Bricolage is the bane of 21st-century popular culture. Making something out of whatever is at hand is not in itself a bad idea; it speaks to frugality, creativity and the morally unimpeachable impulse to recycle. But that noble intention has gone horribly awry in the realm of televised craft projects. I am convinced that, with the right connections, I could present a moronic scheme to fabricate an attractive planter out of a 1981 Amana microwave and have it broadcast to millions as "a great idea."
Although it has reached unforeseen and bizarre extremes, the urge to make something with the detritus around you isn't new. The Victorians made all kinds of crap out of human hair. And remember Popsicle-stick houses? Then there were those things woven from empty cigarette packs -- okay, those were usually made by people in prison with way too much time on their hands. Suffice it to say that the objet trouvé has a long history in art, beginning in the early 20th century with Duchamp and blasting full steam ahead into this decade's glut of stuff. A new exhibition at ArtScan Gallery/Rudolf Projects seeks to redeem the idea of making art from junk, to save bricolage from its bastardization at the hands of Home & Garden Television.
Judging by the man-hours of work in "BREE-KOH-LAHZH," you'd think a lot of these artists were doing 25 to life. Les Christensen, in particular, seems to have no hope for parole. Christensen's Shield #7 (2002) appears to be a sleek red minimalist disk, but its surface has a fish-scalelike sheen that is actually derived from more than 3,000 fake fingernails, in varying shades of red, pasted in a dense spiral. Before gluing them all down, the artist had to paint each nail and file off its plastic tab. You could build the Taj Mahal faster.
In 100 Widows (Death Shield)/100 Maidens (Nuptial Shield) (2002), Christensen paves two prickly disks, one white and one black, with the heels of high-heeled shoes. Looking at the tiny surfaces upon which so many women have balanced their varying degrees of weight, the whole high-heel concept seems even more absurd than usual. The heels -- pointy, round, square, angular, stiletto -- are massed together in a neatly spiraling, spiky marching procession as the unseen women of the work's title move inexorably forward, down an aisle toward a groom or a casket. Christensen's sculptures are Arman-like in their accumulation but more sleekly executed in their presentation of massed feminine detritus as defensive armaments. (Les, by the way, is a woman, not a sculpting transvestite.)
It always seems like such a shame to throw out boxes following a move. After all, they were hard won: scavenged from friends, taken from the backs of grocery stores or, God forbid, purchased at an exorbitant price. Well, Hirsh Perlman just can't let go. Working over a three-year period in a spare room of his home, Perlman crudely crafted tragicomic cardboard figures that he then manipulated in bizarre scenarios and ultimately dismembered to form a giant cardboard head. He documented the almost daily performances of his creatures with a pinhole camera he constructed from yet another box. In Day 2.1 (1998-2001) a blocky figure with boxy arms and legs slumps against the wall, staring back at the viewer like a hostage. The photograph is suitably grainy, with the aesthetics of an FBI surveillance video. Random pieces of debris are strewn across the floor for that familiar, just-moved-in decor. It's amazing what one guy, locked in his house, can come up with.
Kim Collmer should be named "Queen of the Rainy Day Craft Project." This über-creative artist makes low-tech, stop-action animation shorts from the contents of the average junk drawer. Broken strings of beads become planets; old Christmas ornaments and plastic containers form futuristic cities. Wads of cotton become belching smoke or the celestial firmament. Chunks of ice overwhelm a city crafted from shiny domestic castoffs. These otherworldly environments crafted from the absurdly mundane are lit with an unnatural blue light and filled with the mournful howl of the wind and eerie mechanical/electronica sounds. It's fascinating work, made all the more so by the knowledge that you have the same junk in your own house. How could you have been so blind to its potential?
I've got to shut off my cable. Better yet, maybe the artists of "BREE-KOH-LAHZH" should stage a coup d'état, take over HGTV and show America a better way to craft. Off with the head of Christine Pullara. United, we can stop the Treasure Makers host from showing the world how to "turn trash into decorating treasure." What do we want? An end to sponge-painting. When do we want it? Now!