read, heard, and seen. Dan Webb has similarly walked out on any willful theorizing and taken to carving and modeling. His “wider arena” from which he works includes his most recent exhibition The Visitor held at Greg Kucera Gallery in Seattle, WA in the early fall of 2017.
In taking up such themes as mortality and the “why” of sculpture within the show, Webb extends his repertoire from a long-held commitment to wood-carving as his primary medium to include an uneasy yet haunting engagement with another elemental sculptural form: glass—both blown and stained. As with works like Lit Table(2017), the Ur- nature of glass as a vessel for imbibing is echoed across a table set with goblet, jar, and stoppered decanter forms arranged casually.
Recalling the conviviality of a dinner party, the ghosted forms spread across the table, withEar Specimen Bell Jar (2017), the tallest within the ensemble. Known for its ability to create a vacuum, lacunae, or space of deprivation within a laboratory environment, Webb’s ‘bell jar’ includes the indentation of an ear. Summoning that which is not present, Webb also presented a performative artist talk numerous times during the run of the show, in gallery and elsewhere. Prompting the listener and onlooker into the questioning nature of his work, Webb recited from an accompanying script, “All the other shows I’ve done, all the other work I’ve seen, the bad ideas, the good ideas, the travels taken, the conversations had, the doubts and fears, the overcoming of doubts and fears. All that is here too, crowding around the room with us.”
For Webb, the objects within a ‘crowding’ room are not objects in and of themselves but reminders of the human act of representing and remembering. Fallible truths gather and circulate within such a room. “Start with the obvious: as wood dries, it cracks. Why, in the middle of this life long struggle, would anyone expend anything extra towards making sculpture, or art, given our limited time frame, all for such an intangible reward?,” asks the artist.
And yet the ruminative mood of both the exhibition and its totem-like eponymous sculpture,The Visitor(2017)—a turned away perhaps Italianate cloaked figure carved out of a nearly seven-foot piece of old growth fir—lags and gives way to what is worth remembering and thereby celebrating in life. For the visitor must turn to face the world eventually, revealing them(selves).
To spin and alter Dan’s words from another passage in his talk, less event, more encounter please.
In the second part of these considerations, I would like to detour to thinking about the British writer and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips in relation to Dan and to the “why” of sculpture more generally. Indeed, I’ve been thinking about Philipps for awhile. I wrote a review of his book Promises, Promises, Promises for Bomb Magazine way back when (Summer 2001 upon the US publication of his book just prior in 2000). I include this passage:
“With such delicious titles as “Roaring Boy,” “Doing Heads,” and “On Eating, and Preferring Not To” Philipps whets the reader’s appetite and set her merrily perusing until her hour is up, unaware of time having passed. Finding herself jotting down so many of Phillips’s aphoristic insights that a notebook will have to be enlisted. This unassuming but incisive quality allows for Phillips to impinge upon the self in solitude, to approach what Jane Austen referred to as “my self-consequence,” and to force the reader’s hand. For, in true Emersonian style, Phillips is ultimately interested in the democratic idea of being true to oneself: “Our relationship to ourselves must be inextricable from our relationship with others; but in what sense does one have a relationship with oneself, or with a book, or with its author, or with a tradition?” What if, as in the case of Pessoa, our fidelity accepts and includes multiple devotions (selves)? What release and revelation might we find if we practiced Henry James or recited Freud aloud?”
No stranger to the art world, Phillips has partaken in conversations with artists and curators from time to time, including, for example, his part in a published dialogue on the work of New York-based artist Paul Chan, in dialog with Hans Ulrich Obrist and Massimiliano Gioni. This was on the occasion of Chan’s one-person exhibition at the New Museum and Serpentine Galleries The 7 Lights. But Phillips’ take on sculpture as perhaps the most questioning of art forms goes much deeper than an art world trend. As he wrote in his book Side Effects (originally published 2006 by Hamish Hamilton, London), sculpture demands the onlooker to walk away from a sculptural encounter as if an encounter:
‘In carving,’ he writes, “the artist assumes that the block of stone contains within itself the form invented for it by nature; the artist’s desire is merely to liberate that form, to disclose its hidden face… In modelling, on the other hand, the artist gives the stone his own truth, or what he insists is his own truth; the truth of the stone as a different truth is not acknowledged.
