John von Bergen
Shine Perishing Republic
January 16 - February 21, 2010
Artists' Reception: January 16, 5-8pm
Closing Reception: February 21, 3-6pm
Smack Mellon is pleased to present the ambitious site-specific installation Whip Lash by Berlin-based American artist John von Bergen and Shine, Perishing Republic, two series of meticulous ink and watercolor drawings by LA-based artist Michelle Weinstein. Despite their vast difference in scale, the installation and the works on paper both evoke feelings of uncertainty and foreboding, a collision of past and future, and a clash of the natural and the manmade. Situated within Smack Mellon’s cavernous industrial space, von Bergen’s installation draws attention to the vast white wall by imagining the results of a violent interaction within the gallery. The organic white form paradoxically seems both to grow out of and struggle against the imposing wall, taking on a life of its own as it threatens to consume visitors. In the back gallery, the influence of illustration and native and folk arts are apparent in Weinstein’s drawings. With traditional dipping pen and ink, patterns are built up with repetitive thin lines on several different pieces of paper taped together. Small marks of color punctuate otherwise black and white representations of the stylized forms of spaceships, mountains, boats, and trees. By eluding direct references, Weinstein bestows her drawings with an ambiguous narrative determined by the viewer’s imagination.
John von Bergen
As I walk through the streets of Dumbo, I am compelled to re-examine my body in relationship to space, and before long my imagination begins to run wild, transforming reality into an apocalyptic situation. Streets that would normally function as stable surfaces underfoot begin to relate more to the surface of a volcanic island than to a twenty-first century metropolis: bricks and gravel merge with streetcar tracks and manholes, which then merge with dirt and vegetation, all bound by rubble and cement and perhaps other substances unknown to me. The walk towards Brooklyn Bridge Park along the river may offer a safe and distant view of Manhattan, yet tranquility is interrupted at unexpected intervals by the deafening sound of trains ripping across the Manhattan Bridge. At this moment I imagine being trapped between the tons of steel produced for these bridges, cars, and trains, and the safe distance to Manhattan from Brooklyn becomes some kind of phenomenal mirage. I turn around to seek refuge in the old Boiler Building now known as Smack Mellon. I feel some safety and security among the pillars and walls of the enormous factory space, triggering memories of churches from my childhood, and this space may serve as temporary protection from the outside world, until paranoia takes over once again.
Quite unique to Smack Mellon is the monstrous white wall that stands directly behind a row of rusted pillars. The ability to view the full scale of the wall is obstructed by these pillars, which are in many ways the true veterans of this building. Whip Lash considers the results of a violent (yet undoubtedly absurd) interaction between the representation of a white-skinned-rusted pillar and the wall itself. As forms and materials shift, an idea of reality may shift. The visitor’s reading of the work is informed by personal history and memory, or more ominously, a premonition of what is waiting around the corner, down the road.
John von Bergen was born in Connecticut in 1971 and received his B.F.A. Degree with Honors at The School of Visual Arts in New York. In 2003, von Bergen moved to Berlin with an invitation from the Berlin Senate for Science, Research, and Culture. Since living in Germany, von Bergen's work has been exhibited in various galleries, museum, and venues, including Halle 14 in Leipzig, Wilhelm Hack Museum in Ludwigshafen, Kunstraum Innsbruck in Austria, The Brno House of Art in Czech Republic, and The Pera Museum in Istanbul.
In October 2009 von Bergen presented his fourth solo exhibition titled “SOOTO hungry” with Galerie Lena Bruening in Berlin. Upcoming exhibitions include a group show at The Freies Museum in Berlin (March, 2010) and a solo exhibition at the Kjubh Kunstverein in Cologne (May, 2010). John von Bergen is a 2009 - 2010 Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grantee.
Shine, Perishing Republic
“You making haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good be it stubbornly
long or suddenly
A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains:
shine, perishing republic.”
- Excerpt from Shine, Perishing Republic by Robinson Jeffers
There are two series of drawings in this body of work. The first series focuses on a fleet of ships, strangely burdened and impossible. These drawings have many water-logged literary influences, most notably, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the biblical tale of Noah’s Ark. Each of the drawings themselves has a narrative starting point: a scenario such as an ark that is precariously balanced on a mountain top when the waters recede too quickly or a ship that had been filled with seeds which flourished over the flooded meanderings of time.
The second series depicts antediluvian ruins – cities indistinguishable from forests, mountains, flame – the same vague narrative extended through great spans of time. When the waters recede and civilizations come and go, what ruinous forms are left, and what are the signs of life? These works are not attempts at futuristic landscape drawings, rather they are symbolic images influenced by the traditions of native arts, illustration, and imagination.
I use tiny lines to emphasize the vastness of space and time. The drawings are symbolic depictions of our current historical moment, and of history as a living cycle of nature. Concepts of a fourth dimension, eternal recurrence, and civilization as a unique living system are seething behind the loose narrative, as well as contemporary worries of a post-global warming world. Tiptoeing at the edges of mythology, I am on a search for symbolic forms that will strike a chord and reveal what is left unconscious in our hallucinatory times.
This show is dedicated to Janet Rose.
Michelle Weinstein was born in Toronto, Canada, and raised in Connecticut. She attended art school at the Maine College of Art in Portland, Maine. During her junior year Weinstein was admitted into the Yale University Norfolk Summer School, a competitive summer session, which is accredited as a full university semester. She began exhibiting her work upon graduating with a B.F.A. in 2002. Her work has been shown in many venues, including Pharmaka Gallery and the CSU Art Museum in California, Emerge Gallery in Greenville, North Carolina, and SoHo20 Chelsea in New York. Weinstein has participated in various artist residencies including The Montana Artists Refuge, Vermont Studio Center and Jentel in Wyoming and most recently has been invited to attend the Pouch Cove Artist Residency in Newfoundland. Her drawings are included in the flat files of The Drawing Center in NYC, and Pierogi 2000 in Brooklyn (named “Artist of the Week,” November 24, 2009). She was the first artist chosen by museum curators to be included in the Art and Rental Sales Gallery LACMA. Weinstein currently lives and works in downtown Los Angeles.