Untitled work by Adam Byram
and George RussellIf your kitchen is done up in ducks andbunnies, "Ulteriora" is not the art show for you. You can never love decrepitness, entropy and urban decay, and must wander the Sawdust Festival and bid on e-Bay for collectibles from the Franklin Mint.
You can ask John Ashcroft: it's the law.
But there are a lot of us here who don't do country-kitchen (unless you count my "Best of Mothers" orchid plaque), who are utterly unmoved by kitten mugs and niceness, and for whom the squalid streets of Flint, Michigan, in Michael Moore's Roger & Me were more a romantic vista than not. We live here—for god's sake, here—but we envy the city (although never Stanton), and in the choice between bohemian and bourgeois, we'd pick our romantic, shit-hole "garret" over Irvine six times a week and twice on Sunday, if on Sunday we weren't busy with our heroin nod. Oh, and also if we were under 30 and didn't already have kids. We would totally have a garret then! It's quite a celebrated schism lately: the ducks-and-bunnies folk are, in the current parlance, Real Americans, while the rest of us are, in today's vernacular, going to hell.
And if you're hell-bound anyway, "Ulteriora" is as fine a place as any to start on your road to ruin.
Before I get you too excited, there'snot a sin in the place. The small show by George Russell and Adam Byram at The Office has neither lust nor gluttony, or even anger (though, really, there's always sloth). There's no heathen nudity or sexy, sexy menages with midgets. There isn't the slightest bacchanal at all.
What there is is an utter rejection of churching (unless it's a happy poor church, natch), and the heartland, and the ownership society, in favor of chirpy nihilism and atrophy and desolation and squalor. It's urban ruination as spiritual authenticity, and baby I think I like it.
It's not just me. It's Marshall Berman, too, who's quoted in full in the small gallery: "Urban ruination is serious; it is real; it is not a stage set; it has spiritual authenticity. Symbols of modern life have turned into symbols of death. There is nothing like it in the suburbs."
Is Berman saying the lives of those in the cities are more authentic than the lives of you? Yes, thank you. Jesus has always been for the desperate, not the content, and a cross means more on a tin shack than atop a mega-church.
And so we see photos of perky despair. There's the dingy church marquee that reads: "Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God." We see corrugated shacks and graffitied walls and shopping carts; walls with scabs and walls with wounds and crosses, crosses, crosses, crosses, coming in from all directions, white, shining, silver studs with their nose in flame . . . . Sorry. I was having a moment there; but do you think Patti Smith would live in Tustin?
And there are the interiors, of abandoned institutions where pipes on the walls form photographic Kandinskys, of lavender paint peeling like flower petals, of a telephone with its wires pulled out like guts. There are elevator shafts and mysterious rooms, bare bulbs and barbed wire, industrial sinks and walls and walls where everything is that peculiar, abandoned shade of ocher.
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And then there are just pictures of garbage, as if people were just the ETs from Independence Day, trying to colonize a planet in order to suck up all its resources before moving on. Decay is one thing, Byram and Russell; trash is another. It's not beautiful or poignant—it's just kind of gross.
Most successfully, "Ulteriora" is utterly without people. We're not treated to soulful or soul-tugging photos of the poor or the homeless or the shooting gallery denizens—just their post-apocalyptic landscapes. These are the places they've left behind, and we can explore them dispassionately, as though we're sifting through layers of sediment at Pompeii.
Sediment and trash. But bunnies? Ask the famous lady from Flint. Bunnies are good eats.
"ULTERIORA." THE OFFICE, AN ART SPACE, 5122 BOLSA AVE., STE. 110, HUNTINGTON BEACH, (714) 767-5861. OPEN TUES.-FRI., 1-5 P.M. THROUGH DEC. 17.