Great Art:Tony Feher

"Just So" by Feher

“Just So” by Feher

The Bronx Museum has mounted two exhibitions, both of them positive affirmations of the continued power of art to be moving and relevant to people’s lives. One comes first upon a large gallery displaying memorabilia and documentation of Paul Bruscky’s work. Bruscky is a Brazilian artist who began making art in the 60s about political repression that he and his fellow countrymen were subject to. His work exhibits a Fluxus sensiblity, with text and documentation of live events including his own funeral procession though he was not dead.

In the next gallery space, was a survey of work made over the last 20 years by Tony Feher. I walked into the space and first felt my excitement mount as I perused the white wall facing the gallery entrance. It had a line of tiny colored shapes affixed to it in an orderly row. I walked closer. I could not believe it. It was a display of printer’s registration marks that are printed onto the edges of commercial print jobs, so for example if you flatten out a box of Kellogg’s cornflakes, you will find one of these colorful grids showing the basic printing colors, cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Each one on that wall was slightly different just as they are in real life. It may be because I worked for many years in packaging and design, but these little pragmatic grids spoke to me. They were now separated from their utility, and dependent solely on their ability to measure up as mini artworks. Poignant and hilarious. When I walked into the next room and saw “Mountain Home”, my happiness began to swell. It was a carefully and perfectly stacked pyramid of those green plastic baskets that hold berries. I felt a mixture of incredible relief that someone had thought of something really nice to make with these. Stacked like that, they made a crisp geometric assertive shape; delicate and ephemeral, yet resiliant if knocked apart as one could easily imagine stacking them the same way again. I felt the relief, because I am the kind of person to whom people give their used egg cartons (I keep chickens) and their cleaned out maple syrup bottles and honey bottles (husband keeps bees, I tap trees) and sometimes, people even try to hand me other disposables that I really do not know what to do with. Like most people, I want to reuse and recycle, but you should see what the room behind my kitchen looks like. I could supply Tony with some great raw materials with which to create.FEHER1-articleLarge
I walked around, slowly taking in the amazing casual ease with which Feher had utilized the most mundane and not particularly aesthetic items from our lives. Glass jars, lids from glass jars, plastic bottles, plastic bags, and bits of junk arranged by type…like circles with holes in them arranged in a circle. And then I walked through a door in the back wall of the gallery space and stopped in front of an elliptical shape on the wall made by small ripped off pieces of blue painter’s tape stuck rhythmically, yet randomly, one next to another, each curling up off the wall and lit so as to each display a beautiful shadow. The resulting blue ellipse was delicate, hand made, simple, and elaborate at the same time. And yes, anyone could have made that. That is I think, what is really inspiring about Feher’s work. He makes it look so easy. Is it just the gallery lighting that gives those pieces of tape their casual beauty? His practice is one of isolating mundane mass produced items from the use and clutter of daily life. He identifies something as an art material with an intuitive sensitivity to it’s materiality and structural potential. If a piece of tape is best used to stick to something, then that is how the art work will be made. He has a brash confidence in the innate materiality of the objects he uses. He is delighted with cheap plastic and crumpled mylar and curling baling twine.
I turned around from looking at the blue tape ellipse and encountered the friend who had accompanied me to the show. She had suggested visiting the museum as she lives in the Bronx. I smiled at her and realized that a smile didn’t quite do it. She was making a silent “OMG” expression, and so I walked right up to her and gave her a huge hug saying, “Isn’t this amazing??!” It was.
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IF you are anywhere near the Bronx in the next month, it is well worth the effort to park the car or walk the extra blocks to see these shows that are up until April 12 and Feb 16 respectively.

The Trouble With Teenagers

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The mother is lying on the sofa, unsure whether to hold her aching left jaw with her hand or not to touch it at all. She had felt some tiny twinges yesterday morning…and knew it was best to “Wait and see…” as there was an 80% chance that it was an actual problem requiring dental intervention in the minefield she called a mouth. She liked to think about the 15% chance though that it was a potential problem just gently making its presence known but perhaps not about to cause her a brain infection that required immediate attention. The chance that it was the latter seemed slightly more probable than usual as she was still reeling from the emotional stress of the day before. She had noticed in the last few months that she seemed to be at an age where emotional stress seemed to take physical tolls on her in all sorts of new and unforeseen ways. All the years up to now, she had been a trooper, a stalwart survivor. She did not get headaches, or migraines, or swoon, or really sometimes even seem to notice the stress around her. Maybe it was the 12th year with four children. Or maybe the 21 years of one child. Or maybe 17 years of the other?

