A kook’s perspective: Squat Gallery.

By Michael Esposito

I walked in with two dollars in my pocket; it was a donation-based event. Your first misstep in an unfamiliar environment is always internally laughable. In this instance, feelings were muted by expectation. The dusting of formal artistic exposure I have is a pure result of a few childhood friends. So when I was asked to write up ALT ESC’s curated show at the new Squat Gallery, I immediately saw an opportunity to mix in a favorite topic of mine; stigma.

The space set up like a longitudinal house party, a long single hallway with walled-off alcoves passing as individual rooms. My initial reaction was to treat it as is, so I snaked my way to the bar, passing two, three, now four individual exhibits. A good side eye is customary in New York, but the few I received seemed to have intent, so I explored them. I swung back around, bouncing from end to end, prodding each room like a cow, never committing to the slaughter. Finally I dove into JJ Brine’s exhibit and the feeling was literally verbalized as he broke song and turned his camera toward the three of us in the room; “I’m recording your reactions!” This immediate intimate relationship with the creator is a realization that some artists took to heart throughout; allowing their slice of the pie to be malleable. Petroleum jelly even made a dynamic appearance.

I carried this outlook throughout the show, compartmentalizing observations between the work, bystander reaction to the work and the corresponding creator reaction. Most didn’t seem to share my view on viewing, not even the two individuals

ryanoskin

Alt Esc

comfortably stepping on Ryan Oskin’s creation in search of an elusive selfie. Ryan’s room sent me through two portals simultaneously; a shipping crate with suspended stills and a dramatized New York crime scene. Either way, the suspended installation created a unique experience that I donated a considerable amount of time to.

One of ALT ESC’s stated goals: “there should be a middle ground between presenting good content and having this holier than thou attitude.” What Alternative Escape provided, from a kook’s perspective, was an acceptance of healthy snap judgements that can only be captured through physical interaction and reaction. They chose a venue that exasperated the feeling through its tight quarters and diversity of medium. Akin to a Native American view on game, Alison and Irina used the entirety of the converted brownstone, promoting community through intimacy and alternative artistic experience.

Malcolm Lomax and Dan Wickerham provided a duality that chronicled the accumulation a shared apartment table receives after a productive weekend, coupled with a look inside the opening of a caged mind.

nickdemarco

Alt Esc

The juxtaposition to me: a piece highlighting substances often hitched to creativity with a wall installation depicting the peace some artists find within those substances. Nick DeMarco’s installation elicited the magic sense of reality that only Bo Bartlett tends to capture in me; subjects so familiar and foreign, in competing perspectives. You could imagine three fish swimming together. You could even imagine you’re in the depths of ship, a window too high to peer out, but knowing that aquatic life is teaming all around you. Now just remove the structure of the ship. Now we’re on an invisible ship watching three ordinary fish steaming on by, and I don’t even know if the window was part of the installation.

As I finally strolled upstairs, the expansion of medium excited me. Frankly, the scanning exhibit overrode much of my previous approaches to deciding, internally and with naivety, what studio art is and can be. It was a simple flatbed scanner set up at face height. Distortions could be achieved through movement and interaction. The possibilities were guided with a gentle hand by its creator, Jonathan Checler. The images were projected on large screens across the way. It was another exhibit that elicited a feeling that the observer’s reaction was being judged, because it was, and was subsequently recorded. The playfulness and exuberance that Jonathan was having with his exhibit was inspiration to not take ourselves too seriously. It was welcome icing to my experiential cake.

From my collective experience and the layers of thought I’ve piled on to that experience, there is a certain stigma to all art, no matter the medium, content or location. This self-perpetuating aberration is a result of the concept that anything and everything can be art given the right argumentative properties; precluding laymen to stay far, nervous to offend, gawk or disagree. To the extent that Alison and Irina are attempting to document a strong, proud artistic community with the caveat of inclusion of medium and audience, they are doing a tremendous job through ALT ESC and their collaborators.

+ Squat Gallery is run by Tyrell Winston; this was the first exhibition

+ ALT ESC launched their first print magazine that night

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On the misery of a desert landscape

By Michael Arbeiter

I was locked on the miotic pupils of the most menacing of four disembodied (and ostensibly enflamed, or at the very least fuming) heads adrift in what was very deliberately nowhere, when the refrain for “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” hit me from the bar’s ceiling. I wondered for a second if it might just be my own snotty musical tastes that rendered this heavyheavyheavywood_bencampbellcoupling so vividly absurd—let me defend myself; this was the George Thorogood version—or if there could actually be something innately funny about engaging with the challenges of a thoughtful piece of fine art in a venue devoted to the dulling of the mind.

Onto the next painting—which, by virtue of a threesome of storybook ducklings making a meal of a contorting man’s innards, rang paradoxical enough without even the help of George’s bittersweet rasp—and I found a third sense stimulated. The inimitable aroma of bar food, one both appetizing and threatening (another paradox!), waded out from the table of diners seated directly below the canvas.

Again, I considered that my own gastronomical aversion to buffalo wings may be what anchored the smell so far from the element of the pictures I had come to observe. Or could I justifiably pass the buck to the establishment of art show culture that had confined its subjects’ aural and olfactory companies to strings, cheese cubes, and red wine? Author of this ideology or not, I was clearly all too beheld to it, unconsciously annotating every glimpse of artist Ben Campbell’s pieces with an asterisk. How was I expected to appropriately engage with such provocative paintings when standing at arm’s reach of a frenetic Mario Party tournament?

This question became especially prevalent when I reached my favorite of Campbell’s works:
one of ghoulish, horned face sprouting from the misery of a desert landscape.
lanternhallBut it was during a later battle of wits with the figure’s dead eyes that I’d win my answer. Having long given way to my inability to properly wrestle with the images while under the duress of the anxieties and distractions I’ve always shouldered upon committing myself to a night in a bar, I conceded instead to the caliber of chitchat I’ve always relied on to stave off my demons during such nights. Movie talk, mostly.

And, in the tradition of my lifetime of paralyzing social outings, I eventually found myself yielding verbal contribution to the conversation that swept my table.
The friends I had arrived with chatted easily with a relative stranger about the history of police violence in Los Angeles. The artist himself chimed in when asked to divulge the mindset that accompanied one particular painting: a faceless naked man falling upside down through yet another harrowing nowhere. Eventually, as it always does, the conversation moved onto Mario Party.
Conceding no formidable education in psychology, American social history, or any game that came out after 1996, I kept largely silent, allowing for my ritual absent glance around the
thepromisedland_bencampbellbusy room. Inevitably, my eyes landed again on the chilling face illuminating her desert home to eternal dusk. Squinting between heads and glasses to catch the eye of my distressingly humane monster, I was only then forced to admit yet another area of cerebral deficiency: where, why, and with whom art belongs.

I couldn’t tell you what I may have gathered from a head-to-head to Campbell’s pieces in a well lit and silent gallery, a locale where my motionless ruminations wouldn’t have been at the expense of many the high-speed bar back. But I can tell you that a cockeyed and cloudy peep of that nightmare humanoid growing inscrutably from the dead sand,scored to some forgettable ’80s hit and snippets of my friends’ assessment of a recent viewing of Straight Outta Compton, tore me away from my own pretensions with just enough a reason to assert that this painting did work just fine where it was. Because right then, I liked it.

-Ben Campbell’s work will remain on display at Lantern Hall through September 2016.