Welcome to the End of History: a review of Neil Yoder’s paintings at Relax, It’s Just Coffee

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Ghosts of the Demolition Zone, October 2016

I first became aware of Neil Yoder’s work a few years ago, when he submitted a painting into the May Show at the Mansfield Art Center. The outer edge of the canvas had been carefully plastered with pornographic images and it caused quite a stir within that conservative venue. I took him to be a provocateur, out to shock us. I don’t disagree with this approach. In fact, in our saturated media landscape where even the most heartbreaking images of drowned Syrian refugee children are reduced to memes, flattened out into pure spectacle, hijacked and turned into shorthand used by clowns for political theater, an artist must sometimes become a visual terrorist in order to break through the digital hypnoglare of our lives. I’ve been sizing Yoder up, gauging his sincerity, and trying to get a grip on just what the fuck he is up to.

The work that Neil is displaying at Relax, It’s Just Coffee covers a broad range. There are paintings of Mansfield’s old industrial buildings, hallucinatory surrealist landscapes, dayglo gardenscapes, and brutal Baconesque figures. My review will be limited to the paintings of local industrial buildings, though the reader may find that the observations that follow are applicable to Yoder’s work in general.

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Detail of the frottage-like technique from Pulse/Release

The paintings of Mansfield’s industrial buildings are aglow with radioactive light, sickly and oversaturated, but beautiful in their own way. At times Yoder has even embedded glitter in the paint, which pushes the work to the edge of kitsch, but I think appropriately so considering the themes, which I will attempt to tease out in due time. The buildings are rendered convincingly and it’s against the realism of the buildings that the sky, landscape and figures take on an otherworldly quality. There is something realer-than-real about the figures in all of Yoder’s paintings. Not because they’re rendered realistically, but because they possess an irresistible palpability due to the Max Ernst-like frottage technique that Yoder has used to render them. Their reality is not the reality of our world, but of some post-nuclear world of molecular confusion.

Warehouse @ 200 Block E. 5th ST (facing Southeast)

Warehouse @ 200 Block E. 5th ST (facing Southeast)

In “Warehouse @ 200 Block E. 5th ST (facing Southeast)” there is a concentric shock wave emanating from the middle of the image. While the other industrial building paintings seem to capture what remains, quietly and peacefully, after the apocalypse, this painting captures the precise moment the bomb erupts. The precise moment of imbalance, when the atom splits and all of that potential energy, once bound by strong or weak forces (I’m no physicist), is released. In that initial flaring up, a chasm is opened and we glimpse a kind of Gnostic realm beyond the material world. Within this rift a wolf gnashes its teeth and a cloven hoofed beast seems to challenge us with its battering-ram horns. It’s the moment the cosmic egg cracks and all of our terrors and delights flicker in the white-hot magnesium light. 

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Warehouse Building “A” (Facing North)

So what is Yoder up to? What does it mean to paint the now demolished Westinghouse building in a post nuclear setting? What does it mean to hang these paintings in a coffee shop just blocks from where these buildings stand or once stood? The correlation is simple enough to any Mansfielder who has stood on 4th and Bleckner and surveyed the wasteland of our old industrial district. We are living our own economic post-apocalypse. The nation was just waking from its Cold War fatigue when NAFTA was signed, signaling the wholesale capture of our Republic by Neo-Liberalism. And our shift from an industrial giant to a crippled service economy has a direct relation to those trade policies.

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Ghosts of the Demolition Zone, August 2016

It’s for these reasons that, for me, Yoder’s work is entangled with the nuclear threat and deindustrialization. Our apocalypse hasn’t come in a white-hot instant, but has been slowly unfurling for forty years. The buildings he portrays, these husks of our once thriving industry, illustrate the genealogy of our present historical moment. This Trumpian moment, where truth has been supplanted by reality television and the kitsch simulation of truth. Yoder seems to be saying, “welcome to the post-truth, post-American moment. Welcome to the end of History. Welcome to Mansfield. She’s beautiful in her own way.”


Jason Kaufman is a proud member of Mansfield, Ohio’s artistic community. He has owned and/or been the curator of various local art galleries and is an active participant in writing groups, art critique groups, poetry readings, and many other collaborative projects.

Jason is a co-editor of Voices from the Borderland and the assistant editor of Semaphore Literary Magazine. He is the set designer for the Renaissance Theater.

To read and view more of his work, visit Jason’s personal blog, follow him on Facebook, and Instagram @jasonkaufman_artist.

