In five glass tanks, small pods float suspended, occcasionally fluttering. Nearby, a glass cube houses hunks of metal detritus. Broken globes, suspended like a science experiment, are attached to an apparatus that pushes blue liquid through tiny tubes. Wispy bits of imagery, like the memories of photographs, hang preserved in tubes or suspended in a box.
This is Steve Hollinger's "What's Left," an exhibition that is part memory, part dreamscape, and part science lab. The individual pieces are bound together in their strange overlapping of science and memory, and share a desire to capture and preserve what cannot be saved. They are touchingly nostalgic, sometimes overly so, and combine to tell a story of the person who might have lived in this world and made this work.
Pods, Tank #1, #2, #3, #4, #5 is a study of life itself, at least life as created by a response to light. Each tank is home to a collection of pods, small glass tubes connected to a solar panel and capacitor. Sporadically, a small motor inside the pod spins and they flutter in the liquid. At times they seem to respond to the presence of the viewer, others ignore you, but all seem as alive as any creature under glass in a science museum. Out of water, the pods are just as intriguing, although less life-like. In the front window of Chase Gallery, a number of these pods hang in two tiers along a wall. Their periodic twitches cause them to bump into each other, creating tiny tinkling sounds of glass.
There are several pieces in the exhibition that seem to be literal realizations of a personal narrative. Heart #4, for example, is so literal that it borders on cliché, yet it is also so beautiful and delicate that Hollinger might be forgiven a bit of sentimentality. Similarly, What's Left of Her House is at first glance a bit too literal, yet it leaves open too many questions to be written off. Who is she? What are these bits and pieces, and how did they once constitute a house? What happened to leave us only these remnants? That Hollinger has placed them in the same type of glass box as his pods seems to propose a relationship, that the artificial life of the pods, and the captured destruction of a home, are somehow related.
Two pieces, Winter Trees and Cloud Sampler play with photography by undercutting its ability to represent the world. In Cloud Sampler, twelve wispy images are suspended in a box on pins, like dead butterflies. The are blue and white yet unreadable, as if they are pictures that have failed to adhere to any surface. In Winter Trees these same non-photographs are captured in glass tubes, and lie crinkled and dead. Are these images memories or dreams, captured and held and thus destined to fade and disappear? Here Hollinger studies the failure to preserve these transient elements of life: clouds cannot be captured, and winter trees sprout green in the spring and are hidden by foliage in the summer, only to return again the following year.
Hollinger has always been a master of melding the beauty of art with the nostalgia of another time, and employing skillful use of technology to realize his pieces. "What's Left" is full of elements that fans of his work will immediately recognize and appreciate. His playfulness with optics and moving imagery in Taut and Man Imitating Bird and Jellyfish are wonderful evolutions from his work in the 2007 exhibition Picture Show at the PRC. Overall, those new to Hollinger's work will find a great selection of his diverse themes and interests, while those familiar with this mad-scientist will have the pleasure of tracing the themes of beauty, nostalgia and technology through this new collection of work.
"Steve Hollinger: What's Left" is on view September 3 - 27, 2008 at Chase Gallery.
All images are courtesy of the artist and Chase Gallery.