Sarah Cromarty in Blouin Art Info 2.11.11

The Archaic Revival

By: Doug Harvey

Psychedelic culture remains a great undigested lump in the gullet of contemporary Western civilization. Parts of it, anyway. While chart-topping, collective-unconscious-molding products like James Cameron’s “Avatar” practically ooze lysergic sensibility, deeper and subtler lessons from the dawning of the Age of Aquarius — or CIA-experiment-gone-awry, however you want to spin the rise of 60s-era drug culture — occupy a cross-disciplinary ghetto that dares not speak its name.

The art world may be the most egregious example of denial. In spite of fairly recent large-scale attempts at historical assimilation like LA MOCA’s “Ecstasy” and TATE Liverpool/Whitney’s “Summer of Love,” no one will cop to the fact that the last half century of art history has been seriously baked. This ground of omerta is what gives recurring outbreaks of overt psychedelia their strange sense of simultaneous novelty and redundancy. At least from the art world POV.

From within the infinite crystalline womb/matrix of the emergent Gaia consciousness, it’s a different story. Much of the institutional acknowledgment of the influence of psychedelics on the recent history of art has come with outsize quotation marks, functioning as much to contain fundamental philosophical, political, and phenomenological upheavals within arbitrary historical and sociological kennels as to endorse and disseminate them. Although the artists exhibiting in “The Archaic Revival” at Culver City’s Las Cienegas Projects are professionals consciously engaging with recent art and pop cultural history, the exhibition — curated by L.A.-based visual artist and musician Dani Tull — presents their work liberated from quotation marks in a context emphasizing its place in a 3.5 million year evolution of consciousness.

Including work by twice as many L.A. artists (with no actual repetitions of specific artifacts) as were included in the 2009 version of this same show at Uschi Kolb Gallery in Germany, “Archaic Revival” — named for the 1992 book by psychedelic researcher Terrence McKenna, who through the use of dimethyltriptamine discovered a psychic realm populated by trickster entities in the form of “jewelled self-dribbling basketballs” which he termed “machine elves”  — runs the gamut from Laurie Steelink’s airbrushed abstract painting (“Phantasm,” 2010, resembling a deep-sea photo of a bio-luminescent jellyfish) to Michael Decker’s filigreed flying buttress (“The Night When All Cows are Black…,” 2011 — assembled from dozens of found flat wooden jigsaw toys) to live performances by freakfolk musician Featherbeard and a ouija seance drawing session by Christian Cummings.

The bulk of the work, though, falls roughly into the category of figuration — some sculptural works (Marnie Weber, Liz Craft, and others contribute freestanding entities, or parts thereof), but primarily painting, collages and drawing. Some of these are blatant stoner revivalism, referencing the visual vernacular of epic magic marker doodlefests and Roger Dean album covers. Others, like Thaddeus Strode’s “Commencement” (2011) reference more mainstream contemporary painting idioms, in this case the crossroads of Prince and Polke.

Perhaps the most impressive single work is Sarah Cromarty’s elaborately carved photo-collage on corrugated cardboard and plywood (with paint, glitter, and sundry ingredients). “Ka-dinh and Mia” (2011) depicts an odd pair — a bikini-pants clad figure with an apparently detachable female breast and a full mane and beard giving a piggy-back ride to a similarly hirsute personage through a mossy landscape. Both look gleefully out at the viewer, shimmering in their primitive 3D simulation of nature.

There’s something in it that sums up what is deeply refreshing about this work, and work like it that has been cropping up recently around the globe. Even if we don’t awaken from the nightmare of history by the end of 2012, it’s empowering to see artists take a giant step sideways and look at themselves, and the place of artmaking in the history of our species, from someplace a little less stuffy and claustrophobic than the white cube. If the Machine Elves want to throw a transdimensional Fabergé egg or two into the bargain, that’s just gravy.

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