Cosmic Egg for President: a review of John Lucas Hargis’ exhibition by Jason Kaufman

The gift that keeps giving this holiday season is Cosmic Egg for President, John Lucas Hargis’ exhibition in Main Street Books’ Book Loft. The show closes at the end of December, so make sure to stop by and see the work. If you’d like to meet the artist, there is a closing reception on Wednesday, December 28th, 5pm-6pm.


airbrush_20161226133705.jpgThe Book Loft is small, the wall space spare, which usually limits the number of pieces exhibited, but Hargis has packed every inch with art. As I ascend the stairs– bypassing a number of supermarket-cellophane collages, which offend my senses in much the same pleasant way that the hedonism of the supermarket offends my senses– I am greeted by a sign giving me permission to touch everything. So I touch everything. I pore over the pages of writings that are scattered about the room, flip through sketchbooks, dig through the ephemera contained within makeshift attaché cases, drag my fingers over the paintings, and rock a tiny horse.

picsart_12-26-01.45.52.jpgUnfolding the instruction card for a piece titled Convertible Diaries Mini Series, I read the words “Kitchen Sink” and think, “that about sums it up.” Hargis has thrown the kitchen sink at us. There is so much information presented in Cosmic Egg that you could spend hours digging through it all. At one point, looking around to ensure nobody is watching, thinking I might be pushing the invitation to freely explore a bit too far, I take a painting off of the wall because I have a suspicion that even these regions, off-limits to all but the most handsy viewers, will contain information. And, sure enough, the back is covered with writing that was never intended to be seen by anyone. But being seen doesn’t matter, the writing is essential to the painting even if it’s hidden. It’s similar to the way in which the previous inhabitants of a house are essential to the current mood of the house. How their lives still speak to you, as if their stories, imbued into the plaster-lathe, radiate from the walls long after their names are forgotten. Continue reading

“Krokus,” an exhibition of collages at Relax, It’s Just Coffee; a review by Jason Kaufman

Just a word or two (thousand) to urge you to see the collages of James Lee Van Horn and Riley Kemerling at Relax, It’s Just Coffee!

Over the last two years I’ve kept tabs on the progress of James Lee Van Horn’s massive collage project, titled “B’reshith.”

The collage began with the Milky Way chocolate bar advertisement in the lower left corner. In the advertisement, the bar is broken and the caramel center stretches enticingly between the halves. Behind the stretching caramel, James inserted the image of a woman parting the stream of caramel, revealing a deeper orb of light. He was smart to begin with a reference to the Milky Way, because he was indeed setting off to create a virtual universe of images, whose complex (absurd, poetic, accidental) referentiality open and sustain a kind of internal ‘space’. B’reshith is 8ft. x 4ft., but most of the images that fill the space are taken from magazines of a standard 9in. x 11in. format. Because the relatively large space within the frame dwarfs the comparatively small images (figures), there is really no dominant figure in the piece. No protagonist, or unifying subject, but a homogeneous spattering of subjects vying for our attention. If we stand back and view the piece as a whole the figures go out of focus, and we are forced to read it as a formal surface of rhythms, colors, and lines. It’s only when we approach the piece, taking it in section by section, that we can clearly see the images and begin to tease out possible narratives. This visual limitation is important because it simulates an epistemological limitation, which I believe is central to James’ worldview and which can be summed up by Bucky Fuller’s maxim, “The world is non-simultaneously apprehended.”

B’reshith has gone through many stages since then, and it’s great to finally see it in its ‘finished’ state. The beauty of James’ approach to Work is that he rolls with whatever happens. I don’t mean to say that he doesn’t have certain intentions when he begins his work. He does, and those intentions continue to shape it throughout the process, but he isn’t afraid to lose control. Example: In one of B’reshith’s later stages it was vandalized pretty heavily with graffiti. This might lead others to abandon the project, but I swear to god when he told me about it he was giddy as a school girl. He loves the accidental. He welcomes the Other. His starting place is the external. He curates fragments of others, appropriates, adds to, removes from, referees the most disparate aspects of our culture. I see him more as a caretaker of these small public spaces than an author. His work is a disorienting blend of gaudy found materials, the most banal pop-cultural references, and references to esoteric wisdom traditions. Though his work begins from the outside, it’s clear the work is praxis for internal change (psycho-spiritual): for James in the creation, for us in the reading. I’ll leave you to the reading.

The collaboration between James and Riley Kemerling started when James gave her the collage scraps left over from B’reshith. From these scraps she made two collages (Fig. A and Fig. B).

