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Calgary
Andrea Williamson
Mary Rothlisberger at The New Gallery
June 03, 2014

On an imaginary web diagram of all the modern art movements, I could see "contemporary craft" and "relational aesthetics" linked by the shared characteristic of "good vibes." Both craft as activism (or "craftivism") and relational practices started out by realizing momentary or localized "utopias" characterized by what critic Stewart Martin calls "micro-political disengagement from capitalist exchange." Now that economies of profit have managed to subsume almost all of our experience under neoliberalism, artists not only seek alternative economies but also alternative lifestyles – ones that antagonize the whole neoliberal package. As Franco Berardi contends, we are subject to the "constant stress of our permanent cognitive electrocution" and a way to combat this is through what he calls the work of the soul or what some artists might call good vibes. Hence happiness has become a critical position and artful living a legitimate art practice.



Mary Rothlisberger

Following Deleuze and Guattari, Berardi says that "friendship is the way to overcome depression, because friendship means sharing a sense, sharing a view and a common rhythm: a common refrain." Artist Mary Rothlisberger, a self-proclaimed relationalist and "hide-and-go-seeker finder situated in the hinterland of North America" offers several refrains of this kind in work that over time and distance develops friendships. Examples are found in the titles of her projects, such as I think of you on mountaintops, make your own medicine, and the hoping machine – which is an ongoing dissemination of homemade textile banners reminiscent of Tibetan prayer flags that act as a symbolic portal to another realm. Her current exhibition at The New Gallery, also called I THINK OF YOU ON MOUNTAINTOPS, houses relics of her nomadic interjections of communal, domestic space in public places. The afghan blanket tents and brightly colored yarn pom-poms attest to a lifestyle of play, having fun and maker culture, which is pretty familiar territory in art galleries.

The content of this type of work resides in its functionality in real life; that is, the fact that the artist actually lives within these crafted objects every day. Traces of the work's use outside of the gallery are found in the dirt-stained blankets or the many postcards from scenic landscapes displayed on a shelf. They're also documented on the artist's website. Where relational artworks necessitated the gallery as a critical foil for social activity in an otherwise institutional setting, site-specific and performative projects exist beyond the gallery in the everyday world or in what Stewart calls "eco-aesthetic communities" such as the Minnesota Lake Art Shanty project of which Rothlisberger was a recent participant. There is undoubtedly a challenge to transfer art normally at work in off-the-grid communities into the gallery space, unless the works respond in an equally site-specific manner and acknowledge the social, political, and geographic factors of the location. It is unclear what the gallery is doing for Rothlisberger's work here, apart from acting as a museum-like display of artifacts taken out of circulation. Because the exhibition is not fully an "elsewhere" or a "here," the full picture of a lived practice cannot be adequately discerned and the good vibes get lost.


The New Gallery: http://www.thenewgallery.org/
Mary Rothlisberger: I Think of You on Mountaintops continues until June 21.


Andrea Williamson is a Calgary-based writer and artist. Her reviews have appeared in C magazine, Swerve, Color magazine, esse arts and opinion and FFWD. In January 2013 she initiated a critical theory reading group that meets monthly in a collective attempt to approach academic texts in peripheral and humble ways. She can be followed on Twitter @andreawillsamin.

 

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