CONVERSATION PIECE
An Installation by Carter
Southern Exposure Gallery, San Francisco CA, March 2000


"Conversation Piece" links seemingly disparate elements in order to investigate the relationship between centrality and periphery. This dichotomy is manifested in terms of domesticity/wilderness, art/non-art, presence/absence, before/after, rational/paranormal, hi-tech/lo-tech.In two large digital prints a homey breakfast table, first replete with a full cup of coffee undergoes transformation when in the second shot the cup disappears. The void left by the missing coffee hints at instability, even apparition. The domestic scene on the wall is counterbalanced by a floor installation of furry humanoid figures clumsily perched amid house plants. Does the setup represent the outdoors or have we just moved on from the kitchen to the living room? Are these figures art or mere "conversation pieces" to be contemplated as we sip our now absent coffee? They resemble mythical Sasquatch of the Northwest backwoods and yet are titled by Carter as "squirrels," those cute fur balls eager to accept a handout in citified quadrants such as Central Park. Questions of scale are implicit: a 7-foot tall bigfoot vs. a 7-inch squirrel. We easily approach a small mammal in a controlled environment but a large hominid in a distant wilderness generates myth and fear.The squirrel/Sasquatch figures reference periphery. We always seem to catch squirrels in the corner of our eyes, camouflaged in a rustle of leaves. Pursue them, and they scamper to the backsides of tree trunks. Similarly, Sasquatch shy away from documentary photographers and we are forced to rely on hearsay. Disinformation and scanty evidence perpetuate its myth. Sasquatch lurk at the border between our vision (rational) and the invisible (imagination). Obviously Carter is not just commenting on the futility of hunting these creatures. Rather he uses the fur figures as metaphor for the futility of hunting down concrete answers in art. Rather than demand centralityand cohesion, perhaps there's another kind of truth that exists in periphery. The figures serve as tangible stand-ins for imperceptible, intangible truths.

Perhaps Sasquatch are not myth after all. What may seem paranormal in Western eyes is merely fact in others -- such as the belief in feng shui which charts the flow of energy (or, qi) in our lives. What's merely perceived by many as real energy properties is dismissed by Western standards. Is it all that surprising that someone who famously transgresses rigid gender codes, such as Boy George, is also interested in feng shui? His genderbending parallels his pursuit of non-Western knowledge. Does good feng shui make for hot sex? Such a question is implied by Carter's transforming images of rooms that seem to chart qi presence and absence. What was this room used for? Who will be using it? Does the imprint of former presence linger as qi? The heat of pornographic couplings fades in and out like shadows of quirky merchandise sold on Ebay. Central to all of these images are interiors that become animated and energized by presence.If spaces can be energized, can objects also be animated? Apparently storefront dummies take on gender, a quality that is usually reserved for humans. A video segment flips through interchangeable images of pop icon Mariah Carey, Carter, and a dummy all in alluring feminine repose. The image sequence reveals the interchangeability of masculine/feminine and flesh/fiberglass. How effectively do the photographs portray the "male" dummy as feminine? That the dummy is gendered as male in the first place and then posed to simulate cross gendering questions the extent to which femininity applies.This show doesn't attempt to provide answers or create labels. The works seem almost reluctant to accept the title of "art" and rather find their comfort under "conversation piece", a term relegated to objects that don't quite fit to art standards and despite this they spark curiosity and discussion. Regardless what wecall them, these works allude to notions of the peripheral:in-betweenness, apparition, and secondary.

-Justin Yockel      


(Exhibition opened Friday, March 17th 2000)