Riley’s approach is significantly different than James’. James seems concerned with simulating the sensation of rapid change, spacial disorientation, and the anxiety we all (unconsciously) feel as inhabitants of the contemporary imagescape, something akin to what Fredric Jameson called post-modern hyperspace, where technology and information processing leave us unable to locate ourselves within space. We are smeared out, at all times, online, in television. We circle the globe in nanoseconds and are everywhere but here, quietly, now. Riley, by contrast, seems to neutralize the onslaught of images by digesting them. Whereas the images in James’ collages remain distinct because of his clean-edged style, Riley paints the collages, obscuring the edges and burying the images within the surface of the work. It’s as if she is changing and blending the appropriated images into her own Being-substance. The soft, diffused surfaces and the subject matter itself lend her work a feminine, sexy quality that James’ hard-edged, brutal compositions don’t possess.

I claimed the starting place of James’ work seems to be the joy he takes in displacing his own Self, by opening himself up to the Other. For him the work begins with the external. By contrast, I sense that Riley’s approach is more internal. Her work feels rooted in a deep, sensitive relationship to her own interior life. In James’ work, the appropriated images are never really altered. They operate much as they always have, as referents to things in the world. James offers us a sea of images to drown in, and the pleasure of viewing his work is that he simultaneously teaches us how to swim in the randomness. By contrast, because of the way Riley has manipulated these same appropriated images, they no longer seem to refer to the outside world, but to disclose something intimate about herself.

I hope I’ve given you some ideas of how to approach the work. Please, please, please go to Relax, It’s Just Coffee, grab a latte, and spend some time with their work. This is a great collaboration! Here are a few more images from the show.

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James Lee Van Horn

James Lee Van Horn

Born in the thresholds of dial-up and hypertext James Lee Van Horn, aka Teenwolf, stalks the Rust Belt as a trickster and a pundit’s worst nightmare. Nourished on the teats of Maybe logic and ontological graffiti he searches for the silver bullet that will signal his PERICHORESIS.

Riley Kemerling

 

 

 

Riley Kemerling is an Ohio born and raised artist, now studying Illustration and Drawing at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Riley uses a variety of materials in her work, such as charcoal, acrylics, oils, watercolors, graphite, and pen and ink.

 

Jason Kaufman

Jason Kaufman is a writer and sculptor living in Mansfield, Ohio with his wife, Jenny, and son, Cormac. He is closely involved with the local art community in Mansfield, where he participates in monthly art critiques and writing workshops, poetry & prose open-mics, and writes reviews of regional art exhibitions. Jason works for The Renaissance and Main Street Books, a local independent book store.

“Da Field,” by Chico’s Brother

In “Da Field,” Chico’s Brother, aka Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz, explores the darker side of Mansfield, Ohio, circa the 1980’s. The song starts off with a harsh mechanical percussion, reminiscent of the town’s industrial roots, like a sheet-metal press stamping out car parts, which gives way to the sound of wind-chimes. The song’s affect is of drinking lemonade on the front porch in summer, deeply peaceful, but you can’t shake the feeling that something Cthulhic inhabits the shadows. After a while you realize sheet-metal press percussion has ceased, but it’s all the more real for its absence —like the blood pulse in your ears, this eerie clack of teeth. This shit is rotten to the core!

Within the Happy Crowd, by Kate Shannon; a review by Jason Kaufman

“There’s the life and there’s the consumer event. Everything around us tends to channel our lives toward some final reality in print or on film. Two lovers quarrel in the back of a taxi and a question becomes implicit in the event. Who will write the book and who will play the lovers in the movie? Everything seeks its own heightened version. Or put it this way. Nothing happens until it’s consumed.”

“No body knows how to feel and they’re checking around for hints.”

                                                                        ― Don DeLillo, Mao II

In Within the Happy Crowd Kate Shannon extracts the backgrounds from photographs, leaving only the Subjects floating in fields of white. This is no hatchet job; these are no cardboard cutouts. The detail is incredible. Every gossamer hair has been salvaged. I can picture Shannon, sitting at her computer, dismantling these worlds one pixel at a time. The people in the photographs are so finely disinterred from their surroundings they might never have belonged to any world at all.

She photographs people in situations of orchestrated excitement, such as carnivals and amusement parks. She tends to shoot photos from the hip, so the Subjects don’t know that they are being photographed. Perhaps this captures them in some truer state. Probably not. More likely we all presuppose the camera, living our lives as if on screen. Lined up on the gallery wall, the photographs are a parade of unreal, highly saturated colors passing in the neutered white backgrounds. The Subjects are so detailed, so plastic they could be advertisements. They appear all the more lonely for their vibrancy. None of them smile.

