All art is a document of a performance. A painting is a series of gestures captured on canvas. Photographs represent an action trapped in time. Sculptures are the result of a person shaping a mass by hand. A finished artwork is beautiful and rich with content but, at the base level, before anything else, it is the product of a hand at work and a thought process that has been implemented.
Chris Oatey’s artmaking process and resulting product is more than a painting or a sculpture but an interaction The paper, rope, and paint he uses to create his current body of work have a connection in construction but also in exhibition. A contorted, nestlike rope sculpture knotted into a solid is non-literally bound to a painting of a similar color, where ropes feel like they are pressing themselves through the canvas with the hope of roping back together. Chris’ pieces are involved in a constant performance that discusses their construction.
Downtown art space CB1’s current exhibition Performing Methods is a collection of Chris’ most recent work. The main gallery space is lined with low hanging paintings and a few knotted, webbed sculptures who unravel themselves to the floor. The wall pieces grab at the nearby rope sculptures of various density positioned on the floor.
“On its most basic level, it’s a combination of painting and sculpture,” Chris says. “Aside from the piece on the back wall which was made with a piece of string dipped in paint, I would let it fall on the paper over and over and over to create this pattern: it is the one anomaly in the show and I think it’s important that it was made before the sculptural work–these pieces all originate from the same process.”
The contents of Performing Methods’ are the result of Chris’ previous work with carbon paper, a material that literally leaves its mark with every fold.“I had been making these works on paper with carbon paper templates. They were two dimensional. From that point, I was trying to figure out how to make an unconventional drawing so I decided to crumple the carbon in a sheet of paper. I was then working with the paper more physically and it was becoming sculptural. I set aside the carbon and started crumpling the paper and then wrapping it in rope. Some of the pieces like the one on the floor in the back is cut open exposing it’s paper core and, for the other ones, the idea is that you know there is paper inside of them. All of these pieces are more focused on the randomly created pattern made through wrapping. In others, the paper is removed.”
These constructions are the result of a performative process: crumpling and then wrapping paper and allowing this action to direct where the artistic process goes. From wrapping the paper in rope and painting it into a solid object or cutting the object open and spraying through it to create a painting, Oatey found his current artistic subject in breaking down and exploring dimensions.
He stands near a line of small, tight rope sculptures. They’re displayed at a slight angle that requires you to interact with it and inspect it in order to see all of the colors and varieties in their style. “I wanted to make a two dimensional version of these objects,” he explains pointing from his sculptures to his paintings. “I use a stencil to make these paintings, which was as if you took [a sculpture] and cut it open and sprayed through it. The stencil was constructed in the same way. They’re pretty simple in the way that they’re made. It is a process of spraying around the piece and creating different levels of illusion.”
From this process, each piece displays a timeline in his process born from an architecture of string. The gesture of manipulating paper, fashioning them into circular shapes, flattening them, cutting them opening, painting on them, painting through them, gutting them, etc. is their obvious bond. “There’s sort of an archeological process that is being documented here. I can tell you that this piece comes from a specific piece and another piece is from this–but hopefully you see that connection.”
This connection is enabled in the presentation of pieces: no sculpture is too far from a painting and each painting is near the same level as any piece on that rests on the ground. They must always be in communication with a different evolution of themselves. “What was important about hanging the show was not to have any of the larger paintings too close to each other so the viewer could be drawn inside of it–but they also have to think about connecting what could potentially be outside of the image. It wouldn’t work for two of them to be too close to each other.”
Beyond Chris’ own work, many artists have performance embedded into their practice. He’s become more and more aware of this as a result of his own practice. Like his own pieces, he is drawn to connect with other artists and their process. The result is Performing Methods–In Context, a small group show also in CB1 that Oatey curated to pull out themes in works that–like his–are an act caught in art.
Performing Methods-In Context features six artists whose work has captured or is catching or is still performing. There is Joey Kötting’s “performance painting” made from the artist wearing a canvas that through a gum-bichromate photographic process exposes his actions while recording the accompanying sound piece. Maria Walker constructs soft burlap over wooden supports, little sculptures Chris describes as “moments where she has to determine to what degree the solid support or soft material interact.” Marc Philip van Kempen constructs lifesized sets that he photographs and, while they appear to be collages, are actually physical constructions caught on film. Amélie Chabannes transfers blurry likenesses of persons “in extreme collaborations,” literally drilling through where her subjects meet. Pascual Sisto combines fake and real plants with digitally printed and painted images resembling the plants pattern in a chameleon like installation. Joe Winter’s piece is a documentation of an installation where chalk is slowly distintegrated by drops of water.
Like his own work, In Context repeats the performative theme: art is inherently performative even when it doesn’t intend to be. “How am I thinking about how I’m working?” Chris asks. “This idea of a performative method but not literal performance. When I’m describing to you how I made each thing, that is important to the content of the work. Over the past five years, I had ironically seen all the artists in the group show’s work in another format and became interested in their practices. I kept track, went back, and saw that what I initially recognized was a continuing trend in their practice. I noticed something similar in mine and, as a way to give the work context, I curated the show at the same time as opposed to trying to spread my work out within the two gallery spaces.”
All of CB1 is currently caught in performance. Some are mounted on walls, some lean against corners, some even hang from other paintings–but they are all caught in or represent an action. Chris Oatey was very keen to catch on to these interactions.
Performing Methods is currently on view at CB1 Downtown. The show–and Performing Methods–In Context–will be up through March 31. CB1 is located at 207 W 5th Street.