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Looking at Julian Montague's New Work at BT&C Gallery
by Jack Foran
One of the earliest topics in English poetry was ruins. The Anglo-Saxons in seventh-century Britain gazed in wonderment and wrote about the ruins they saw around them. Battlements, fortifications, for the most part. And some urban infrastructure. They thought these were works of giants. Who were no more. All things are fey, fated to pass. The race of giants, for example. And more gradually, their architectural works, the ruins. (Actually, the ruins were works of the Romans, who had occupied Britain several centuries before. But equally were no more. The elegiac lesson remains.)
Artist Julian Montague’s new exhibit, at the new BT&C Gallery, 1250 Niagara Street, is called “Ruins.”
Montague’s concern in his art seems to be nothing less than the fate of the human species. A subject he approaches by indirection. By focusing on some species that were here before us, and no doubt will survive us. Insects and spiders. The current work is mainly about spiders. The ruins in question are remnants of their incredibly elegant and efficient architectural production webs, now deteriorated to cobwebs. Dust-coated and conglomerated almost beyond recognition of their original form and function. But in varying degrees, among the various images, the intricate connective networks and delicate trapeze structures still evident, despite ravages of time and circumstances.
One of the ruins images incorporates the partial remains of a spider, disjointed limbs askew, the victim of some horrible construction work accident, it looks like. An artist gone a step too far and gotten fatally entangled in the intricacy and complexity of his or her creation. Or maybe some alien spider species victim by design. Left on display in part as a trophy.
It’s not clear even on close viewing if the ruins images are paintings or drawings or photos (I was told they are manipulated photos). I don’t think they’re supposed to be. Because Montague is a magician. He plays tricks. Also in the show, in a case under glass, are a number of his superbly realistic-looking fake books. Covering various genres, from poetry to plays to scientific and sociological studies, all with reference to insects or spiders. Titles such as The House of Spiders, a play by Zbigniew Jakubowski, in a translation by Maxwell Wechsler; or In Ruins of Silk, which looks like a noir detective novel, by R.L. Drummond; or Arachne’s Children: Beliefs and Practices of the Newfane Commune, by Gerhardt Otto. (Newfane in Niagara County? As a cub reporter, some years ago, on the Lockport paper, occasionally I wrote about Newfane activities. But never noticed a commune there. Copious apples, but no commune. Though I may just have missed it. I missed a lot of important stuff.)
The fake books—the work in general from the fake book period—seemed more about our (temporary) co-existence with small vermin. Questions about who is the host, who is the guest. Humans tend to get this wrong. The ruins works seem more about the (eventual) end of the co-existence. Due not to the demise of the vermin, but the demise of us. Because that will happen first. And anyway, we’re the ones that think about these things. The fey thing, fated to pass. Spiders don’t write poetry (just do architecture).
Other new works in the current show are a series of apparently blank black canvases that if you stare at any one of them intently for a minute or so, a black on black image of a spider gradually emerges into view. Another kind of eye trick. More magic (black magic). But like looking at a lot of art. First you don’t see, then you do.
Another feature of the current exhibit is a mural blow-up of one of the ruins images, one of the notably trapeze structures. I was told photographer Max Collins had a hand with the mural, which is wheat-pasted across the entire back wall. Quite spectacular, quite beautiful.
The “Ruins” exhibit continues through July 26.blog comments powered by Disqus
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