What are they advertising? American culture, as it really is, without the distortion of ad agencies, models, and studio effects. Shannon’s work is the light-bearing twin of the dark art of marketing. They operate by similar rules. They even have a similar look; replace her Subjects with models and any one of the photos could be an ad for Mac. The difference is that while Mac ad models promenade as the great beneficiaries of American culture, Shannon’s real-life Subjects are its victims. Their arms overflow with the paraphernalia of theme parks: dart game trinkets, inflatable toys, a Dixie Cup-potted flower, a Cro-Magnon sized turkey leg. They glisten, sweaty as the obscenely sized soda cups they carry. They’re draped with eye-assaulting slogans of consumerism. A Hispanic boy cocks a fake chromed pistol sideways; a posture gleaned from the movies. An old man wears a shirt with a cowboy vignette. Horses erupt across his shoulders. An American flag luffs in the billows of dust as a bald eagle circles overhead. The myth of the Old West used to inflame contemporary jingoism. All the threads of US history converge in these Subjects. Their individuality squashed out by the mass psychology of consumerism. Reduced to clichés in Shannon’s lens. Utterly indistinguishable in the crowd.

We can sense the crowd, without the crowd being present. The crowd is implied in the postures of the Subjects; it is written in their bodies. We can sense the collective energy into which the Subjects have yielded. We can sense the potential violence, just waiting to froth up in the crowd. We can also sense their hearts, longing to be buoyed up on the surge. Longing to be part of the great seething hive. The crowd encapsulates. The energy mesmerizes. This is what it means to be Within the Happy Crowd, to be one of countless bodies yoked in a single action. Therefore, the Crowd is a reflection, or simulation of what Lacan says is our true desire, which is “the desire for nothing nameable.” On one level this means that we desire what the Other has. As soon as we possess something we no longer desire it, because to own a thing is to name it. Therefore desire is always faceless, existing on the periphery of a person’s life. On a deeper level, “the desire for nothing nameable” means that we desire a mode of experience that is not tainted by language. Our perception of the world is grown out of language. Though the world is a continuum of matter, in which no clear boundaries exists between ‘things’, our minds use language to parcel the external world into arbitrary symbolic units. This allows us to step outside of the continuum of matter, to separate ourselves from the flux into which other types of minds seem blindly immersed. We inhabit a kind of secondary world of symbolic images and texts. Therefore a more fundamental root of all desire is our wish to be utterly yoked to phenomena once again. To be without boundary and distinction.

Shannon has captured the Subjects in moments when the energy of the crowd deflates. In moments when the Disneyland-like simulations collapse and the specter before them is realized for what it is. A shoddy hoax. A piece of china-silk dangled from the ceiling like ectoplasm in the Medium’s candle-lit séance room. The Subjects gaze into the distance, as if searching for something new to replace their deflated desire. Desire may take many forms (the girl at the bar, Google glasses, a show at Gagosian), but these are really just place holders for something more fundamental. We pull these things into our orbit in order to consume them, to become of one substance. Each new possession is a minor flare illuminating what it is we really desire. By removing the backgrounds of the photos, Shannon visually withholds from the viewer any specific objects that may be desired by the Subject. The Subjects seem caught in suspension, and we are forced to see the stark truth of their unfulfilled/unfulfillable desire.

Herein lies the charm of Shannon’s work. She shows us that the consumer events, the spectacles around which we gather into groups, are inconsequential. We may mistake them as the objects of our desire, but we really Desire to abandon Self, to become utterly indistinguishable within the whole. Being caught up in the energy of a crowd simulates this experience. At the same time, no matter how enchanted the Subjects might be by the crowd, they are also individuals. Shannon has plucked them from the obscurity of the crowd. She has reasserted the individual by blanking out the spectacle, pixel by pixel. The Subjects are caught in limbo, the strange implications between being singularly themselves and seamlessly merged Within the Happy Crowd.

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Kate Shannon SelfieKate Shannon is an assistant professor within the Department of Art at The Ohio State University. She teaches Art & Technology and photography courses on the Mansfield Campus in Mansfield, Ohio.  The recipient of the 2013 Ohio State University Mansfield Campus Award for Excellence in Scholarship, she explores notions of desire, consumption, happiness, and loss through digitally manipulated images. She has exhibited her work across the United States.  Selected venues include the Masur Museum of Art in Monroe, LA; Manifest Gallery in Cincinnati, OH; the Zhou B Art Center Gallery in Chicago, IL; the Contemporary Arts Center in Las Vegas, NV; and TRACTIONARTS in Los Angeles, CA.  Shannon received her master of fine arts degree in studio art from The Ohio State University and her bachelor of fine arts degree in studio art from the University of Kentucky. She currently resides in Mansfield, Ohio with her husband and two cats.  

