Words > Selected Catalog Essays and Press

"Temporal Protocols"

There is no 'mankind' because mankind has changed too far. There is no past, because the past has wiped itself away. We must divide the names of things from the things that exist in reality. Primitive literacy is redundant. Mere words must be expelled. We must inaugurate a world of pure presence. The screen that intrudes itself between ourselves and those memories too terrible to know will be unnecessary and we shall evolve beyond it. The state shall enjoy direct, creative access to the real. To control the flow, it will be necessary that political order be imposed temporarily".

This manifesto of the post-literate state appears in Mark Von Schlegell's new sci-fi thriller Venusia. Venus, of course, is Los Angeles. With its inhospitable landscape refashioned via technology into a paradise, and illusion of limitless growth, this has always been so. In the mid 60s, the "Venus" depicted in Philip K. Dick's Through A Scanner Darkly was a dystopian colony of volunteer immigrants who fled planet earth in search of good jobs and suburban tract housing. Half a century later, Von Schlegell's Venusia exists by default. Earth no longer exists. Phenomenology--the branch of philosophy used to legitimize so much of LA's blank neo-conceptualist academy art--has become the new rule of law. And yet, this is pleasure.

In What's here is everywhere, Sabina Ott's breathtaking show at Post Gallery, a fictional landscape derived from topographical maps of California is stretched out convexly over an unseen horizon. There is just this one painting, surrounded by a cluster of eight barely three-dimensional sculptures embedded into uniform white pedestals. The painting itself is a very strange map, with bright yellow flowers, alphabet letters and shards of aerial photos floating above roadways and reservoirs. It's like, Kenny Scharf has been here and gone, after a nuclear war. The map-color itself is a queasy tequila sunrise, pink rising above taupe, like the view from an airplane whose passengers are locked into a perpetual dawn as the plane speeds between time zones. The alphabet letters littered over the sky don't seem to spell anything. Anagrammatically, they seem to spell "sero," like "positive." Or else they spell "rose."

The painting telescopes frontwards and backwards, inside and out. In this sense, it's a literal rendering of something both real and abstract: what Alduous Huxley described once as "inscape," tripping on mescalin for the first time in a Hollywood drug store. The painting tells us that what's seen in the present can't ever be separated from the past or the future. Or, as Gertrude Stein said once, "a novel is everything." It is a view that Stein shared with the designer Charles Eames and Tantric cosmogeny. In 1954, the designer Charles Eames demonstrated the collapsing of distance in his ground-breaking home movie, The Power of Ten. Using a mechanically regulated lens to zoom in and out, Eames found that the extreme macro is equal to the extreme micro. The same amount of detail can be discovered, whether the viewer zooms in or out. Or, as the Tantric tradition asserts, if we look closely, every detail perceived scale-models the cosmos.

Stein's presence has always loomed large in Ott's work. During the 1990s, Ott produced a marvelous series of wax and board paintings inspired by Stein's famous "rose." The rose is both physical object and symbol. Yes, as Stein says, A rose is a rose is a rose, but in Ott's case, the rose was also a key to unlock Stein's lexicon: a baffling world in which reality, when reduced via one's use of the predicate, exponentially expands. "There is then always repeating in all living," wrote Stein, in The Making of Americans. "There is then in each one always repeating their whole being, the nature in them." Stein was a formalist visionary whose perceptions arose from the social. Language, for her, was a means to define something very specific: the American 20th century. Can this machinery be transposed to the present?

What's here is everywhere is Ott's most radical execution of a Steinean vision to date. While the proliferating roses in Ott's wax paintings enticingly referenced Stein's lexicon, the Post show enacts it full-scale. Because as you walk through the room, you see that Ott's perplexing and beautiful painting acts as a "legend," in the cartographical sense. Because spread out around it, like mushrooms or clouds, are a series of three-dimensional renderings of certain points on this map. Constructed for Ott from bass wood, acrylic and light by Megan Werner and Eric Paulson of zDp models, these sculptures offer dimensional propositions of what the contours of drawing might look like when they're compressed or spread out.

Werner and Paulson are engaged in the business of translating architectural drawings to 3-dimensional space. They've made models for Samsung and other technology campuses. Contemporary architecture, with its fluid values of curves, can't be fully envisaged in drawings. These models function as visual dry-runs, or rehearsals, for actual buildings. To do this, Werner and Paulson compress the aspects of architectural drawings to formulas: x = building, y = pavement, z = site. Once this system is in place, it can be replicated over and over without being thought through again. In sculpture, "depth" is the language one works with. And so in these models, what were roads in the paintings become shallowly route red lines through the bass wood, the letters protrude from the surface, and the flowers are negative space that's completely cut out. Sky is simply planed surface. Each sculpture is a different quotational abstract from the key painting, selected at random. A novel is everything. Yet, once the random selection is made, the most rigorous rules are applied to its rendering.

In Von Schlegell's Venusia, the citizens thrive on daily feedings of "flowers," a fictional cross between Xanax and Halycon. No one knows how to read, because in a continuous present there's no need for memory. The law is imposed through a series of Temp Procs, or "temporary protocols," in adherence to flux. Ott's sculptures can be moved around the room on caster wheels attached to the pedestals with dystopian ease, and nothing is fixed, but (as Stein sensed in the last century) the language has already been proscribed.

Chris Kraus
C Magazine
January, 2004

"Temporal Protocals" by Chris Kraus
C-Magazine 2004