Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’ into the future…
House the people / Livin’ in the street / oh, oh there’s a solution…
–Steve Miller Band
What do you see when you look into the future’s face? That is the question posited and replied-to at Future Gaze, a two-person exhibition at Coagula Curatorial.
According to a recent Pew Research Center survey focused on what Americans think the United States will be like in 2050, respondents believe the U.S. will be saddled with a growing national debt, a wider gap between the rich and the poor, and a workforce threatened by automation. They look to science and technology to help; yet technology itself may very well be preventing us from looking into the future of not just what the U.S. will or can be, but into the future of humanity. Are we being lulled into complacency as we travel the all-consuming information highways? If we really looked at each other, what would we see?
Future Gaze asks similar questions, as to whether technology wounds or blesses us; either or both rewiring our brains, so that we may be, as the curatorial notes suggest, giving up our culture, or perhaps our humanity. In short, emotionally and physically, where are we while being mentally engaged by our smart phones, our lap tops, our desk tops, our notebooks, our iPads?
Artists Justin Bower and Randi Matushevitz each have an idea about what we would see if we really looked at each others eyes and faces, and while that vision isn’t pretty, it makes for a compelling exhibition and thought-inducing contemplation. Both offer intensely satisfying, deeply layered works that reflect the human state.
Bower and Matushevitz are Los Angeles-based, and the faces we see include a color palette that is drawn from Southern California skies as well as the inequities of life, and the reflections of our screens. They have created layered and complex work that uses line to create form; there is passion in both the subjects and the artists’ act of depicting them.
For Bower, the face is a platform that holds and launches technologies. The texture of the skin, lines, veins, and nerves parallels the wires and transmissions of technology. We are the Cloud. We contain it and it contains us. This is a post-human world, in which our own substance, our own DNA has been mutated – for good or ill. His faces transmit a kind of cellular electricity, an innate transmission of story, news, truth, fantasy in which technology and biology are fused. Our very blood has absorbed the technology we consume; we are transformed from it.
Bower offers viewers a vibrant series of untitled, large scale, oil stick drawings with acrylic backgrounds created in brilliant colors. There are purple backgrounds, with yellow and pink lines; brown and white against a vivid sea green; or neon green and blue against black. They and we are what we are wired to within us. In the one large scale acrylic and mixed media painted work here, the face is bisected, broken, like a malfunctioning television or computer screen.
Matushevitz’ is working in oil with her Ugly Faces series which she exhibits here. giving us backgrounds that are more muted in color that Bower’s work, but equally varied: a dull lavender, pale blue, gold/brown, and grey, or teal. Her faces are distraught, wild eyed, elderly, introspective. They are created in colors that evoke clown paint, the reflected light from television or computer screens. One particularly haunting image gives us a blondish woman with a rich lime-painted nose and eye lids; her lips and the streaks in her hair look olive green. There is both beauty and toxicity to her. Another face is filled with open mouthed rage, another has bright red lips that seem to be melting into a surreal, glowing green. She’s said that she is less interested in explanations than she is in emotion, and she believes that what we see influences what we perceive and “how we interpret and absorb information” which in turn “determines what we think and become.” What we are becoming here is a little frightening.
If Bower dissects and consumes and absorbs the lack of boundaries that technology feeds, then Matushevitz reflects the loss of human connection, the psychic displacement and uncertainty, the bipolar nature of our existence, and the broken soul. Her images are dark and adrift, exaggerated and expressionistic. They are all mood and dark magic; the rough alchemy of unloved lives and tenuous grips on reality, of poverty both physical and emotional. They grab us and won’t let go.
Bower meanwhile gives us a different sort of darkness; the kind from which some sort of spark beyond the human seeks to emerge and connect us, may distort us, is very likely already in us. The inward glow of light in one’s eyes may be merely a reflection from our iPhone or Android. His exciting use of line and color has the kind of kinetic energy the viewer can practically absorb; its tactile and almost seems to vibrate off the walls.
Gallerist Mat Gleason says the show came about through “A serendipity of seeing Justin next to Randi in my booth at the LA Art Show in January.” These faces looked at Gleason and he gazed back.
For Bower, having taken a break in his painting practice led to the desire to “just make a couple drawings, to get something moving outside of the intensive painting I’ve been doing. Mat saw the two (I had done) and asked if I was going to perhaps create a series of drawings.”
Bower says of the Coagula exhibition “I wanted to do a small showing of work that isn’t necessarily connected to my larger body of paintings, but tangentially sits next to my larger project. I wanted to show the drawings, and in some cases I did specifically make pieces directly connected to my paintings,” he explains. Doing so “opened up my lexicon of images that may or may not be directly correlated to my larger project, but can be seen to be an outcome of my paintings.”
His drawings here are he believes an extension of his paintings, but they are not as he puts it, merely “drawings of my paintings.” Rather they are a different exploration of his subject. “My project has always dealt with the de-stabilization of human subjectivity and how technology plays a part in this. I think the drawings were a natural extension of this project, specifically with the becoming/entropy question.” Both verbally and in the works themselves, Bower asks “Are these heads falling apart or coming together? I wanted this body of work to deal with the auto-poetic nature of our subjectivity today, the idea that self-systems can reproduce themselves within themselves. And drawing leant me a new way to this idea.”
For Bower, the idea of faces themselves create an innate sense of subjectivity, or as he puts it, a “locus.” He asserts that “We are biologically created for facial recognition, so when a distortion is made upon a face, it creates salient meaning inherently. With the gestural and rigid line that I use within the drawings, I think a struggle to become, to self-create, and maybe even for environmental control over humans can be read in these pieces. There can be many more interpretations, but this is how I read them.”
Matushevitz describes her work here as “a tactile and psychological expression of human experience, and the connections we share devoid of language and culture.” She adds, “My approach to portraiture is from the inside out, with a focus on micro-expressions.” She says these intimate, shifting expressions reveal “what is similar within the dichotomies of identity, experience, and empathy.”
Those dichotomies add a sense of desire, an intense longing to each face she depicts. “Individually each face is a unique individual ready to confront, converse, and connect with the viewer in a conversation that is simultaneously anonymous and identifiable,” she says. Over time, in a changing aesthetic that once had a fairy-tale quality, she plays with the idea of perception in an ever-edgier tone
Beyond the exhibition, which runs through May 4th, both artists are turning their own gazes toward the future, with Matushevitz mentioning a Future Gaze art book that captures this exhibition, as well as exhibitions abroad and in the U.S.; and Bower looking toward his next solo show at New York’s Unix Gallery that seems to continue the context exhibited at Coagula with a “query into how social and technological contexts effect the subjectivity of humans.”
The future is still ours; but it may very well be the unflinching vision that Matushevitz and Bower make of it.
Genie Davis is Los Angeles Art Critic at Riot Material Magazine. Ms. Davis is a multi-published novelist, journalist, and produced screen and television writer based in Los Angeles. Publisher and writer of www.diversionsLA.com, she also writes for a wide range of magazines and newspapers.