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Conceptual Art by Bozant, Poon, and Topolski at Buffalo Arts Studio

Drawing by Marie-Claire Bozant.


As David Letterman might say, let’s get this Proust business out of the way right now, A la recherché du temps perdu (A Remembrance of Things Past or In Search of Lost Time) was written by the French novelist Marcel Proust and published in seven parts between 1913 and 1927. His first-person narrative, in the cranky voice of a prissy insomniac is a fin de siècle saga delineating in exacting detail the decline of French aristocracy, the consolidation of the Third Republic, and the rise of the middle class following the Franco-Prussian war. But his writings, especially the conceit of casting back through the sieve of past events, have come to refine theories of narrative art and the role of the artist in society. Proust is a favored resource for conceptual artists whose work deals with issues of memory and the disparate fragments of autobiography.

In the psychologically charged works of the early 1970s, conceptual art directly engaged the viewer and focused on the artistic experience itself. Often recourse to an actual art object was superfluous. The more thoughtful and articulate artists have since explored the artist-viewer relationship from multiple angles of presentation involving layers of both two- and three-dimensional subject matter reinforcing the artist’s intent to move past traditional boundaries of visual art into a theater of props in seemingly endless abundance of stimuli. Contemporary artists posit both image and concept as having interfacing points of view permitting a much more fluid configuration of one’s experience of the artwork. Such efforts are often too inclusive an aesthetic for mainstream patrons in that they cultivate a variety of incoherence in a randomness of juxtaposed context.

The challenge of younger artists is to create work that imposes an enduring unity and order to the undifferentiated context of experience. Three artists currently on exhibit at Buffalo Arts Studion in the Tri-Main Building present self-referential installations intertwining personal history, lived experience, and the layered archive of memory and los—cumulatively what the late French critic Roland Barthes called “image repertoire.”

Allen C. Topolski’s Once Familiar, Twice Removed consists of both found objects and large drawings on paper composed to engender associations of familial recollections, his focus of which is primarily a red leather chair in various attitudes of distress that figures in the artist’s personal iconography in a kind of recollection by proxy of his seated grandfather. Topolski’s exhibit is a exploration of the different ways memory is constructed and retrieved. As he explained, “image and object form reliquaries of unconscious associations to the past.”

In a similar vein, Lai Chung Poon mounts an installation of animations, drawings, and sculptural assemblage focusing on ritual, lineage, and transformation. Poon uses computer-assisted layering and morphing techniques to explore emotional issues of personal identity, anxiety, and loss. Especially affecting are Contortionist, an animated layering of transparent drawings depicting the artist’s body in an chaotic explosion of anatomical features, and Eternity Clothes, a hanging scroll in watercolor on paper mounted on silk depicting the burial practice wrapping the deceased in layers of their own clothing.

Marie-Claire Bozant’s The Limits of Stability presents a series of drawings depicting fanciful constructions of familiar objects in a kind of furnituristic universe of refuge. In numerous incarnations the artist’s wash pencil drawings gather miniature house forms in conglomerations of little neighborhoods of cloistered security safely harbored within the enclosing vessels of household objects. This predilection for things both untethered and securely fixed stems from Bozant having grown up in the perpetually peripatetic rigors and routines of a military family, moving at frequent intervals with all the upheaval and itinerancy of that rarified existence. In her quixotically innocent projections, she intimates a search for escape from momentum and transience to an island of weightless isolation and rest.

The contemporary notion of “harmonic probability”—that is, multiple phenomena are likely to interact and find coherence—is the foundation of these artists’ works and may be illuminated by quoting a Zen story from Barthes’s A Lovers Discourse:

An old monk busies himself in the hottest weather drying mushrooms. Why don’t you let others do that?” asked a young monk. “Another man is not myself, and I am not another. Another cannot experience my action. I must create my experience of drying mushrooms.”

The show continues through January 3.

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