Not Yet in Ruin
James Bouché takes the memory out of memorials
Published: September 4, 2013
Not Yet in Ruin
At Springsteen Gallery through Sept. 6
Everything in James Bouché’s solo show Not Yet in Ruin is carefully painted black, white, or gray, causing the only two splotches of color in the Springsteen Gallery—the blue-and-yellow stickers on the AC unit in the corner—to leap out like those terrible selected-color photos where blue eyes stand out from a black and white face. Barring those two stickers, the lack of color is overwhelming. Not Yet in Ruin wants to isolate the forms of monuments and display them totally out of context and without any event to commemorate. The viewer can then consider these forms outside of their normal places and see them in a purely phenomenological way. On the whole, Bouché, a 2012 MICA grad, achieves this, but some individual pieces fail to stand up.
As you come through the gallery door, “Slab and Pallet Strapped to Wall” confronts you with its titular straps. But the eye is torn between following those black straps—which originate next to the show’s title and lead around the wall—and focusing on “Broken Rock at 2am,” an apparently solid black piece hung on the opposite wall.
“7x8 Grid Under Plastic” punches you right in the optic nerve as you approach the gallery’s bar. A clear plastic tarp is tacked over a white grid painted on a black wall. It’s obviously straight from the store, creased from being folded, clean, perfect, never used. The sterility of this successfully adds to the excised feeling Bouché strives after. The grid underneath is perfect, the white-on-black jumping out to evoke precision, measurement, and architectural planning. You can’t help but feel the sheer cleanness emanating from it.
“Structure No. 4,” a large canvas resting on a row of cinderblocks, a white-painted chain hanging beside it, and a tube of fluorescent light shining from below, both baffles and succeeds. The silhouette of an easel-shaped sign reminiscent of Las Vegas or Ed Ruscha’s motel signs rests on the painted white ground of the canvas. The lighting from below evokes something from the language of billboard advertisements. These structures are huge and towering and normally plastered with the intent to sell something. Bouché has removed the selling point, stripping that most American of monuments of its purpose.
“Four Pillars, View from Left” shows the formal qualities of structures clearly enough, maybe too clearly. The meticulously painted columns are spaced out like a perspectival Black Flag logo. But their purpose is too obvious to provoke more than a passing thought of, oh, pillars. Four columns in a box shape can only have one purpose, and the utilitarian implications of the forms are deeply entrenched. It’s a familiarity that’s impossible to escape, and therefore almost impossible to take out of context.
“Leaning Laws” gives us a combination of an etched-glass work on the wall and corresponding pieces of marble slabs on the floor. The etching looks like an isometric diagram of a block of marble with all the veining removed or of a riverbed and its deltas. The slabs on the floor suggest that it may be a diagram, giving the feeling of the remnants of a worksite with the plans still hanging up. It’s aesthetically pleasing in terms of execution as well as composition and bridges the gap between the grander pieces and the smaller work to the left. “Leaning Laws” is more about the materiality of a monument than its purpose; outside of the show, it could be about anything made of marble.
“Broken Rock at 2am” is well done and visually interesting. The layered prints—spray paint on glass laid over a print on paper—showcase a variation of different blacks. The light hitting the different mediums at different angles makes the black on black on black appear to be shades of gray (not in a poorly done BDSM way). Like “Leaning Laws,” “Broken Rock” references direct visual experience more than it appeals to Bouché’s ideas about monumentality and context.
Though Bouché hoped to take the forms of monuments outside of their memorial context, his statement places them within a different context that, in some ways, detracts from the overall visual, perhaps even philosophical, experience, forcing the viewer to ask how the forms relate to his statement. To consider the formality of the monumental is impossible in its natural environment. With this exercise in phenomenological isolation and objectivity, Bouché asks whether it is possible to see pure form in the equally confined world of the gallery. However the viewer may decide to answer that question, she is left with an overwhelming sense of the continuity of the artists effort.
The closing reception for Not Yet in Ruin is Sept. 6 from 8-10 p.m.
> Email Rebecca Scott Lord