Bradley Wester

Artist to Artist #1 (informal thoughts on current exhibitions)

Considering the exhibition “EYES WIDE SHUT” in relation to the following two articles:

Boris Groys
The Weak Universalism

Hito Steyerl
In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective

Cheryl Donegan
Tom Meacham
April 14 – May 22, 2011
Nicelle Beauchene Gallery


Two Aerial Artists, a Falling Duet by Bradley Wester

Dear Cheryl,

Thoughts about your exhibition with Tom Meacham at Nicelle Beauchene, and its press release—a run-on description of the actual hanging/installation of the show, with precise spacing and measurements for the art’s placement, but with no description, explanation, or regard for the art itself:

This calculated attention to the precision of the installation against the imprecision of the work—an acknowledgement of the impossibility of control over a world of “weak” images or of strong images made weak, or of the ability to even make a strong image or to believe in them—so why not control what you can, their placement.

In Meacham’s press release for his Oliver Kamm show in 2007, which you wrote, there is talk about imprecision, “imperceptible flaws” and a reliance on Mondrian’s abandonment of the modular grid as “the tragedy of a rigidly ordered vision.” But here in the Beauchene show Meacham’s work looks incredibly ordered and precise next to yours. His appropriation of painting-as-object painter Frank Stella’s early minimalist stripe paintings (produced digitally on canvas here?) seems to emphasis this, until I notice a discrepancy in the two identical “Stella” paintings sandwiched together, both resting on the floor and leaning against a wall, one directly in front of the other. They are stretched unevenly making them out-of-square, their perfection undermined. On another wall I try to reconcile the high-low contradictions of a wannabe modernist Stella-esque painting of red Scottish-plaid fabric, stretched so the plaid’s axis is off from the stretcher bar’s rectangle, then placed on the floor leaning, like a drunken imposter, against another Stella appropriation. But which in the end is the impostor?

I read your press release for the Devoning Projects Chicago show that you and Meacham are also currently in, and liked your use of the Groys article, “The Weak Universalism”. You and Meacham, in both shows, address the same subject, Groy’s “weak image,” through opposite sensibilities at considerable risk: Meacham’s, cool and intellectually distant aesthetic, mining art history, distrusting it, showing us the holes. Yours, a sensibility that is down and dirty, an actual product or consequence of what you write: “the frantic pace of innovation in digital and communication technologies compresses our sense of time; rather than contemplated, our images are instantly ripped, posted and linked.” At first glance, your sensibilities seem so unrelated as to make no sense. Which is just the thing that requires me to take a closer look.

Here again, I’ve read something just before the time I saw your show that echoes the zeitgeist that our new friendship, our work and ideas, seem to be about defining. This time by Hito Steyerl, “In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective.

It’s uncanny how your show at Nicelle Beauchene visually addresses some of what Steyerl talks about in her musings on the cultural (socio-geo-political) shift from the fallacious belief in our ‘stable’ location on the horizon (linear perspective’s influence on western culture since the Renaissance), to the new and equally fallacious ‘security’ resulting from our modern reliance on vertical perspective (aerial photography, satellite surveillance, google earth, GPS). Her idea of the “politics of verticality’, its hierarchy and the consequential state of “free-fall,” goes hand and glove I think with Groys’ “Weak Universalism”. And with your show:

Your paintings are literal documents of the ‘free-fall’—colors turning on axes (horizons?)—green below, yellow sun in the eyes, blue above, no below, white light, green ground, blue ocean, yellow, red, white…blackout. Paintings with multiple horizons like shards that cut corners. Paintings fast and windblown, agitated and desperate, futile and true. If ejected out of the last manned high-altitude bomber these paintings are the falling pilot’s ‘weak’ (insane?) analogue attempts at locating herself on the horizon for a safe landing on this side of enemy lines, as if the very act of painting on canvas was confused with using the screen on one’s console or handheld PDA.

Meacham’s appropriation of Stella is poignant as it rips that work from its formal modernist canon context, allowing it to become simultaneously more and less. Indeed, Stella’s work is the beauty and promise of a modernist flat verticality, horizon’s new perpendicular—stylized landscape of ridges and furrows viewed from a distance. Yet they also become cold and sinister aerial targets in violent video games, or do I mean real-life aerial-digital-targeting imagery in drone warfare? (Stella’s original inspiration having been Jasper Johns’ target paintings!)


Enter Bette Midler singing her ear-worm of a hit “From A Distance”. A film projected behind her of a body hurtling out of control, in free-fall through the atmosphere toward the ground:

From a distance the world looks blue and green,
and the snow-capped mountains white.
From a distance the ocean meets the stream,
and the eagle takes to flight.

From a distance, there is harmony,
and it echoes through the land.
It’s the voice of hope, it’s the voice of peace,
it’s the voice of every man.

From a distance we all have enough,
and no one is in need.
And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease,
no hungry mouths to feed.

From a distance we are instruments
marching in a common band.
Playing songs of hope, playing songs of peace.
They’re the songs of every man.
God is watching us. God is watching us.
God is watching us from a distance.

From a distance you look like my friend,
even though we are at war.
From a distance I just cannot comprehend
what all this fighting is for.


But “Eyes Wide Shut” shows me that I can’t maintain that distant view because it’s foundation is false, unstable, and opague. “Eyes Wide Shut” shows me that while “from a distance” everything looks harmonious, I don’t really SEE YOU at all. From a far-away aerial distance, from the far-away distance of my comfy room with my joystick controlling my killer drone, I don’t hear your prayers or see what color rug you are kneeling on. I don’t see, “from a distance,” the ways in which you are like me, and the reasons why you are not. Because I am falling from high up, with eyes wide shut.