by R.B. Strauss
AroundPhilly.com, February 2002
No matter what the pundits told us, irony didn't fall with the twin towers, though the targets have been narrowed. One thing that also never panned out was the sea change that was supposed to sweep over the country and turn America into one big, happy Mayberry. Didn't happen. Another no show was the return to faith, be it blind or otherwise. Religious services may have seen a spike, but following these scant months after September, well...
Forget the first paragraph. There is an exhibition in town that solidifies mind and spirit to leave the gallery a temple, a holy site, a shrine. Irony is not in sight--And neither are empty platitudes. Nexus Foundation for Today's Art, 137 North Second Street, features a trio of artists whose work to a one is filled with empathy. The real thing, too, not just going through the (e)motions. Indeed, in the most meaningful sense of what art must be, feelings and thought are inextricably linked in the work of Chris Burnside, Raquel Montilla Higgins and John Murphy. Also, though I rarely read Artist's Statements at an opening, the statements here elucidate the work--with Ms. Higgins' a necessary component.
Chris Burnside's untitled piece is on view in the 2nd floor Community Gallery that focuses on installation art, and indeed, this is a classic example of such work with roots reaching back to the Sixties. A little Pop, a pinch of Op, a dash of Minimalism, plus a knotted (in more ways than one) impact hits a reserved, necessary minor chord that nonetheless is a trippy, dizzying experience. It is also the one piece of the three that leans more toward a pure cerebral emphasis rather than an emotional one--thus putting it squarely in postmodern territory, something else that was supposed to have perished by now though hasn't.
As for a description of the work, what we have is an exercise in geometry, form, color and space (and the utilization of said space). A series of overlapping circles composed in inch wide red tape cover the walls and floor of the space. Yet though a circle is 360 degrees and where wall meets floor is 90 degrees, well, something's got to give. Linear expectations are shattered time and again, as where the arcs of the circles hit the floor, they do not continue to form a perfect shape but veer off in another direction.
There is an interior logic in process here. Expectations are reinvented, and the overlapping yields a maze that begins to pulse in not time. Sure, there are the standard white walls here, though juxtaposed with a blond wood floor. This is a collaboration between work and site--as if two universes intersected. The exactness of the geometry here dissolves any notion that these red paths might be trails of subatomic particles. A circulatory system is another matter.
The impression I couldn't shake was that there was one basic form, a single red circle that did indeed flow from wall to floor but couldn't be contained, needed to slide out of phase--Thus there an affinity here between the Minimalism that zooms back in time to Frank Stella and the musical Minimalism embodied in early Steve Reich, who was more concerned with phasing that pure rhythm. Indeed, the monochrome of the circles proves itself as more harmony than rhythm as well.
The Music of the Spheres reigns here, though the blood red clarity of these pure forms also leads to a maze of anatomy boasting both precision and improvisation. Something akin to music notation abounds throughout, a score for a duet for mind and soul, with plenty of space between each note. Though I am no mathematician, I would venture that Burnside didn't map out each trajectory of every line he imprinted here--for there is also the distinct impression that this is the fingerprint of some odd god, a signature left behind to signify itself into further sentience and entity.