It’s okay if you don’t remember your gas mask for Survival – they have plenty for all of us. Curated by Lambert Fine Arts’ Executive Director Marc Lambert, Survival brings together four artists, Dave Erwin, Mia Tyler, Harris Diamant, and Joseph Grazi (who co-curated the show) to submit their own hypotheses regarding the survival of the human race, and the legacy we’re presently building for ourselves.
The show spans two levels of the gallery and includes photographs, paintings, collages, sculptures, and installation art. When I first entered I was immediately drawn to the gleaming surfaces of Harris Diamant’s sculptures. The show includes schematic-like drawings in addition to sculpture, but it is the artist’s Janus Heads, aptly named for the Roman god of beginnings and endings, that will surely receive the most attention. In his Artist’s Statement on his website, Diamant states that the reflective qualities of his sculptures create “an inseparable relationship between the viewer and the work” and he expresses that he wants viewers to see themselves in mirrored surfaces in his work. I found myself completely entranced by the engaging eyes of the mechanical heads, and was slightly unsettled when they looked back.
Downstairs, I was surprised to find a space that looked more like someone’s living room than a gallery, with pieces framed behind couches and sculpture alongside books on a side table. To the left of a soft, velour couch was what could only be described as a fallout shelter, fully equipped with gas masks of every size. An extension of Mia Tyler’s photography series, the installation piece was later inhabited by a “survivor” taking refuge in the niche, donning a gas mask and fighting for his life. He struggled in the tight space and was noticeably frustrated with his inability to solve his problems. I felt his claustrophobia and despair, and his presence transformed the space from a storage space into a last resort.
Just to the right of the shelter is one of several collages by Dave Erwin, a Brooklyn-based artist and Executive Creative Director at DC Comics making his NYC gallery debut in Survival. In his large-scale works, Erwin reconstructs our language from the remains of fragmented words, logos, and images. Although the “ransom note” construction is not wholly original, I found Erwin’s juxtapositions intriguing, particularly when he integrated the stars of an American flag into a piece that borrows a chunk of the Facebook logo to construct the word “fame.” I cringe at the idea that our generation is being defined through Facebook statuses and shorthand, but agree with Erwin that we are truly a society steeped in labels and pop culture.
In a selection of Joseph Grazi’s meticulous drawings, he reminds us that words won’t be the only thing left behind and that machines will become the ruins of our society. Disintegrating images of planes and cars seem to reference a fragmentation of memory, noting how objects seem to lose their tangibility over time. Most striking were the two schematically-rendered drawings of locomotives, each with a NYC Subway marker. When pieces of varying preservation are arranged together, they seem to reference an evolution of memory, as patchy recollections evolve into completed histories. Eventually, an “old train” will simply refer to any train several generations removed; for us, that train is a steam engine, and perhaps our modern subway system is destined for a similar classification.
While many of the pieces in the show deal with what objects will endure and how we will be remembered, Mia Tyler is the only artist that tackles the physicality of survival. Her haunting images of deserted buildings, often inhabited by gas mask-wearing tenants, create an inhabitable post-apocalyptic environment. The gas masks on her subjects do more than keep out toxic fumes; they retain the sitter’s anonymity. On the frames of her pieces, Tyler includes end-of-the-world confessions collected from Facebook fans. These confessions are secrets carried every day, secrets that would only be released without the fear of consequences. The quotes suggest that Tyler’s photographs reference not only literal “doomsday” types of survival, but also daily personal struggles that feel overwhelmingly life-ending. A photograph of a completely destroyed room includes the quote, “We live in this world.” For many, we live in a world of destruction, literal and figurative, external and internal, and we put on our protective gear in constant attempts to survive.
If you’re looking for explanations next to the artworks, you won’t find them. At the start of the exhibit there is a small binder with information on the show and brief biographies of the contributing artists. While this may send some into immediate panic mode (I’m a label lover myself), once you start engaging in the artwork, you’ll find you have plenty to say yourself. Don’t worry — you’ll survive. The exhibition will remain up through October 7.
Lambert Fine Arts
57 Stanton Street
LES in NYC