“Mouth of the Ocean”: a video-performance by Jason Kaufman inspired by sovroncourt’s song of that title.

This feature is a video piece by Jason Kaufman inspired by sovroncourt’s “Mouth of the Ocean”, track 2 on Waves and Wheels. Please set the video to 720p for the best quality and enjoy!

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A few words from Jason Kaufman about the song, about the video: 
If I listen to sovroncourt long enough, I will cry. Guaranteed. Gets me every time. So I listen when I’m by myself, in the car or late at night when I’m deep into a sculpture. In all his work, whether photography, assemblage, or music, his techniques are self-detonating. He wants the work to be authentic, earnest, honest, but refuses alluring or pretty technique for fear the work will achieve only a shell of honesty. Cameron’s work is 40 grit sandpaper, because he wants us to be scuffed free of clothes and naked before meeting him at the raw-hearted center of it.

I can no longer view his work without seeing his mother. She’s everywhere, a presence known and strange. She is always smiling and teaching him little things. Reminding him to smile. “Mouth of the Ocean”, of all the songs on waves and wheels, is most directly about his mother and because of this it feels like the emotional core of the album. I can’t stop listening to it. It makes me think of my mother; it makes me think of losing her. It’s a wound I have to touch. Will have to touch. Cameron sings “I would remember […] to swim, and fear the ocean,” and here we are, all of us, fearing the ocean–of love, existence, death–but swimming nonetheless. 

In the video my mother and I held eye contact for the duration of the song. We felt silly at first. Within thirty seconds we were both crying. I felt fake for a minute. Then I felt too real. Then I felt at home. By the end we were feeling silly again.

“In Front of the Big Screen”, a poem by Jason Kaufman

“In Front of the Big Screen”

It was a fatal nihilism nurtured by the Big Screen.
An atrocity that belongs only on the Big Screen.
A fruit, beyond ripe, that spread its deadly seed before the Big Screen.
In the aftermath we devour it off of the Big Screen.
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A half century of nihilism has culminated in him.
With a semi-automatic he has written his final doctrine.
12 dead. His grand work. His magnum opus.
In his doctrine, only Death is significant,
only Death is beyond temporal illusion
Death is absolute.
Death is charity.

His bullets were like unthreaded needles embroidering the dark.
Death leaked into the aisle ways.
It seems now that the theater seats were upholstered in blood-red fabric
in preparation for this occasion.
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The survivors report that initially the simulated, movie bullets
and the actual bullets were indistinguishable.
I wonder what Jean Baudrillard would say about that?
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I can’t get the image of him out of my mind—
The deranged, wide-eyed stare. The cartoon hair.
I imagine his mug-shot is already hanging
on the wall of the next mass murderer,
the next anti-poet.
Yes, another Dark Knight will rise.
They’ve already memorized the treacherous
and macabre stanzas of his “Aurora” poem.
12 dead; not the largest, not the least mass murder.
But an adequate goal for the next to yearn for,
to improve upon.

I have a portrait of Walt Whitman hanging above my desk.
He has a rapturous, wide-eyed stare and cartoon hair.
I yearn to achieve Whitmanesque gentleness.
I yearn for the world to yearn for Whitmanesque gentleness.
I look to him to guide me through this sorrow,
I’m counting on him to re-inflate my heart.
“Look at that,” he says to me, pointing to a remarkable star.
“Look at this,” he says to me, pointing to a blade of grass.
“That is marvelous. This is significant. Can you see?”

(Walt’s body is a bassoon but his voice is a flute)
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We are searching for a motive
equivalent to the crime.
We want to wring it out of him.
We want to apply pressure
and a good deal of pain,
in order to make him repent,
to make him feel remorse.
In order to make him human.
But remorse can’t be taught
and no motive exists
that will make sense of this crime.
No humanity resides in him.
None exists in him.
None exists.
None.
None.
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Walt’s beard is full of tears.
My beard is full of tears.

He says to me,
“Jason, my words love you.
My words will draw those bullets back into the barrel,
back into the chamber,
back into their casings.”

© Jason Kaufman 2012
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bio pictureJason Kaufman is a writer and sculptor living in Mansfield, Ohio with his wife, Jenny, and son, Cormac. He is closely involved with the local art community in Mansfield, where he participates in monthly art critiques and writing workshops, writes reviews of regional art exhibitions, and can often be found battling stage fright at local poetry & prose open mics. Jason is the Art Gallery Director for Relax, It’s Just Coffee and works for Main Street Books, a local independent book store.