‘Eric Zimmerman: Simplon Pass’

Eric Zimmerman's "Simplon Pass" plays off utopian visions of the past in ways that are beautiful and painful in their longing for release from spatial bounds

Arts Review

"Eric Zimmerman: Simplon Pass"

Art Palace Gallery, through Oct. 7

While I am not sure they ever do, or should, dissolve completely, utopias seem to make their way into art with renewed vigor every time technology winks. There are countless examples of such resurgences, one of the most fun being Archigram, a 1960s collaborative among British architects inspired by post-war "stuff" proliferation. This shifting group played with utopia on paper – making collage from words, images, and visions of expendable, expandable, portable, and pop-culture-inspired cities and societies – and mailing these visions out in handmade periodicals to influential thinkers, makers, and shakers. Another important moment in utopian arrivals was the Great Exhibition of 1851. With British industrial power and innovation at full throttle, Victorian society created a monument to its own technological feats and achievements. Under the span of the Exhibition's Crystal Palace, built of iron and more than 1 million feet of glass, the modern world showed its stuff, showcasing the state of technology and beaming over its seemingly infinite, good, and transformational potentials. Everything from the Jacquard loom and kitchen appliances to steelmaking displays from the colonies could be marveled over and hoped in. This is the role of utopias: They are hope and fantasy materialized in machines of production; in sight, smell, and sounds; and, of course, in art.

Eric Zimmerman's "Simplon Pass" joins Archigram and the Great Exhibition in the tradition of utopian displays and then tweaks them. Drawing and painting on denril sheets, Zimmerman plays with the architectural style of the Crystal Palace, with imaginations of landscape, with structure, and with the viewer's sense of space. His work, as he states in his work notes and elsewhere, is an attempt to capture the multidimensional concepts of heterotopia, i.e., the space without place, which he works at by layering figurative spaces upon one another in conjunction, but never in union. While, in Zimmerman's pieces, the lightly drawn orthogonal beams of the Crystal Palace mark out order and pattern, larger, lighter, painted grids of diagonals seem to float behind these structures, which are then covered by layers of brown and green or orange and blue watery and amorphous centers of paint and clouds of pencil lead. While these effects are graceful, light, and even softly explosive, the opposition between paper and spacelessness that Zimmerman is working to overcome is never quite transcended, only alluded to. In the same mess of friction that necessarily folds back on all theoretical art attempts of this kind, space and spacelessness still refuse to dissolve, and the paper holds firm. This makes the work no less beautiful, no less painful or even poignant, in its longing for release from the spacial bounds of width and height. As long as art is locked on surfaces of any kind, be they digital, denril, or otherwise, this tension will remain unresolved – adding to the pull of utopian hopes, which will doubtless rise again, with another promise, invention, or dimension to start the cycle of longing over … once again.

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Eric Zimmerman:Simplon Pass, Art Palace, utopias, utopian art

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