It’s a yearning ode to community that ironically opens artist Lindsay Buchman’s solo show “Y(OURS)” at Irvine Fine Arts Center. A mission statement at the front of the gallery espouses a muddy blend of philosophy and pretension in vaguely anarchistic terms about connectivity and overturning the system—half of it makes sense, a quarter is art-school gobbledygook, and the remainder is hopeful political manifesto. But as an explanation of the concept behind the exhibition, it’s mostly a bust. After spending 90 minutes in the gallery, I’d argue that Buchman’s work—and curator Yevgeniya Mikhailik’s display of it—is less about its stated conceits than about the moments of forgetting that are necessary to make your way through a difficult world.
She hints at this briefly in her repeated use of the words event horizon, referring to the apocalyptic sucking surface of a black hole. The stack of free art inside her installation, The Event Unit, 2016, also mentions the “doorway effect,” the way your memory seems to be wiped clear when you go from one room to another. While that may qualify as a mini-horizon from a technical standpoint, the center’s bright overheads and the sunlight streaming in through the glassy gallery remove any suggestion of a black hole when you enter. I suppose that under better lighting, the fluorescents wrapped in chiffon and wood framing could momentarily cause you to forget where you placed your car keys, but I’m not completely sold on that idea.
The series of risographs that precedes it—a digital throwback to low-fi copiers such as mimeographs—also suggest faded memories, their Xerox-y black-and-white imperfections and high level of grain like a dusty blurring of decaying details. Her subjects are intriguing, but only in their standardized emo isolationism: snatches of Brutalist landscape; the light blasting through a kitchen window in a holy sunburst; a bridge and marsh, the lower portion blacked out like a censored crime scene; a coin-operated washer and dryer in a laundry room; a closed door that leads nowhere; the crushed pile of junk mail promising sales, bent and furrowed on top of a communal apartment mailbox.
When we step away from the drab grayscale of the first two-thirds of the show into the last, Buchman’s work is still primarily detached, chilly in its observations, but the color of the images brighten up the proceedings. The same indistinct mystery of the risographs remains, but the pictures are more intriguing than what’s come before, even if they aren’t so much eye-catching as frustratingly distorted—things you’d see out of the corner of your eye as you drive past, shapes flickering by without eliciting enough excitement to make one stop to get more details. The surprising flipside to this alienating avant-garde is the far-more-traditional photograph CH6: Incidentals, 2015, one of the largest images in the show. A stunner in its simplicity, it’s a window frame shot from the inside of a darkened room. Between the slats of hanging blinds, cracked strips of light from outside are revealed, but we don’t know if it’s dawn or dusk; the neighboring brick house’s lone porch bulb could have just popped on or been illuminating the carport since the night before. Hang the picture in a small, windowless cell (or gallery), and the print becomes a framed portal to the world outside.
Possession (an introduction), 2014/15 is another marvel, with the word Y(OURS) in bees’ wax and washi paper, luminescent, double-printed and blurred, frayed edges providing more intense texture in one piece than many artists use in an entire lifetime. It looks aged, ancient, as if it would crumble if removed from behind glass, making concrete the delicacy of the fragile social construct suggested by the words. Nearby, the hopeful, neon lowercase phrase “you can have everything,” hanging in the dark room of the last gallery, is backhandedly titled [It’s a conceit], 2015, mordantly suggesting the opposite of the flashy message, while simultaneously making a conceptual art pun.
Buchman is multidisciplinary, so it makes sense that she’ll succeed in some mediums and flail about in others as she continues to find her way. But I think she comes closest to her own description of what the show is supposed to be in the limited-edition take-away art book offered to any patron who wants one. Resting in short white stacks within a white wooden box atop a pair of sawhorses, the thin, stylish book is full of essays, photos and prose from artists, including Buchman, commenting on the same subjects brought up in her statement. Neatly laid out in black and white, it brings together a diverse group of people, with just a glance at its contents reinforcing the author’s statement that “I owe my humanity to those that I share it with.” The seeming dispassion of her vision becomes warm in the community of the book—and more inviting when included among the work of others.
“Y(OURS)” at Irvine Fine Arts Center, 14321 Yale Ave., Irvine, (949) 724-6880; www.cityofirvine.org/irvine-fine-arts-center. Open Mon.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Through April 16. Free.
Dave Barton has written for the OC Weekly for over twenty years, the last eight as their lead art critic. He has interviewed artists from punk rock photographer Edward Colver to monologist Mike Daisey, playwright Joe Penhall to culture jammer Ron English.