Nancy Buchanan at Charlie James Gallery
By Genie Davis
Nancy Buchanan’s Consumption, at the Charlie James Gallery through May 13th, is both a play on words – specifically the word consumption – and a terrifically witty look at the conspicuous consumption our society indulges in.
Buchanan’s works in mixed media, collage, and installation are precisely and absorbingly accurate depictions of excess and beauty, socio-political statements that compel viewers not to glance away. A feminist artist rooted in performance art in the 70s, Buchanan’s history informs her current work which combines mixed media, collage, drawing, and photography, and works to involve viewers in an immediate and visually stimulating way.
Consumption referred to tuberculosis, which Buchanan suffered from as a small child. It is more commonly used today to depict the consuming of something – a resource, money, the environment. Just as a disease racks the body, the consumptive nature of today’s often rampant consumerism destroys the environment, the culture, even the moral fabric of society.
The artist’s exhibition at Charlie James is culled from four different series by Buchanan. The most blunt of the four is “It’s About Time,” a series of collages that weave together luxury watch advertisements. These images offer a microcosm of society’s obsessions all in one spot: time (always in a rush, aren’t we?), status, and luxury. Do we really need a watch that costs as much as a compact car, or would a Timex do? Our collective, crow-like desire to collect shiny objects is put on aggressive display here, and of course the shiny objects themselves make viewers “watch” them. In “50 Shades of Cake,” we have a dark noir look at bakery treats, these depicted in grim shades of grey. The familiar bakery confections are attractive, but the grey images are also repulsive – reminiscent of mold, of decay, or at least to this viewer, of Miss Haversham’s hideous wedding cake in Dickens’ Great Expectations. These images too are about consumption: it’s not just our high sugar intake or processed foods that we have to worry about. What message are we consuming as a society?
Looking at the artist’s new “After California” series, Buchanan’s dealing with the intersection of the state’s natural beauty and suburban encroachment. It’s civilization in all its rabid land consumption versus the natural state. Buchanan’s photography contrasts iconic California landscapes with the human in-habitation that now informs them.
The whimsical collaborative pieces on exhibit, miniature installations that utilize video, combine Buchanan’s artistry with that of artist Carolyn Potter. Here, the interior of American homes are shown as filled with consumer detritus. “American Dream #6” shows a home that is quite literally covered with home improvement brochures. The video image is that of Joseph McCarthy; newspapers relate the dangers of atomic weapons. The other miniature, “Use Value” is all about garage sales – the way in which Americans seek to purge their homes of their materialistic shopping frenzy.
This is an exhibition that brings a lot into question, and much into bold relief.
Charlie James Gallery is located at 969 Chunk King Road in Chinatown.