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Time, Space and Vacuum Cleaners 

Once, time was more familiar, even predictable, but that was in the old days before people began messing with space. Of course, people have always messed with space, but only in modern times have they really messed with space, littering it with satellites, space stations, radio waves and telecommunications clutter. All of which might cause one to pause and contemplate Einstein, who annotated the ways in which space and time were related.

Of course, photographers have been celebrating time and space for the past century and a half, recording whatever their cameras encountered as it happened, right down to a split second. But today that legacy is sometimes scrambled, as we see in a couple of shows that reflect the impact of recent sensibilities on photography. For instance, Rod Cook's superbly crafted platinum prints, close-up views of botanical specimens, seem to travel back in time to the romantic heyday of photo-impressionism a century or so ago.

In this sense, they are the opposite of Robert Mapplethorpe's 1980s hard-edged, high-fashion floral arrangements, yet Cook had been a party to those as well. A native of Georgia transplanted to New York in the late '70s, Cook was Mapplethorpe's printer, the unseen hand behind the bad-boy photo prodigy's stellar production values, and it was Cook's virtuoso touch that gave the flower and phallus king much of his aesthetic glitz. Cook eventually returned to his roots in nature, however, in these classic images printed with an archaic platinum/palladium process revered for its tonal range. It's an ideal medium for these vaporous views of nascent mushrooms in the mist, or dewy, filament-covered pods seemingly about to burst into primordial dandelions and the like. All of which makes them about as delicate as Mapplethorpe's stuff was extroverted. Impressive if reticent work; the viewer has to have an uncommonly subtle eye to fully appreciate them.

The photos in the Renovate show at Ferrara are as conceptual as Cook's are classical in approach. On entering the gallery, it is hard not to be aware of space, or at least the concept of space. That is because the photographs, instead of hanging on the walls, are suspended at odd angles from the ceiling. It seems the photo artists in the Murmur Collective measured the dimensions of the gallery space and then transposed those dimensions to a plot of land between some buildings in Austin, Texas (where they are based), and photographed what they found there. The photos transpose the Austin space to the gallery, with random bits of it photographically replicated in equivalent locations, replete with grid coordinates marked in chalk on the floor. If photography's original mission was to fix time and space in place, Renovate explodes them into a kind of flash frozen nimbus of pixilated photo-abstractions.

While photography captivates with its detailed recording of the surfaces of past and present, the art world itself resembles those Hindu mega-deities said to devour time and space like cosmic vacuum cleaners. Enter Jimmy Descant, AKA Rocket Man, whose found-object sculptures at Sylvia Schmidt update the legacy of Joseph Cornell into the '50s and '60s, the age of Sputniks, lava lamps and cars with fins. Examples of this technological romanticism appear in works like Platinum Blond Lover in which a flesh-colored bowling ball, mounted like a wall sconce, is pierced by a pointed brass shaft. Various lamp and bike parts conspire to create a curvaceous ensemble set off by some serpentine disks, circles and rods, yielding the mechanical equivalent of a tragic blond, a hormonal poem of appliance parts, which Descant has annotated "The curvaceous Yin to the masculine Yang of the Rocketships, a beautiful nude."

Similar sensibilities appear in other works comprised of vintage coffee pots, Fender bass guitar parts, glass doorknobs and antique chrome thermos bottles. Descant is obviously a romantic who knows the pathos of lost objects, the metaphysical aura of the vintage Electrolux and other displaced icons that, when cobbled together with a streetwise eye, suggest surreal epiphanies -- as if Marcel Duchamp had collaborated on the interior of the Saturn Bar, or other such imponderables too portentous to contemplate.

click to enlarge Jimmy Descant, AKA Rocket Man, updates the legacy of Joseph Cornell with found-object works like Platinum Blond Lover.
  • Jimmy Descant, AKA Rocket Man, updates the legacy of Joseph Cornell with found-object works like Platinum Blond Lover.
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