Kunsthalle Basel is proud to present the first solo exhibition of Allyson Vieira in Europe. The exhibition opens on Friday, September 13th, 2013.
“It’s dirty and real”(1) – thus Allyson Vieira enthusiastically describes what she enjoys about her trips to classical sites in Greece. For unlike the classical art and artefacts presented in American or western European museums, antique statues, reliefs and architectural elements visited in situ can also be viewed from the back. This opens up a view of the pegs, clamps and braces representing old and new repairs. It is this view in particular that interests the young American woman artist. What reveals itself, in her eyes, in these fractures and exposed interiors, is how material becomes form and how present and past exist simultaneously within the objects themselves.
In her works, Allyson Vieira takes up themes and styles of representation that were developed in antiquity and have been regularly explored over the centuries. She combines these with the repertoire of sculptural forms and methods employed by Minimalism and Land Art, which place the relationship of material, shape and process in a new context.
In the exhibition The Plural Present at Kunsthalle Basel, Vieira is showing sculptures made of simple construction materials such as brick, concrete, metal and plaster. Two collapsing walls of aluminium bars – The Long Walls – determine the choreography and our perception of the gallery space. These establish the direction of movement along the longitudinal walls and at the same time, through their regular matrix, establish visual axes right across the room. Between the walls we encounter the central figural group, Beauty, Mirth, and Abundance. The three female figures in contrapposto are modelled out of bricks and make allusion to the much-copied marble statue group of the Three Graces today housed in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Leaning against the walls of the gallery are pieces from Vieira’s on-going Clads series, begun in 2012. They call to mind antique steles and wall reliefs, geological sediments, or minimalist sculptures such as John McCracken’s monolithic slabs.
It is the impression of physical labour that defines the appearance of these works. They are frozen in the moment of transition from material to form, in which the signs of their manufacture are clearly visible. The objects can be read as “fossilized actions”(2), as actions condensed into material and form that preserve the signs of physical activity.
The works harbour a tension that results from Vieira’s attempt to harmonize the standard sizes of her building materials with her own body size. The dimensions of her sculptures are thus determined by her personal measurements, a calculation she also extends to her site-specific walls of aluminium bars. She thereby establishes a finely tuned metric relationship between all elements of the exhibition. Vieira plays with one of antiquity’s most enduring paradigms, namely the statement by Protagoras that man is the measure of all things. A momentous declaration in which the Enlightenment would later see the birth of humanism.
Today, a different concept of man’s relationship to the world is taking shape. There has been much discussion in recent years of the Anthropocene, a term that identifies the period since the Industrial Revolution as the start of a new geochronological era.(3) In the Anthropocene, humankind has become the determining factor in biological, geological and atmospheric processes.
The production of Vieira’s works is similar to geological cycles that take up and transform the materials of our daily life, from architectural structures to practical utensils. Thus Beauty, Mirth, and Abundance arises in a combination of the classic sculptural methods of assembly and disassembly. Everything left over from this process – odd bits of material, scraps of packaging, paint remnants and dirt – Vieira integrates completely into her Clads. The results are new and independent conglomerates, bound together by plaster, that parade the historicity of their material and represent an index of their manufacture.
After pouring plaster over the remnants, Vieira carefully works the surface in order to bring out the values and structures of the original materials. The artist describes her work on the Clads as a “dance between chaos and order”, and thereby refers to the mythological Greco-Roman polarity between the Apollonian and the Dionysian, the first associated with order, structure and symmetry and the second with chaos, disorder and nature.(4)
In the two smaller galleries adjoining the Oberlichtsaal, Allyson Vieira is showing two photographs and a film, which is being projected in a camera obscura. These works document shaping processes and material transformations in the real world, which are translated into the exhibition space in a gesture familiar from Land Art. Like the Clads, which document the time of their manufacture, these images convey a chronological sequence that is duplicated by their media-specific temporality.
The photographs Ups and Downs (Olympia) I & II were taken by the artist on one her trips to Greece and show grass and ivy-covered ruins in Ancient Olympia. In each of the photographs, the motifs are inverted and rotated and are thus symbolically legible forwards into the future and backwards into the past: as architectural construction and dismantling, as geological formation and decay.
The film Site (40.7117’N, 74.0125’W, 05/03/2013, 15:14-15:39) is likewise inverted by its projection in the camera obscura. It shows construction work on the new One World Trade Center in New York shortly before its completion, as seen from the perspective of the passers-by and tourists who gather every day at Ground Zero. The inverted image, which only gradually becomes recognizable, refers both to the past – the destruction of the Twin Towers – and to the possible future, in which this new building will in turn become a ruin.
As in Robert Smithson’s photographs of buildings and parts of the public infrastructure in the surroundings of his native city of Passaic, here, too, we see a “ruin in reverse”(5).
Following the attacks, Ground Zero very quickly transformed into a point of attraction. Like Delphi or the Acropolis in antiquity, it has become a place of contemporary pilgrimage, where existential questions rub up against banal curiosity. With the One World Trade Center, the site is being occupied in a new way: the construction of this building in place of the destroyed Twin Towers represents an attempt to describe the tabula rasa of Ground Zero politically, symbolically and physically in new terms. The building takes repossession of the site – but the question remains whether this architectural gesture alone can help to overcome the past, compensate for the trauma and rebuild the sense of community that was shattered by 9/11.
