If Disjecta had never been born, and the bowling alley building it now inhabits was left to slowly sink into itself in a dark, wet pile of mildew smell and wet boards, it might look a little like Andy Coolquitt’s installation appropriately titled:
This assessment may sound harsh, but it’s really the strength of Coolquitt’s exhibition. A collector of objects and a translator of spaces, the artist’s residency in St. Johns at c3:initiative afforded him an immersive interaction with Portland’s alleyways, scrap yards, and rainy season. The usually crisp, contemporary space of Disjecta is transformed into something entirely familiar to those of us living in the Northwest year-round. Like Seattle artist Whiting Tennis’ use of the blue tarp as a symbol for the backyards and backwoods of the Pacific Northwest, Coolquitt brings an eye to the urban settings of our locale through cast-off objects and what he terms ‘somebodymades’ (a nod to Duchamp’s assisted readymades). They are not gleaming with sunlight and choked with smog. They are shining through rainclouds and smelling of dampness.
Rachel Adams, the Curator-in-Residence for this past season of Disjecta’s programming, has wanted to work with Coolquitt again since she helped organize his first solo museum show in Austin in 2012. “Our interests intersect in terms of how objects can create new spaces and new relationships, and even though Disjecta is a beast of a space, I had a feeling Andy would really flourish […],” she noted when asked about the exhibition, “While his practice is very object based, when he has a solo presentation, he really considers how objects interact with each other, the viewer and the space. It just made sense that he should be part of the season.” The three other shows (Constructs, Sightings, and Intimate Horizons) that lead up to the Coolquitt installation also take on the inquiry of space and objects as they inform how the audience interacts with and views the work.
As an installation, SHOWERS/GUTTERS […] is transformative. It alters the gallery space as well as our perception of art viewing. Dark and dingy behind a constructed entryway, the exhibition leads the audience through treacherous piles of carefully curated debris, pools of water, black plastic tarps and burbling fountain structures. The reclaimed wood of the pathway is dirty and slippery, and the warning sign at the front desk warns us to watch our step. But once inside, at one with the must and the dust, we recognize something familiar. This is a conversation about Portland. This is a commentary on the moss and murk that we often take for granted. Adams, recounting Coolquitt’s journey from Austin to the c3 residency, mentioned that the artist’s beautiful, warm drive from Austin ended in Portland as it began to rain. “His practice is more about going out and scouring, so the rain makes a big difference,” she noted. “His residency at Marfa [‘Multi Marfa Room’] was the complete opposite: dusty, hot, super dry.” To approach this meteorological difference, Coolquitt set about taking pictures and video to more accurately record and convey his soggy experience of finding materials.
Adams mentioned in our conversation that this was the first real exhibition of videos that Coolquitt had attempted. “He’s shot video before [and] he goes out and takes photos all the time, but [he] hasn’t shown it before,” she relayed. In the end, these documentary videos serve as activators for the artist’s state of mind. The gurgle of a drainpipe, captured on video, echoes the soft flow of the large cabinet-turned-fountain in the corner of the exhibition. The slow drips on film seem to sync up to the slowly swinging box fan suspended precariously above a puddle.
Above all, this is an experiential piece. Coolquitt creates a path through an environment that moves the viewer in a specific way. Rather than just look at the work, you are reacting to the space, the smell, the cold, the wet. Adams mentions that the artist wants you to feel as if you are “entering a place that is very much different than the place you just were.” Indeed, entering from the sparse decor of Disjecta into the jumble of odds and ends, there is a certain connection to be made with the work of artists like Kurt Schwitters, that constructor of the Merzbau and sometimes-Dadaist. But then perhaps, is it the gallery that is the odd one out this time? The foyer serves as a threshold between two spaces that are very similar: the outer Pacific Northwest and Coolquitt’s inner, manufactured area.
Coming into a place, absorbing it, and then constructing a sculptural rendition so that others may experience the same is a daunting task. Coolquitt and Adams, as outsiders to this damp micropolis of ours, may have only scratched the surface of what Portland is and has to offer inspiration-wise (a point that Adams made sure to mention), but the exhibition at Disjecta is a healthy reminder that the artist/curator/audience/maker and the space/location/gallery/city need not be at odds. They can all benefit from overlap and fresh perspectives…and a couple rolls of tape and an indoor junk fountain can’t hurt.
The exhibition is open through April 26th at Disjecta. More info here.
Andy Coolquitt is an artist based in Austin, TX. He has been the Artist-in-Residence at the Chinati Foundation, the 21er Haus in Vienna, and has had numerous exhibitions nationally and internationally.
Rachel Adams is the Associate Curator for the University at Buffalo Art Galleries, and has served as the Associate Curator of Exhibitions and Public Programs at The Contemporary Austin previously. Her writing and criticism has appeared in Artforum.com, Modern Painters, and other prominent publications.