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Rebecca Reeves and Gregory Coates at Soft Machine Gallery in Allentown


February 12, 2013   ·   9 Comments

Rebecca Reeves
    "Photophore W.C. no.01" , 2011-2012
    Cyanotype Print, Human Hair, Layered Plexiglas
    photo credit: Jason Wierzbicki

   22" x 18"

By pairing two artists who couldn’t be more dissimilar — Rebecca Reeves and Gregory CoatesThe Soft Machine Gallery‘s Eva Di Orio provokes discussion of permission, control, property and ownership, specifically by focusing on the tangible nature of these subjects. The Allentown gallery is enjoying its third month in its giant new industrial space.

Soft Machine Gallery, Allentown, PA photo credit: John Mortensen

Soft Machine Gallery, Allentown, PA
photo credit: John Mortensen

Soft Machine Gallery, Allentown, PA photo credit: John Mortensen

Soft Machine Gallery, Allentown, PA
photo credit: John Mortensen

Opening night, goose down from Coates’s installation “Stage” had drifted into the hallways, blurring the boundary between his room and the other artist’s. The shiny bits of animal beauty crushed under winter boots signaled that his newly-installed sculpture was already beginning to decay. Rebecca Reeves’s show, titled “Through That Which Is Seen” was something quite different — sculptures of miniature furniture tightly-sewn onto squares of industrial felt; shiny, framed cyanotypes, and drawings.  I left the gallery, mulling over the two radically different perspectives: Coates’s lighter, relaxed, engaging nod to entropy against Reeves’ obsessive control over personal objects.

Gregory Coates, "STAGE", 2013, Rubber, Feather, dimensions variable. photo credit: John Mortensen

Gregory Coates, “STAGE”, 2013,
Rubber, Feather, dimensions variable.
photo credit: John Mortensen

Coates is the first of what I hope will be many artists that exploit the cathedral-high ceiling in the gallery’s back room. He hangs a waterfall of recycled, tied-together bicycle inner tubes from a discarded and re-purposed trellis, allowing the tubes to cascade down onto an inviting carpet of fluffy, white-and-cream-colored feathers. Coates demonstrated how to walk in the feathers: “Slow . . . watch your step,” like a big brother after a pillow fight. Austere and airy, the piece works with time and space by limiting the information I am taking in and making me slow down and walk with both care and pleasure. I imagine rising up like a balloon through the crusty, snaky coils of rubber to bob around freely, yet my feet are still firmly grounded.

“Stage” invites our participation—just take that step over the lip that corrals the feathers and you’re in. And on February 23 dancer Aya Iida will perform in the installation as part of “Lollipop,” a celebration of Osaka artists in Allentown put together by FUSE art infrastructure. Coates made it clear that Aya Iida will have complete freedom to do whatever she likes that night: permission is integral to the piece. (The Lollipop festival is hosting approximately 30 Japanese artists while they are in the U.S. for the Gutai: Splendid Playground show at the Guggenheim Museum in New York this February.)

Since traveling to Japan in the mid 2000s, Coates’s work has been influenced by the Japanese aesthetic movement known as Gutai, which is considered a collective response to the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1944. Gutai translates as “embodiment”: literally, Gu means “tool” and tai means “body.” Sensation, physical action and psychological freedom arrive with Gutai through experimenting with unexpected materials and through breaking with tradition. In the Gutai Manifesto, Jiro Yoshihara, the movement’s founder, states: “Novel beauty is to be found in works of art and architecture of the past which changed their appearances due to the damage of time or destruction by disasters.” Gutai, which values “the beauty of decay,” asserts that objects need to have the surface “make-up” removed, meaning, therefore, that traditional art-material application loads on “false significance.” Gutai was a precursor to Art Informel in France and the Fluxus movement here in the U.S in the 60s. Today, it would be considered Installation Art.

    Rebecca Reeves,     "Family Preservation (Dining Room)"  Miniature Furniture," 2012,     Thread, Industrial Felt ,     16.5" x 20.5"     photo credit: Jason Wierzbicki

Rebecca Reeves,
“Family Preservation (Dining Room)” Miniature Furniture,” 2012,
Thread, Industrial Felt ,
16.5″ x 20.5″
photo credit: Jason Wierzbicki

Where Yoshihara sought a “tremendous scream in the material itself,” Rebecca Reeves’s sculptures of miniature furniture sewn onto slabs of industrial felt scream control, and they make me feel as bound as the objects I’m looking at. In an email, the artist describes herself as the “Collector, Protector and Keeper” of numerous family heirlooms and antiques that have been passed down through three generations. Her determination to keep this primary collection safe, dust-free and organized overflows into creating meticulous secondary sculptures, drawings and prints; yet, fortunately, her seriousness can suddenly switch to humor.

I relish her photos of miniature chairs, chests, and tables fitted with carefully sewn clear-plastic dust protectors (!). Not stopping there, she made an even bigger cover for the entire collection. Laurie Simmons’s doll furniture photographs come to mind, but Rebecca seems to work in isolation from art world references, with tunnel vision for her clear, singular purpose: maintaining control over her personal possessions.

    Rebecca Reeves     "Photophore W.C. no.01" , 2011-2012     Cyanotype Print, Human Hair, Layered Plexiglas     photo credit: Jason Wierzbicki    22" x 18"

Rebecca Reeves
“Photophore W.C. no.01” , 2011-2012
Cyanotype Print, Human Hair, Layered Plexiglas
photo credit: Jason Wierzbicki
22″ x 18″

Drawings made from photos of hairballs found in her bathtub and shower drain explore the sinister nature of hair, a dead extension of the body, running counter to Reeves’s need for order and cleanliness. I will be interested to see how her work with hair develops. To quote Yoshihara: “Art as we know up to now [is] fakes fitted out with tremendous affection,” so from the Gutai point of view, Rebecca’s use of non-traditional materials saves her from being hamstrung by a love of control.

