In Eat-All, Andrea Carlson's searing, cinematic exhibition of works on paper at Plug In ICA, content washes in and out like shipwrecked cargo or tide-borne garbage. Against an unrelenting backdrop of vacant seascapes, the drawings throw up a haul spanning human and natural history, a debris field of marooned artifacts jostling incongruously with text cribbed from 1970s B-movie posters.
Andrea Carlson, Cannibal Ferox
Carlson repeats these seemingly disjointed motifs with rhythmic insistence even as she complicates the picture by every means available. Moiré patterning and psychedelic bands of colour amplify her detail-oriented, cut-and-paste aesthetic. Each large drawing comprises between four and sixty unframed panels, and textural grid-lines of torn paper provide structure even as they confound already tenuous pictorial spaces. At one point, four works run together in an unbroken frieze folded into a corner of the gallery.
The show examines how broad cultural narratives take shape and take hold, and incoherence, shaky pattern-forming, and dubious equivalences are central to its logic. Marble figures devour one another on apocalyptic vistas littered with fossil skulls and heavy machinery, while stylized movie titles (Cannibal Ferox, Eaten Alive) drift in and out of view. Carlson frames both in terms of culture devouring itself: Is it the museum’s tomb cache of stolen objects or the exploitation film pandering to bias and base enjoyment that better reflects how we regard ourselves and others?
The work’s formal and conceptual backbone is the ocean horizon, which sets the stage for narratives that unfold spatially and temporally in all directions. It also locates the imagery within specific histories of “exploration” and conquest, uniting twin models of cinematic and geopolitical exploitation.
Andrea Carlson, Ink Babel (detail)
This is most evident in Ink Babel, a monumentally scaled, bewilderingly complex ten-tier tableau of fraught cultural exchange. In one quietly blistering passage, the gold-plated record album sent along with the Voyager spacecraft (designed as an introduction of our species to any alien intelligence that might discover it) twirls in from stage left, echoed several rows down by an Aztec obsidian mirror. Originally used to tell the future, we see the black disc mounted for display in its current context, the Museo de América in Madrid. Over four frames, a reflection of Columbus’s ships glides mutely across its surface.
Curated by Jenny Western, Eat-All is a rare, perfect instance of an artist finding forms innovative and expansive enough to sustain a critique that, by sheer necessity, embraces ambivalence and ambiguity. That resourcefulness is key if you’re going to survive to make work in a postmodern, postcolonial Cannibal Apocalypse.
Plug In ICA: http://www.plugin.org/exhibitions/2014/andrea-carlson-eat-all
Andrea Carlson: Eat-All continues until January 11.
Steven Leyden Cochrane is an artist, writer, and educator based in Winnipeg, where he contributes weekly exhibition reviews to the Free Press. He is Akimbo’s Winnipeg correspondent and can be followed @svlc_ on Twitter.
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