Sunday, June 7, 2009

Precious Ruins

"Those familiar with Steve Canaday’s work from back around the turn of the millennium will recognize this move as a periodic return to the abstract roots from which his lurid imagery blossomed — a consolidation of the lessons gleaned from immersion in skanky figuration. And a rich, black volcanic compost it yields indeed. Consisting of a half-dozen medium-size shaped canvases embossed with coarse monochromatic black-on-black grids of rectangles in high relief, like buttons on a metastasizing cell phone, the tread of a shredded monster truck tire, or an aerial map of a charred cityscape — Canaday’s Black, Blacker, Blackest suite possesses a physicality and gravitas only hinted at in his earlier work.

Highlighted with satellite night vision–green patches and halos, constructed in vague resemblance to automotive fragments, and occasionally sprouting an antenna from a top stretcher bar, these cartoonishly postindustrial geometric abstractions flirt with figuration just enough to spoil their reading as doctrinaire Minimalism, while retaining their prerogative as remarkably decorative objects. Call it Late American Imperial — sumptuous and unique material commodities that seem to embody a stripped-down symbolic divination of their host culture’s impending demise — the last feeble flickering of the fluorescent-green ghost before it becomes all machine, the last sputtering transmission from VALIS to penetrate the Black Iron Prison.

But maybe I’m projecting. There’s a strong temptation to look for signs and portents of impending collapse in the artifacts of a doomed culture, even in the midst of seemingly perpetual supremacy. Of course, this works even better in hindsight, which accounts to some extent for the ongoing public fascination with the excavated detritus of the city of Pompeii. While undeniably constituting one of the most remarkable archeological treasure troves ever dug up, the flash-fried ruins of this first-century Neapolitan resort town have elicited a perverse and subjective fascination from the modern Western imagination since their rediscovery in the mid-18th century.

As a story, it’s pretty much got everything — sex, death, explosions, pathos and a surprising amount of humor. I get a sense that the city’s excavation created a McCluhanesque media shift in our perception and processing of (at least) antiquities — after all, Pompeii and its neighboring cities constitute a sort of holographic virtual-reality snapshot of a 2000-year-old culture — a century before photography began to condition our perceptual models to accommodate such frozen sensory data. This sudden holistic shift had a profound effect on archeology, art history and museology, but also sent shock waves through our species’ common cultural and sensory software."

Read the rest of Apocalypse Now & Then here.

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