All the works in the exhibition convey a sense of decay and destruction, without allowing these to become explicit. They reveal a co-existence of past, present and future that is true of all man-made things that are part of a material culture, and equally of natural things.
Vieira’s aim, in referencing antiquity, is not to key into a seemingly timeless classicism, in order to situate her works – in a formal gesture – within a long-established artistic tradition. In the history of Western culture, reprising the artistic forms of antiquity has regularly served as a stylistic means of legitimizing the current balance of power, as visible for example in the ‘rebirth’ of antiquity encapsulated by the Renaissance, in Neoclassicism in the 19th century and in the totalitarian aesthetic of the 20th century.
Vieira takes a different view: her interest lies in the historicity of things per se.
For her, objects reveal the “shape of time”(6). Material becomes form through physical activity. Objects carry the history of their shape within them and at the same time represent an updating of form in the present. The simultaneity of different past developments manifests itself in the forms of a present moment. The exhibition’s title, The Plural Present, makes reference to this understanding of things and their history.(7)
Objects are the material remnants around which our fiction of a coherent past weaves itself. Whether in western museums, removed from their former context, or still part of their original setting in Greece, common to these artefacts is the fact that most of them had already been reclaimed by nature, either through natural erosion or following their destruction by human hand.
The materials and forms that Vieira brings into the exhibition space cite such real remains and their ongoing state of disintegration. The construction materials that she uses largely retain their structure and appearance. The artist thereby also introduces a reality that resembles the endeavour by antique sculptors to achieve, with their development of contrapposto, a sculptural likeness of the human body that was as living and real as possible.
(1) Allyson Vieira in conversation with Dawn Chan, Artforum, 02.08.2013.
(2) cf. George Kubler: The Shape of Time. Remarks on the History of Things, Yale 1962.
(3) cf. Jill Bennett: Living in the Anthropocene, documenta (13), No 053, Kassel 2001.
(4) cf. Camille Paglia: Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence From Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, Yale 1990.
(5) Robert Smithson, “A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey,” in : The Writings of Robert Smithson: Essays with Illustrations, New York 1979, pp. 53–57.
(6) cf. George Kubler: The Shape of Time. Remarks on the History of Things, Yale 1962.
Allyson Vieira, (*1979 in Massachusetts, US) lives and works in New York.
In 2001 she completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts studies at The Cooper Union of Advancement of Science and Art in New York. In 2009 she graduated with a Masters of Fine Arts degree from the Milton Avery Graduate School of Arts, Bard College, in Annandale on Hudson, New York.
Solo exhibitions: Build On, Build Against/Bâtir sur, bâtir contre, (with Stephen Ellis), Non Objectif Sud, Tulette, France (2013), Cortège, Laurel Gitlen, New York, NY, US (2012); Aphrodite, Monica De Cardenas, Milan, Italy (2011); Ozymandias, Laurel Gitlen, New York, NY, US (2010); Untitled Book *(Geometry + Democracy), Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery, Brooklyn, NY, US (2007); *Allyson Vieira, Small A Projects, Portland, OR, US (2006).
Group exhibitions (selection): Remainder, Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, OK, US (2013); The Made-up Shrimp Hardly Enlightens Some Double Kisses, Laurel Gitlen, New York, NY, US (2013); A Handful of Dust, Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, Santa Barbara, CA, US (2013); The Order of Things, NurtureArt, Brooklyn, NY, US (2013); Configurations: Valérie Blass, Katinka Bock, Esther Kläs, Allyson Vieira, Public Art Fund at MetroTechCenter Commons, Brooklyn, NY, US (2012); Weights and Measures, Eleven Rivington, New York, NY, US (2012); Buy My Bananas, Kate Werble Gallery, New York, NY, US (2012); Lilliput, The High Line, New York, NY, US (2012); Queens International 2012: Three Points Make A Triangle, Queens Museum of Art, Flushing, NY, US (catalogue) (2012); Discursive Arrangements, or Stubbornly Persistent Illusions, Klaus von Nichtssagend, New York, NY, US (2011); Gingko – Goethe – Garden, Arcade, London, UK (2011); Painting and Sculpture, Lehmann Maupin, New York, NY, US (2010); Knight’s Move, SculptureCenter, Long Island City, NY, US (catalogue) (2010); Point to one end, which is always present, Laurel Gitlen, New York, NY, US (2010); Evading Customs, Brown Gallery, London, UK (catalogue) (2009); Short-Term Deviation, EFA Project Space, New York, NY, US (2009); Circular File Channel: Episode 2005, Performa TV commission, New York, NY, US (2009); Bard MFA Thesis Exhibition, UBS Gallery, Annandale on Hudson, NY, US (2009); NOBODIES NEW YORK, 179 Canal Street, New York, NY, US (2009); Champion Zero, Rental Gallery, New York, NY, US (2008); 200597214200022008, Laurel Gitlen, New York, NY, US (2008); Cube Passerby 2008, GBE @ Passerby, New York, NY, US (2008); First Hand Steroids, AMP, Remap KM (2007); #18: Take Care, Champion Fine Arts, Brooklyn, NY, US (curator, catalogue) (2004); The Freedom Salon, Deitch Projects, New York, NY US (2004).