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Christopher Garrett and Frank Haines: Peace Off Mind

Hunter Braithwaite

December 6, 2013 – March 10, 2014

The added f derails the title’s cliché, sending it tumbling into a hidden space a good deal off the tracks. This exhibition, a collaboration between two artists, is grounded visually in the language of the homestead—stained glass, stained wood, stained fabric. Thematically, it is equal parts transcendental and trance occult. Frank Haines, who bills himself as an artist and a magician, has long addressed the powers which lie latent in unexpected places. This often means a practice which engages the occult, an example of which being last year’s piece at Performa, when Haines collaborated with Zeena Schreck, née LeVey. (Refresher: her father Anton founded the Church of Satan). Christopher Garrett’s work here takes a more sentimental approach. Through a large pencil drawing and the sly repetition of natural forms, he evokes both emotion and last season’s ennui.

This is as a good of a time as any to forsake, at least for the length of this column, artistic authorship. It gets muddy, it feels unimportant. If you see the show, Haines did the hanging stained glass pieces, the metallic looking grid on the way in, and the diamond shaped wall works on the back wall; Garrett did the pencil drawing and the wall of paintings which all contain the word personal; and the rest were the result of some collaboration, tilting to either one artist or the other.

The gallery reads like a coded film set—dyed canvas curtains (from the Schreck performance) hang over stained wood armatures. Sculptures act as both props and guides through the space. There is a zig-zag of two stretched canvases and a homemade grid. “Water Finds its Own Level” is a sawhorse with one leg removed and counterbalanced by a stained glass and ceramic-covered wood jutting to the other side. These works have an animist quality provided by a playful dispersion of once-living elements, such as ceramic snails and the three clay-covered turtle shells which top another sculpture (also featuring a flower cast in concrete). All of these objects have a folksy power, something that recalls Thoreau (both the passage reproduced in the press release and other passages). Visit Walden, or perhaps Asheville, or anyplace where people handle snakes or wear crystals on chains to find what might be rustic mysticism or mystic rusticism—the feeling that there’s something deep and powerful in them thar hills.

Frank Haines Christopher Garrett installation views 2_o

Nomadic Knowledge(turtle shells, clay, gouache, acrylic, paper mache, concrete, glue, crushed watch parts, hand dyed fabric (by Frank Haines), found wood, stain. dimensions variable, 2013)

But turtle shells and snails aside, the exhibition has a refined formalism. The grid abounds. In a 2011 interview with Eliza Swann on Bomb’s website, Haines says that “a grid is a modern invention, a symbol in which to map out and contemplate the manifest. I can’t get away from the grid. It is a short step from a grid to the spider’s web, and then to consider what sits in the middle of that web. Like the super massive black hole, Sagittarius, which sits at the center of our swirling Milky Way galaxy. From manifest back to unmanifest. The mixture between the rough-hewn and the geometric does contemplate the manifest in the way that most symbolic systems do, but it does so in tongues, in a language we don’t speak but perhaps should learn.