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Impermanence at Castelli


Post by Brent Burket

Yeats was right. “The centre cannot hold.” Why it cannot hold is another matter entirely. And maybe, the “why” isn’t that important here. Maybe the important thing is to know that it won’t hold, and then make powerful art about it. That seems to be what Mike and Doug Starn have done in their excellent show, Impermanence, at Castelli.

The front room at Castelli contains three glorious photo collage pieces from the late 80s/early 90s. In some ways they’re still not completed. They were first constructed between 1989 and 1994, but they’re still slouching towards a final Bethlehem of utter decay. Like all art. Like all gods.

Someday they’ll be gone, taken apart by gravity and their own weight and internal conflicts. The pieces address impermanence from a number of angles, commenting on the idea of change and disintegration in faith and art, and the institutions that house them both. The beams, adhesives, pins, and vices that hold up the photos tell the story of a desperate support.

In the back room it was hard to look at the collage of the Bodhisattva Guanyin statue photos without thinking of the Taliban and the Buddha statues of Bamyan. Those were carved into rock. These are printed on paper. What chance do they stand of survival. The tyranny of time or fear. Take your pick.

It’s perfect that Starns chose to have the Bodhisattva Guanyin sharing the room with images of snow flakes, basic and exquisite structures that are built to change. I was reminded of that great short story of transformation, Delmore Schwartz’s “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities”. Having just experienced a tranformative awareness, the protagonist walks out of the theatre into a new snow, a new horror, a new possibility. It is a beautiful, sad, and overwhelming moment. Just like this show.

Impermanence is only up through this Wednesday, December 21st. Then it’ll be, well, gone.

–Writer Brent Burket lives in Brooklyn where he produces the blog Heart as Arena and the Creative Council blog for the public art group Creative Time.