Yesterday had been special though. The 17 year old had left one of his scrawled notes on a sheet of paper outside the bedroom door. It said, “Wake me up between 1:30 and 2:00. I have to leave for Peter’s house at 3:45.” This was a cryptic message which the mother was tempted by past experience to read as “Wake me up before 3:45 as that is when I actually have to do something”. The son was not lazy by any means. He had morphed into a nocturnal creature who seemed to thrive on the quiet and alone time of the deep night. He worked on college assignments, studying for SAT subject tests, playing on-line chess games, and upgrading and building websites. All of this was unobjectionable, or rather commendable. The thing was, it was impossible to wake him up. He would not actually get up until he absolutely had to. A parent was hard pressed to understand when this was. A parent would read the note, and stupidly do what it said. Then, that same parent would get sleepily told that everything was under control and that the parents’ message had been duly noted. The parent was then left on tenderhooks as to whether repeated trips to the son’s room were in order. For the last few months, repeated trips were made, and the son usually didn’t get up until the tone of the wake-up had gone from pleasant and helpful to angry and frustrated. On both sides. The parent was not proud of having occaisionally resorted to:”GET YOUR SORRY ASS OUT OF BED”. And as could be imagined in these circumstances, the son was not happy either.

It turned out that yesterday’s cryptic message was actually an indication of some confusion on the son’s part as to when he actually had to leave to get to Peter’s house to catch a ride to soccer. He eventually got out of bed and answered his mother’s inquiry as to an imminent departure, in a somewhat patronizing tone. “3:45 would make me an hour early but we thought about playing soccer first.” The mother retreated to helping the youngest son with his reading. They sat together on the sofa slowly making their way through a text that was a little too difficult for the boy. He always put in a valiant effort of exactly two pages. The mother found herself reading ahead often and reading back too as the story was rich with interesting details and the pace was excrutiating. Suddenly, the 17 year old came careening into the living room where they were reading announcing that he had to leave right now as he was late. He was pretty certain that there was a mistake (note that the mistake has no attribution) and he was supposed to be leaving for soccer practice in 15 minutes from Peter’s house. This posed a huge problem as Peter lives 45 minutes away. The mother dug into her always available bag of tricks and suggested a phone call to tell PEter that they wouldn’t be riding together and that the son could make his way there separately. This was met with derision. He had to leave this minute and would call once he was underway. The mother understandably thought, “Over my dead body” as son does not have a fancy cell phone and mother pictured car careening along winding roads at top speed with illegal and dangerous phone activity happening. She also had just looked up the location of the soccer destination (which her son had not yet done, having caught a ride to every practice so far) and suspected that son could get there on time on his own if he didn’t try to join friend.

Long story short: Mother is sitting in driving seat of the car that the son wants to leave in. Son has asked for money for gas to give to the friend. Mother can’t find purse and is upset that son is still planning to try to drive to friend’s house first. Son is actually making swinging gestures at mother. He is very very angry. Mother feels the rare emergence of a radiant sort of protective calm. Mother is happy about this as she often shares in the feelings of rage and anger and always regrets it. But alas, unbeknownst to them both, the siblings have spotted the scene out the window and have alerted Dad. he comes out and mother can tell by his angry belligerent threatening swagger that things are about to go from bad to worse, She runs to father and begs him not to get involved. Son and father face off and grab at each other. They are both confused and ugly and angry. ¬†Father ends up with car keys. Both parents retreat into house. Son is screaming that he hates living here and he must be given the keys so he can leave this hateful place, this hell hole, etc etc. When the son comes into the house, he is still swearing and angry, he is even kicking things on the porch. The Father threatens to call the police and when the son derides him for this, actually picks up the phone. THe son seems to regain consciousness as he sees Father dialing, and tells him he will calm down and to stop dialing.

Mother and Father have not been having the easiest time with each other. Both of them are not sure they have the necessary reserves of energy to deal with all four kids for the time it will take to launch them into their own lives. They are certain that they do not have the money. Stress has been an operative word for a long time. Stress without much light-hearted gaiety or abandon. They have been trying to give each other some space and just time. The Father will not try counseling again. The mother had just decided to follow some advice to try to solve relationship issues through talk and also through just simply being the best she can be. She was inspired to concentrate on her own equilibrium rather than trying to be unbalanced and leaning over to fix someone’s elses’s situation.

Father was angry and quiet and upset and retired to read in bed for the night. Mother served dinner to 17 year old, who obviously did not go anywhere that evening, separately in kitchen. He insisted on talking about the emotional event. He seemed fixed on paying for everything from now on. It seemed he did not want to be beholden to parents for anything.

That was the end of what I wrote. I wrote this “confessional” a while ago and thought it best to let some time go by. There is no real satisfying ending, just like life.

There are however, some addendums:
*The teenage boy’s phone could be switched onto “speaker”, a fact that the mother was unaware of.
*The soccer turned out to be further in the opposite direction so it would not have worked out to drive independently
From Peter.