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The Art of Fear

The corridor in Sczerbaniewicz"s "Vignette"

Installations and performances by Gary Sczerbaniewicz at the Jung Center Greater Buffalo

Gary Sczerbaniewicz does installation and performance art in which the audience is the principal performer. Sczerbaniewicz constructs spaces evocative of childhood fears and adult continuing qualms and uncertainties, and has the audience navigate them physically and psychically.

His current show at the C. G. Jung Center on Franklin Street consists of maquettes—three-dimensional models—and drawings, and in one case photo-documentation of previous or proposed full-size works.

The constructed spaces recall childhood terror places (the dark space under the bed where ghosts and goblins hide) or refuge locations (the semi-dark recess space in closets under coats and other hangings, where grownups seldom intrude), or suggest vague adult fears and apprehensions probably with roots in childhood experiences now only dimly recalled, or quite forgotten, or intentionally buried.

A proposed piece, In Medias Res, is basically a long corridor adorned above with portraits of judgmental-looking patriarchal types, and with two window-like openings at eye level into what are essentially tunnels, each tunnel containing a George Segal-like plaster sculpture of a man crawling, in the one case toward the main corridor and audience interactive participant, in the other case away from the corridor and audience participant.

Another work, The Great Fear, consists of an elaborate series of closed spaces you enter by crawling under a chair. The spaces include a facsimile of a closet hung with old coats and other garments, and a kind of nightmare library with walls of books turned wrongside out. And finally a cruciform room of darkened old windows of the sort that stand in ranks in basements, long unused, but too useful once to be thrown out now. And on the floor of the cruciform room, a projected image of the shroud of Turin. According to an artist’s statement, the work reflects the artist’s boyhood insecurities and neuroses derived from an amalgam of Catholic schooling and such contemporaneous horrors as Nixon, the Vietnam War, the Three-Mile Island near disaster, etc.

In his statement, the artist lists some of the theoretical influences for his work: Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space; Antonin Artaud’s The Theater and its Double; and Michel Foucault’s several works on madness and punishment.

Vignette, a performance/interactive piece installed at Hallwalls’ 2010 Artists and Models event, and photo-documented in the current exhibit by photographer Gordon Pellegrinetti, might be about writer’s block, or maybe artist’s block, and how it is engendered, and possibly cured, or at least temporarily allayed. It consists of a dimly lit, tunnel-like, wood-lath corridor, and frowning patriarchs again, and at the end of the corridor, a scrim curtain, behind which two actors play out an obsessional sequence in which a writer at a desk, perhaps noticing the presence of an audience observer, stops writing, whereupon an older man steps forward from the background, reaches over the younger man’s shoulder, grips his writing hand, and forces him to recommence writing. The older man then steps back into the shadows.

Special Delivery, said to be a work in progress, is a semi-hexagonal layout of two enterable parlors, one of which resembles an 18th-century drawing room, the other a kind of military barracks, perhaps to house POWs, and an inaccessible space between them, but viewable from each of the parlors. The inaccessible space contains, on one side, a charred lectern and the walls and ceiling around it have been fire-damaged, and on the other side, an empty dinner table. The work is said to deal with ideas about “expectation, decipherment, and revelation.”

One of the big-deal art critics over the past several decades, Michael Fried, a disciple of the biggest-deal critic of the last century, Clement Greenberg, has vociferously objected to what he calls “literalist” but is generally called “minimalist” art, on the basis that it is interactive with the audience. It “depends on the beholder, is incomplete without him.” This interactivity he disdainfully calls “theatricality.”

In other words, minimalist artwork could be thought not to mean much of anything unless or until the audience—by dint of hard looking and hard thinking—decides it means something. Fried wants artwork to exist and be meaningful on its own, apart from any audience experience of it. All of which is a kind of follow-up on Greenberg’s theory that each genre of art—painting, sculpture, etc.—has an essence, and a work is good to the degree that it adheres to that essence. (For example, the essence of painting, according to Greenberg, is two-dimensionality, flatness.) Anyway, Fried is against the idea of interactivity as essential to painting or sculpture, and wants it out of the equation. The whole idea seems almost inconceivably dogmatic.

I mean, the raison d’être, it seems, of all art—any genre, any medium—is vicarious experience. Essentially interactivity, theatricality. Theater is the universal paradigm.

The Gary Sczerbaniewicz exhibit continues to the end of February.

jack foran

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