K.V. Tomney - "Pool Info"
Snowflake Mandala is a large drawing of a snowflake on a map of Camp Pendleton with particular attention given to – on this map – gun and mortar positions, impact zones, training areas, landing and drop zones etc. The map’s blatant use as a guide for military maneuvers is in sharp contrast to what the poet Holley Gerth believes is a representation of Christ – “Snowflakes gently cover the world in white and hide what's unlovely from our sight, showing us how He covers our sin and gives us His grace when we come to Him.” In other words, the snowflake is the perfect symbol to assuage the atrocities of man or to exorcise the demons (or to protect ourselves) on the way to spiritual wholeness from our “unconscious self” as Jung believed. Snowflake Mandala is an exercise in contrasts, a foil to the stark background of the military landscape. To make sure we fully understand the impact of this drawing and its overtly “political” message, Keely and O’Cain have employed burnt gunpowder to make the drawing and framed it within a border of decorative lace. The use of gunpowder, of course, calls to mind the early drawings of Edward Ruscha from the seventies.
Richard Keely and Anna O'Cain - "Snowflake Mandala"
So what is the intellectual misstep that makes Snowflake Mandala so infuriating? It’s the work’s heavy-handedness and overt message that leaves the viewer no room for interpretation let alone appreciation. It questions our belief system and values with a stereotypical – read moralizing – good vs. evil sort of dichotomy, with a certain complacency that condones without offering a solution to the problem. The artists could have painted Mickey Mouse on top of the map and it would have had the same effect – nothing trumps evil better than commercial icons or token symbols of purity. The conflicting symbols of war and spiritual unity do not mix well (not that they ever have) but the point is lost in Snowflake Mandala. The artist Sven Augustijnen might offer up some clues for Keely and O’Cain as to how to handle the weight of history and how to go about highlighting what truly is important in order to change it. Snowflakes and mandalas will not do this.
Thankfully, there are works in Drawing Expanse that come up to par. One of these works is Claire Zitzow’s Shadow Tracing #10 / 2 Framed Photographs. It is comprised of two photographs that document the video performance of Zitzow tracing the outline of a streetlamp’s shadow on the ground as the sun crosses the sky. The work resonates on so many levels that it is by far the strongest work in the show. Its major success is that Zitzow, compared to previous works I’ve seen, has streamlined her installation down to its essence – photograph, monitor, looping video. Gone is the messiness and junky quality of earlier works, the absence of detritus that only seemed to get in the way of the artist’s intent. The simplicity and directness of Zitzow’s piece – chalk in hand as she waddles her way up and down the length of the shadow – brings images of Charlie Chaplin to mind as well as some of the more absurdist art performances during the 1960s, Land Art, William Wegman’s earlier videos and to some extent, the work of Nina Canell.