In The Search for Dispravosláviye at Tiger Strikes Asteroid, Shanna Waddell and Rob Matthews are thinking about belief systems. Waddell’s works are focused on sixties’ counter culture and cult groups that exploited the cultural revolution. For Rob Matthews, it’s a questioning of dogmatic beliefs and skepticism toward certain religious practices. The show curated by TSA member Rubens Ghenov is on view until January 27.
Shanna Waddell draws inspiration from sixties’ psychedelia. In her Medicine Cabinet Altarpiece series, she uses a jarring, fluorescent palette to represent the radical counter culture and its utopian promise. In the two works from the series on view, Waddell creates abstracted compositions that incorporate the symmetry and basic geometry of altarpieces. In addition to these altarpiece backgrounds, she also adds floating symbols and shapes that become points of fixation. The overall effect of each painting is a hallucinogenic trance or vision. With their incorporation of symbols and religious references, the works represent the period’s desire for a mind-altering experience and a new model for living.
In People Peering into Floating Medicine Cabinet Altarpiece, this imagery appears again. In this work, however, the altarpiece resembles a hovering portal. The pastel background behind suggests a utopian landscape and the promise of escape.
Waddell’s interest in symbols is also apparent in her work Self Portrait, which includes a tie-dye background that also references the hippie movement. Despite the work’s title, the painting isn’t a realistic depiction of the artist. Instead, a bottomless triangle serves as a stand-in. With the artist’s interest in cults, this can be seen as a loss of personal identity to serve a cause.
River Phoenix is a memorial portrait to the deceased star whose untimely death made him an even greater figure of fascination. While the cult connection could be seen in the vein of celebrity worship, the star spent his early childhood in the Children of God cult until his family was able to escape. For Waddell, River Phoenix’s unusual upbringing makes him an embodiment of hippie idealism.
Rows of hundreds of Polaroid portraits depict an elderly woman holding a microphone and wailing as if overcome with a religious experience in Rob Matthews’ Sunday Morning, Sunday Evening. The forensic display of the Polaroids in rows points to a skepticism over the authenticity of the experience. The work’s title also suggests the event is not the result of divine intervention but a performed routine. It should be noted that Matthews did not take the photos — they are found photos he obtained in a circuitous way from someone who no longer wanted them.
“Dawn Watch” is a sound piece inspired by Psalm 130 that shares the Bible passage’s sense of anxiety and urgency. The work plays in the gallery but can also be downloaded via QR code, which links to here.
The show also includes two graphite drawings by Matthews. In his “The Word Made Flesh Made Graphite” series, the artist presents ordinary people in the manner of religious icons, creating a sharp dichotomy between the two. In “Work Hard, Play Hard”, two figures with bags over their heads serve as a metaphor for ignorance and tunnel vision that dogmatic beliefs can cause. The hooded figures bring to mind Ku Klux Klansmen, and the addition of the Whole Foods logo on one of the bags also points to other blinding influences in culture.
Although the work of each artist looks very different in style, both are interested in belief systems, especially the more, fringe variety. The interview on Tiger Strikes Asteroid’s website conducted by the show’s curator makes it clear that both artists search many of the same interests.
[Ed note: If you’re wondering as we were what the show’s title means, Curator Rubens Ghenov explained it to us in an email.]
The word Dispravosláviye is a term I invented for the show by adding the prefix Dis to the Old Church Slavonic word pravosláviye (Правосла́виѥ) which was the term used for orthodoxy in Slavic-language churches in Eastern European countries (Russia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, etc). I wanted to devise a term so as to provide a fictive entrance to the pre-existent descriptor that wouldn’t necessarily connote the opposite of orthodoxy (heresy), but that would perhaps flow more fluidly and in between.