The Odd Pathos of Being Human Now: “pre sent tense” at Galerie Frank Elbaz

by Ryder Richards November 17, 2020

pre sent tense, installation view at Galerie Frank Elbaz, 2020

Any exhibit at the moment must do more than show up or show off. It needs to relate. Our human compulsion to connect has been distanced and distended, and by extension any art that can reach us must first acknowledge this state of tight drawn anxiousness: the stress of too much noise and too little movement, of too much fatalism and deferred agency. 

The group show pre sent tense at Frank Elbaz Gallery recognizes the strain and offers fluctuating salves from humorous pathos to humble reminders of human moments, gently allowing us to vacillate between our dueling impulses to either manically confront the obvious or never discuss it again. 

Roller, Reflection, Fieldstone, 2020

William Leavitt’s 2020 painting Roller, Reflection, Fieldstone sets it up, and addresses the moment rather accurately: the blank-faced corporate avatars are paired with a gut-churning rollercoaster. The casually forced “normalcy” required of work teleconferencing tends to become neurotically hysterical in its denial of both the internal and external reality, and yet that faux-normalcy of enacting our daily role serves as a lifeline to which we cling. 

Mungo Thomson, May 24, 1968 (Robert F. Kennedy) / July 6, 1968 (The Gun in America), 2014

This strange moment of holding on  — surviving — requires a force of will, but equally it does not accede to ambition. It offers a space where normal motivations are short-sighted and long-term planning distasteful… and yet almost everything is excusable, given the circumstances. This allows the present to somehow operate outside of normal time. Echoing this sentiment, Mungo Thomson’s diptych of blank TIME magazine covers rejects our self-obsessive chronicling with the more apropos vacuous, dueling versions of nothing. This inability to know when “normal time” will resume (and with it normal behaviors and mores) tends to distort time and priorities, much as Viktor Frankl discusses prisoners without a release date feeling as though a day would last a week and a week would pass as nothing. 

Equally relevant for Thomson’s grand, bland TIME is that it proposes a counter to our increased media consumption: no news, just eternity. Pondering such weighty matters may prevent the self-distortion that stems from over-consuming media — an odd phenomenon in which an excess of time devolves people into unrecognizable beings.

When considering time we tend to think on the past and plan for the future, both of which further amplify or exacerbate our current, static (yet intensely spastic) state. We are relegated to only live in the present. And from here we must find comfort in the momentary, or in the odd pathos of being human. 

Ari Marcopoulos, Park Notes, 2017-18

For instance, the irregular rhythmic coalescing and diverging of bodies in Ari Marcopoulos’ Park Notes transmits the hypnotic enthusiasm of kids playing pickup basketball. Their absorption into a moment produces a set of unscripted movements, granting gleeful escape as the body empathizes with the team mechanics of murmuration. The once-everyday, slightly banal action somehow functions as a release and reminder of a life somewhat untethered. 

Stefan Rinck, Sleeping Woman, 2006. Sandstone

That escape into the charm of the everyday is echoed in Marcopoulos’ photos and William Leavitt’s small acrylic pieces, finding poetic moments in the remarkable unremarkable. This tendency to capture the previously mundane as a means to communicate the magic in commonality also introduces the salve of quirkiness into the exhibit, such as Mungo Thomson’s Snowman, or Kaz Oshiro’s Fender Champ (Assholes). 

Mungo Thomson, Snowman, 2020. Painted bronze

Kaz Oshiro, Fender Champ (Assholes), 2002. Acrylic and bondo on stretched canvas over wood

Thomson’s stack of delivered Uniqlo and Amazon boxes, titled Snowman, is hysterically wasteful. The small bronze sculpture, meticulously painted with labels and tape, is a brilliantly sardonic altar to our most relatable gods: the ones to which we tithe, sacrifice our evenings, and demand our desires fulfilled. Similarly, Kaz Oshiro’s trompe l’oeil painted canvas sculpture as a guitar amp presents an object of noise, angst, and potential rebellion as a silent relic. Its fetishized glory illustrates the subversion of rage and utility into yet another consumable style… and still its nostalgic pull and obvious mastery through dedicated time and effort is reminiscent of a cargo cult’s desire to build the plane, though it cannot fly, in the hopes of luring the audience back. 

pre sent tense offers a unique sensation of acceptance and coping. It is not doom-scrolling or self-aggrandizing or politicizing, but rather saying we all encounter similar frustrations, and here is a bit of hedonic time wasting, and a momentary reflection of life, and some jokes that keep us human. 

On view at Galerie Frank Elbaz, Dallas, through Jan. 9, 2021

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1 comment

Jo Zider November 18, 2020 - 03:29

Its great how well made art with messages span the reality of time, place and conditions as “Sleeping Woman” 2006.
Wouldn’t we like to go to sleep and awake to a new day; a new reality; a new existence than what we now have.
Also the silent relic of a Fender amp, 2002; for those of us who long to have live entertainment back in our lives and
that ear/heart pounding thunderous sound emanating from that box. It truly is a relic as my last live concert was
Rodrigo y Gabriella, and they are totally electronic!
Thanks Ryder for putting this out there. Work that relates. As an artist who is loving the alone, quality time in my studio, I am striving
to make art that helps us continue to look at events in our past that have devastated families’ lives. We must continue to expose and
make people aware, lest it happens again.


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