Temporary Agency: On Colin Carney, Adrienne Spier and the Fleeting Desires of Contemporaneity

This was a catalogue essay for the exhibition "Temporal" at Renann Isaacs Gallery, Guelph in the summer of 2014.

“If we wanted to get around the world in a week, she said, we’d be in the air seventy percent of the trip. Even if we followed the sun, we’d still be hemorrhaging hours all over the Pacific.”

Dave Eggers, from You Shall Know our Velocity!

Somewhere in and around 150 years ago, the French poet Charles Baudelaire wrote an essay about Modern artists wherein he described the aesthetic characteristics that he felt contemporary artists should be striving to achieve. Although “The Painter of Modern Life” was, in fact, about a very specific (and relatively minor) French painter named Constantine Guys, it went on to become a proto-manifesto for, more or less, the entirety of Modern Art. Within it’s 35 largely luminous pages there are many sound bites worth citing, but the money quote is this:

“Modernity signifies the transitory, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art of which the other half is the eternal and immutable.”

And so: there it is. Many of the best artists of the next fifty years attempted, in various means and aesthetic strategies, to capture the transitory quality of Modern life. Picasso and Braques gave us their frenetic multiplicity through a collage-based aesthetic. The Futurists rendered their all-at-once-ish compositions in the multitudinous array of high intensity hue, giving us the optics of speed. Meanwhile, elsewhere, Marcel Duchamp’s nude descends her staircase in perpetuity. His Rotorographs keep on turning. His bicycle wheels keep on spinning.

The works of Colin Carney and Adrienne Spier are both fixated on re-imagining the presentation of the transitory. Drawing upon a hundred years of aesthetic tradition, the work of these artists manages to catapult itself into new terrain: Carney’s digitally manipulated photographs freeze transition eternally, while Spier’s eclectic, sculptural reconfigurations remain eternally in transition.

Colin Carney’s large format prints overlay and overlap multiple points of view of (usually) the same subject. By manipulating the translucency of these overlays, his works provide an all-at-once-ish sense of visual perspective that is conceptually (if not formally) similar to Cubism. His imagery feels marvelously haunted by the memory of his subjects. As the traces created by his process embed each print with an eerie presence, the ghosts of each instant morosely intermingle.

Although the ultimate output of Adrienne Spier’s work can take many forms, such as video, digital print or sculpture, her work is deeply invested in sculptural conversation. Working within the Duchampian tradition of the reconfigured ready-made, Spier accumulates old, discarded furniture as the raw material for her assemblages. Like Carney’s images, Spier’s work is likewise haunted by the memories of a recent past. Her sculptures bear the scars of these histories: school desks riddled with magic-marker graffiti, domestic furniture deeply worn from age and use. Like an aesthetic Dr. Frankenstein, she re-animates these shorn and shabby remains into something that breaths anew.

It wasn’t all that long ago that human life was relatively constant. People were born in a place, lived and died with very little changing over that course. Since the late 18th Century, however, change itself has been the only constant, and the speed at which this alteration occurs continually escalates. The desire to signify this sense of motion has likewise been important in art ever since, and it is this tradition that Colin Carney and Adrienne Spier spiral out of. Preoccupied by our collective reminiscences, their work gives agency to the temporal. Like a clock that ticks but doesn’t advance, their work remains fixed in movement - while time spins ahead the whirligig sprawls presumptuous.