The show presents two contrasting temperaments: Gregory Coates shares space, grants permission, and holds his own by relaxing control, while Rebecca Reeves guards against decay, dust and chaos, against which, for the moment, she is winning.

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9 responses to “Rebecca Reeves and Gregory Coates at Soft Machine Gallery in Allentown”

  1. Michelle says:

    Elizabeth, Thank you for this look into the exhibition, and into the history/ connection with Gutai. Here in Dallas, there are a number of exhibitions pulling from the use of materials in Gutai and other avant garde movements from 1950s Japan. Your explanation of these two artists’ approach to the presentation of materials and how the viewer perceives the materials is very helpful since I can’t make it up to soft Machine Gallery.
    keep up the good work. michelle mackey

  2. elizabeth says:

    Thanks Michelle! Its great to hear that Gutai is percolating through the Dallas scene too. Allentown is fortunate to have Gregory Coates and Fuse art infrastructure, both are committed to bringing international artists to the area to visit and work. The Gutai philosophy and a grassroots DIY attitude complement each other in a very satisfying and simple way.
    Keep us posted on what’s going on in Dallas!
    Best Elizabeth

  3. Osakan thunderbolt hits Allentown Gallery!

    晴天の霹靂 (Seiten no heki-reki) Literally means: Thunderclap from a clear sky. The meaning of this Japanese saying is A bolt from the blue. / A complete surprise. And that is exactly what we experienced this weekend, when visiting artist Aya Iida performed “STAGE”, an interpretive dance. The surprise bolt came from Japan and exploded through the down feathers and into the rubber inner tubes of Gregory Coates’ art installation at Soft Machine Gallery.

    Dressed in a Harajukuesque nautical ensemble, Iida came bounding through the feathers, hurling herself to the quirky beats of a modern soundtrack that fused elements of new age, hip hop, tribal beats and house music.

    The bird peered curiously through the inner-tube jungle, and a row of young girls in the front watched intently as she slowly stalked forward towards them. The music was slower and Iida was now staring just a couple feet away from the girls, from her downy nest. There was giggling…then with a tilt of the head, playful communication ensued. Friends coached the middle girl to turn and move and Iida’s mirroring gestures inspired more giggles.

    The music changed and she danced off to a corner and opened a box-cutter, contemplating Coates’ recycled inner tube sculpture; then, carefully chose some pieces that needed slicing. Iida’s performance and her aggressive presence gave this installation brand new dimensions. “Lollipop: Gutai Influences,” or Wham Bam philosophy seeks to open a dialog between the material’s and the artist’s spirit while attempting to transform one material into something new. Iida’s dance went a step further: her dance transcended all cultural and language boundaries.

    “STAGE” was made possible through FUSE art infrastructure in Allentown. Its programming creates an infrastructure for the arts that embrace, direct and present ideas bridging community, artists and institutions. Thank you to the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts and Kiki Nienaber, Director FUSE art infrastructure for bringing world-class art experiences to the Lehigh Valley! The next great destination for artists and supporters of the arts.

    see blog article for some action photos of STAGE, by Jamie Cabreza

  4. Eva Di Orio says:

    Thank you Elizabeth and Ellen for such insightful reviews. The performance by Aya Iida was quite provocative, invigorating and downright sexy. The intention I was told was that she was dressed as a school girl in uniform. Her dance interludes, which each lasted for 5 minutes, were timed and ended with the faint bell of a timer (which represented the school bell). Each dance session was representative of her fantasies. The time and space in between her dancing was up to her inspiration. She would start and begin each 5 minute session with intense drama.

    The Gutai portion of this exhibit was on the very last day of the exhibit. The rest of the month was dedicated to the the work of Rebecca Reeves and Gregory Coates. I feel that the clash of Rebecca and Gregory’s work was in the spirit of Gutai with the accidental collision of opposite demeanors and with both artists’ use of unorthodox materials (hair, dollhouse furniture-Reeves and bicycle inner tubes, feathers-Coates). The intersection of these two artists conceptually was both accidental and purposeful. And the Gutai element was a surprise which beautifully complemented an otherwise whole exhibition.

  5. elizabeth says:

    Thanks for writing Eva–We look forward to more innovative programming from the Soft Machine Gallery in Allentown, and coincidentally I just checked out Willaim S. Burroughs’ book out, with the same name, this week.
    Best to You Elizabeth Johnson

  6. ellen says:

    From Osaka with love… to Soft Machine Gallery in Allentown, to the Guggenheim: no stoppin the Gutai!
    see the follow-up on these talented artists as they take the Guggenheim by storm, on EastonIsHome

  7. Thanks Ellen, For following up your Allentown Gutai story with
    one about the late night party at the Guggenheim Museum. The pictures
    of the newspaper costumes are great–I love that you and Jamie captured
    the adventuresome spirit of maneuvering in paper couture!
    Best Elizabeth

  8. Neat youTube video captures a few slices of Aya’s performance inside Greg Coates’ Soft Machine gallery STAGE:

  9. Thanks Ellen for putting up the Youtube link. I’m curious about who
    made the video. It is satisfying to first read about the piece and then see
    it in video form. Now its whole, complete: February in grey Allentown, snowlike feathers on Aya’s school girl outfit–she sure gave a feisty performance.

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