… In one kind of creative experience the artist uses his art to elaborate, to expose, to fashion himself. In the other kind of experience the animating intention of the artist is to reveal something other, something separate, something aside or apart from the self; not to fuse with object, but to differentiate it. The sacramental poet, the carver, forgets himself; the erotic poet, the Promethean, the modeller, endorses himself. In one version the self is the instrument, in the other it is the obstacle… At one extreme of this strange dualistic vision there is the cult of personality, the artist as the emperor of egotism; and at the other extreme there is a cult of the object, of a world whose virtue and substance resides in the fact that it resists manipulation. Creative experience is either self-promotion or self-surrender. The moral and aesthetic question becomes: do I value something because I can make it mine, or because I can’t?…” (Quoted from Side Effects originally published 2006 by Hamish Hamilton, London)
And so from Phillips to Webb to sculpture as ‘less event, more encounter’, we find ourselves, visitors yet again. Looking, asking, stepping away, coming back awkwardly to look again. Isn’t that germane, upon entering the gallery, the galley, the gorge, the go between. To ask why carve a form out of a tree?
But let’s check back with Phillips for one more moment from his book Side Effects. What does Adam say this time:
“I read psychoanalysis as poetry, so I don’t have to worry about whether it is true or even useful, but only whether it is haunting or moving or intriguing or amusing — whether it is something I can’t help but be interested in.”
And so I end with a reprint (in the spirit of both F.R. David and Monday, as well as Dan Webb’s The Visitor) of a poem hidden within an exhibition The Assistants that I curated at David Kordansky Gallery (Los Angeles) in winter 2013, and in the accompanying catalogue.
Slipping through the peak of an open door, I have come back to my city. Awake. The noise that hasn’t any courage left to explode or call out by name, hovers in the air instead. It’s early, before six o’clock, when a shape still gets mistaken for a sound, and the hard darkness of a room gradually lessens itself into green, blue, and cold prism.
It’s helpful to move in these moments when you seek out the you within you, to lay one thing upon another, and begin to compare—to not get lost in curious contours and isolation. Clothes then gather up their rough assembly and recognition follows. An ear is suddenly free to stand outside like a gateway, breaking up the common shadows of rooftops, hired scaffolding, and awnings.
Approaching steps become just that, no limp like a clock falling behind, just the steps of a walker out in the brief interval, branding the street with omission. Not thinking back to accomplices.
But in this approach, the falling is from universe to universe. Shape gaps memory and is unevenly tied, mouthing outlines not names.
Within the outline old impressions are there but muted. A shop owner rehearses the lines of a poet, a lawyer hands over documents bleached with sun, and the woman you thought was Peruvian from her accent no longer lives on the second floor. Repatriation is null here. Ring wheat like bells, raise a river like a flag, enough with night. At this hour we are held in the same custody.
Slipping through the nape of a door, I have come back to my city. Awake. Noise hasn’t any courage left to explode or call out my name.
We must move in these moments to find the you within you, to lay one thing upon another, and begin to compare—to not get lost in contour and isolation. Clothes can then gather up rough assembly and follow recognition. An ear is free to stand outside like a gateway, breaking up the common shadows of rooftop, scaffolding and awning.
Not like a clock falling behind, just the steps of a walker out in the brief interval of morning, branding the street with happiness. Shape gaps memory and is unevenly tied, mouthing outlines not names. A shop owner rehearses the lines of a poet, a lawyer hands over documents bleached with sun, and the woman you guessed was Chilean has moved out. Daylight brings forth its accomplices. Daylight with its unrestrained sun, mouthing the words “mother,” “gangsters,” “Los Angeles,” and “forever.”