"About Thirteen Hundred People, About One Hundred Rocks, and Thirty More People"
A low-key socialism is at play in Russell Etchen's solo exhibition at Test Tube Gallery
Reviewed by Seth Orion Schwaiger, Fri., Sept. 26, 2014
"About Thirteen Hundred People, About One Hundred Rocks, and Thirty More People"Test Tube, 801 Tillery
Through Oct. 10
When you see Russell Etchen's "About Thirteen Hundred People, About One Hundred Rocks, and Thirty More People," bring about 10 of your friends. You'll hardly fit in the tiny gallery, you'll be bumping into the hanging sculptures, you'll giggle about this, and that's the best way to experience the show.
Two groups of drawings hang in the small space catty-corner to each other. Internally, the drawings develop a pure equality: Large groups of approximately identical portraits build into wonky tessellated pattern. The production of the drawings is equally democratic, rising just a half-step above the stick figure. It's something that'd be easily replicated without any artistic training. In fact, the artist dedicates the second page in his Shrigley-esque booklet, "About Fifteen Hundred People, and About Four Hundred Rocks," to that very idea. Here, Etchen includes five frames of step-by-step visual drawing instructions with the encouraging text "YOU CAN MAKE MY WORK."
That socialism is brought out of the frame in his series of hanging oversized papier-mâché heads. These, again, are developed with a very low-tech approach, a simple paper skin over a wire frame. There's a slightly dark side to the humor of these when one sees the miniature nooses from which they hang – possibly an angsty response to the genesis of the work which involved a rejection of a piñata installation that Etchen proposed at a separate publicly funded arts space. At Test Tube, the series comes to life as viewers move through the suspended heads, jostling and spinning them along the way. Set to music, as it was at the exhibition opening, this makes for a comical scene and brings up memories of awkward social events with lots of bad dancing.
Those references make sense as Etchen's exhibition hinges on the social aspect of viewing. Think of it as a theme party elevated to the point of art. In the right context (remember those 10 friends?), the socialism of the drawings expands through the sculptures and to the viewers themselves. In that intimate space, the viewers, just like the framed multi-portraits and the 30 spherical heads, become a group. They are all the same and of equal importance in their own imperfect pattern.
This is not the exhibition for the traditionalist. If you're looking for technical skill or visual bravado, you've come to the wrong space. But if you want something a little more lighthearted, if you want to experience connection with your fellow viewers, or if you're just wanting to have a good time, make the trip to Test Tube, but don't go alone.