In The Garden of Externalities

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In The Garden of Externalities : David O'Brien

Jan 22 – Apr 3, 2016 // Cinematheque Lobby Gallery

The co­mingling of natural and synthetic matter exists nearly everywhere you look. Engineered objects degrade, fall apart, and “fall out” of their proper position in the world as they begin a slow transformative return to their ecological origins. Ruins are what we traditionally call sites that society names and delineates to bring attention to history and this return to geologic time. This designation is typically reserved for culturally significant structures. O’Brien believes that much is missed in this system. Everyday objects once swept up in the rapid current of human symbolic culture are discarded and scattered nearly everywhere on the surface of the earth. These objects, at random sites in various states of decay, tell a slightly different story about human nature than any official historical monument.

David documents what you might call micro­ruins, tiny sites in a state of flux. There is a story of chemical struggle, of materials highly refined and processed to such an extreme degree as to be unrecognizable to the rest of nature. These materials are then cast back into the landscape and asked to re­integrate with the earth as it was. There is poetry to be found in this dimension of the slow, patient forces at work within all matter. O’Brien’s work is an attempt to bear witness and document these material transformations and interactions. Sometimes there is not necessarily a man­made object in the picture per se, but human agency and industrial processes at work behind the scenes that result in some material struggle or conflict.

O’Brien’s ongoing series of disc paintings are formal photographic studies of the ground at selected sites. The works themselves are made with multiple layers of acrylic paint laid down using silkscreens. The circular format draws analogies to the view inside a laboratory petri dish or the oculus of a telescope.

The video shown here was shot in Iceland. A stone outcropping puts up resistance to the perpetual deluge of glacial meltwater. No doubt the rapidly accelerated melting is due to decades of human industrialization, putting added pressure on the rock in the water.

David O'Brien interview with Santa Fe Blogger & Art Aficionado Elaine Ritchel: Material Struggle, Material Agency: An Interview with David O'Brien