"Untitled for Refresh"
Part of Kristin Lucas' "Before and After" series
Inkjet print on paper
8.5 x 11 inches
Postmasters: Kristin Lucas' most recent solo exhibition at Postmasters, "If Then Else End It," is divided into two parts. Occupying the main gallery space are three forgettable light box portraits and a dual-channel video installation entitled, "Whatever Your Mind Can Conceive." The video is projected onto billboard-like panels, and the wood grain grants Lucas' desert setting an impressionistic cast that complements the subdued, if uncertain tone of the work. Were the light boxes and video the sum of the exhibition, I'd have little more to write, but the work in Postmasters' back gallery is exceptional.
(Detail of) "Refresh"
Six sections: Newspaper announcement, two pencil drawings by Joe McKay, two court transcripts, decree changing name
11 x 130 inches
Earlier this year, Lucas decided that she should "refresh" herself in a manner equivalent to a web page. She applied for a legally binding name change, trading Kristin Sue Lucas for...Kristin Sue Lucas. The same, but new. The cardinal work in the back gallery is a framed record of Lucas' application process, during which she made a case for the unorthodox change to a baffled, but surprisingly accommodating judge. Her remarks are sincere and unabashedly romantic.
"I consider this act to be a poetic gesture and a birthday gift.She had me at "empty my cache."
I am ready for an update.
An intervention into my life.
I am here to be born again as myself, or at the very least, the
most current version of myself.
I am prepared to let go.
To empty my cache.
To refill the screen with the same information.
To reboot knowing that the new Kristin Lucas may experience a tremendous sense of loss, detachment, or disappointment, or joy.
Kristin Lucas is ready for change.
And Kristin Lucas awaits her replacement."
"before and after"
Part of Kristin Lucas' "Before and After" series
Inkjet prints on paper
8.5 x 11 inches each
At first glance (or read), Lucas's project seems simple, but the ramifications - spiritual, psychological, ontological, and, most importantly, comical - are complex and wonderful. Biologically speaking, our cells are "refreshing" themselves constantly. The individual you are today is not exactly the same individual as yesterday and is, in fact, a totally "different" human being than existed a decade prior. Moreover, our personalities are malleable, affected by the sum of experience between Then and Now. (Does anyone really believe that they were the same person at 20 as they are at 30?) Lucas' gesture marks a point in the channel of these natural processes and, in doing so, she provides herself with something akin to tabula rasa. Sure, "Refresh" is funny - I spent most of my time in Postmasters grinning or chuckling - but it is also radical and profound.
"Refresh" is only one of the works in the back gallery. The bulk of the space is filled with "Before and After" portraits of Kristin (old and new) executed by other artists. Lucas' decision to enlist the services of others is wise; it adds a collaborative element to a project that could otherwise seem excessively self-centered. Naturally, some of the paired works are more successful than others, but the installation comes off well when considered as a whole.
As I left Postmasters, it occurred to me that the old Kristin conceived of the "Refresh" project. Will the new Kristin be so clever?
Catherine Ulitsky at 511 Gallery
"Hadley Starlings (Flock #2), 2006"
Acrylic and oil on photograph
30 x 40 inches
511 Gallery: The European starling (Sturnus vulgaris), the subject of Catherine Ulitsky's "Flock" works, is popular among artists with an interest in natural history. The species is one of the world's most successful habitat generalists, capable of occupying almost any available (or exploitable) ecological niche. Sturnus vulgaris was brought to these shores in 1890 by a well-meaning, if imprudent drug manufacturer named Eugene Schiefflin. Schiefflin was a member of the Acclimation Society of North America, a group that dedicated itself to accelerating the geographical exchange of species.
Supposedly, Schiefflin intended to establish locally all bird species mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare. Fortunately the druggist was unsuccessful, but the House sparrow (Passer domesticus) and European starling took to this fair city and, then, to the rest of North America. Because the species is now so familiar, the bird has become a poster child for "invasive," "alien," or introduced species and the starling's modest celebrity in the contemporary art world is principally a result of its ubiquity.
"Hadley Starlings (Flock #9), 2006"
Acrylic and gouache on photograph
22 3/4 x 19 inches
The technical name for a flock of starlings is murmuration, a reference to the astonishing sound a large flock makes as it swoops, turns, and pours through the air. Over the years, I've many times stood rapt as several thousand starlings moved over me, trading from one Virginia field to another. When a murmuration changes course, usually quite suddenly, the combined effect of the sound and sight can lead to a kind of sensual overload, sometimes causing me to sway, unbalanced. The sky is for a moment revealed as an ocean, the world turned over, birds schooling through the ether.
In and of themselves, Ulitsky's photographs of small flocks of starlings are unremarkable, but the pictures are made elegant by the addition of painted lines that connect each individual to other members of the flock. The results illustrate how variable a murmuration can be - for contrast, consider the more regimented skein of the Canada goose (Branta canadensis) - but also imply the existence of an innate, natural geometry. This geometry need not be literal; the looking itself is what matters.
The artist describes her projects as "reciprocal [ways] to continually reinvigorate my own appreciation for what is around me." With this series of pictures, she reinvigorates mine, too.
Photo credits: Kriston Lucas images, Hungry Hyaena, 2007; Catherine Ulitsky images courtesy the artist and 511 Gallery