Monday, May 26, 2008

The Other Side of Coy: Schnibbe, etc.

17-18 May 2008

What a night. I’ve been obsessed with erotics lately – or maybe it’s just a symptom of some emotional/sexual flameout (my imagination in overdrive, my attitude as clinical as ever) – but even as certain things tend to clarify or cast an analytic bead on it, others seem to just pour fuel on the fire. That was the feeling coming away from Margie Schnibbe’s breakthrough show at Circus Gallery in Hollywood. Schnibbe is one of those people whose imaginations can be in several places – light and dark, playful and serious, physical/intellectual, actual/abstract, pornographic/platonic, child-like and adult, simultaneously – places which for her must seem both adjacent and always available – the playroom just the other side of the porn set, the bedroom just this side of the burial plot. Need I say I can, on some or many levels, ‘relate’?

She’s titled the show Honey Bunny, a title simultaneously coy and disingenuous. Coyness – and the flip side of coyness – is what the show is in part about. This is familiar turf for many of us (and not just those of us who work at the Flynt Publications Building) – Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley have both tracked this terrain to one degree or another – but Schnibbe’s approach is both more direct and deconstructed. The very emphasis on text, on typography, however simple (or coy), conveys a sense of both thwarted expression and ulterior motive. ‘What are you trying to say?’ The drawings frequently take the form of thought bubbles, white or black ‘child’s script’, or perhaps more precisely, the kind of child-like characters printed onto text or title cards for greeting cards, children’s educational or cartoon shows or toy advertising, or subtitles – set against a dense carpet of doodling – Murakami gone mad – that from a distance seem a vague gray scumble. (No accident those “googly eyes” she uses elsewhere; there are lots of googly eyes if you look more closely.) The vague scrim – or an explosion of pattern – those vaguely psychedelic mazes of swirling curves and spirals and stretched and broken teardrops and paisleys – or simply, in other instances, the wall – conveys another part of the ‘message’, perhaps more direct than any text. The names of the porn stars in the individual drawings Schnibbe has assembled into “The Birthday Party” installation are interchangeable. The point is the wall – and the ‘openings’ the drawings, thought ‘bubbles’, stars/names (even I daresay orgasms) represent. “The Pornographic Imagination,” Schnibbe’s large wall hanging on the north wall of the gallery’s lower level, both exemplifies this ‘scrim’ notion, but goes far beyond it. In fact, there’s nothing really ‘psychedelic’ or even kitsch/pastiched about it. In fact, Schnibbe’s deconstructive impulse is very much in evidence in what on extended view is a canny, even brilliant abstraction – with a nod to both Haring and Leger. Aside from its vivid yet controlled color scheme in dense purples and blacks and indigos, its broken and subdivided or truncated arcs, curves, loops, lines and circles give almost the sense of animated characters broken (or blocked, hidden) and suspended against (or behind) what is beneath/above (you see where it gets a bit tricky). It’s a piece that bears closer scrutiny – and if that’s not maddening enough, you’re invited to consider the installation right along side it – directly the opposite of that wall of porn stars, and (literally?) the set piece of the show – “Today Is A Good Day,” with the title descending in black-edged pink puffs towards what might as well be a gigantic sprawled stuffed animal à la Kelley. Well not exactly – it’s a little pillow-covered couch flanked by a dense pile of colored and patterned pillows (pink and fuschia seem to dominate the color scheme). Yes, it just might be. Coy or – well, collapsed (‘corruption’ per se is not the issue here) – you decide. I almost hesitate to talk about it further (and in any case may save my discussion for a review) simply out of reluctance to treat its post-existential/post-structural implications too literally (and naively? what the hell do I know? I haven’t really read/thought about this sort of thing since university). It’s the sort of thing that’s likely to send me fleeing to my part of the Flynt Building where all I have to deal with are the legal (and financial) aspects of these ideas (in a word, as the maîtres of, variously, French courts, lycées, ateliers -- and musées might deploy it, 'jouir'). In a nutshell, that’s the fascination of this show. Schnibbe’s take and handling on these issues is both playful and deadly serious.

I want to mention (or have I already mentioned?) something disturbing about … well, it was an evening for disturbing thoughts and images (even as they were playful and philosophical) – now I’m the one being being coy – flat out. Bear with me as I try to keep these juggled ideas airborne. (There was an entire second gallery level to explore.) (MORE)

No comments: