I was thinking about Lana Del Rey’s song “Summertime Sadness” when I saw The Wilson Exercises’ show at REDCAT gallery in downtown Los Angeles. In the song, Lana is putting on her red dress to meet her bad baby, in what sounds like one of the last nights of summer. Even though Lana is feeling electric tonight, she also realizes that some time soon this moment will be over, and then summertime sadness is suddenly all there is left. The show at REDCAT is called The End of Summer and, like the song, this title too has some kind of nostalgic feeling to it. Summer never really ends in Los Angeles, but I spent the past summer in Stavanger with the Wilsons and their summer school at Rogaland Kunstsenter, hence the loving reference to the project as ‘the Wilsons’, a term used to cover both the curatorial duo Rivet and the two artists Anna Craycroft and Marc Vives. Their residency in Stavanger was the first iteration of The Wilson Exercises’ ongoing project and served as the backdrop for the exhibition at REDCAT.
Marc Vives’ Camping Tent (2014) met me when I entered the show, and is an over-size camping tent in the middle of the first gallery, facing the gallery’s back wall, and also facing Anna Craycroft’s paintings Schema for K: Key In, Key Out, Key Of (2014) installed on three gallery walls. As I stepped inside the tent I activated part of the sound installation Banyador, Sindria (2014) via a motion detector. The title translates to “swimsuit, watermelon” in Catalan, and the work is an a cappella song performed by a soothing voice in a kind of chanting rhythm. No Lana here. The other part of the sound work is installed in the next room of the tent – divided diagonally by a black cloth – and it too is activated by motion. The two rooms mirror each other, with slight variations, as does the sound work, and both rooms are “decorated” with the kind of pennant banners you could find at used car dealerships. A clothesline also comes to mind, as if someone was carelessly drying their clothes in the gallery but suddenly had to leave the tent and summer behind.
The ‘curatorial office’ Rivet has published a catalog, or manual, as a supplement to the exhibition in which they explain how they wanted the two artists to utilize the summer school as a place for gathering new impressions, inspiration, and most importantly, as a place for exercising, in order to create new artworks. In the manual they, and others, reflect on the nature of habit as an important component to the labor involved in art production, and their main concern seems to be to propose exercising and habitual work paired with improvisation as possible cornerstones in the creative process; a process which allegedly is more important than the product. “The Wilson Exercises is in itself a long-term exercise of doing and thinking together without a finite apotheosis or closure; instead its goal is to affect the artist’s practices as well as our own,” reads one of the manual’s interviews. But here I am at REDCAT, looking at art, and I am not sure how well the idea of continuity translates to the gallery setting with its conventional display of objects. The manual is a necessary supplement in that respect as it gives more insight to the process prior to The End of Summer, while it also informs that the show at REDCAT is an exercise preceding another exhibition in Barcelona this spring, giving the opportunity to compare before and after. The Wilsons propose a balance between the public and “withdrawal into individual practice,” but maybe not without tension, because Rivet always refers to the past summer school as “semi-public” and not necessarily as a school for everyone to join. Such a school could have tripped into a trap of relational aesthetics, trading object for spectacle. However, I wonder if the Wilsons’ exercises may be more beneficiary to the artists and curators involved, rather than to the general public; but isn’t that how working out works out anyways?
On the other hand, the artworks have an unfinished quality of process and exercise to them, and while the decorum on the front door of Vives’ tent is partially coming off, Craycroft’s paintings curl under the stress of heavily applied watercolor, as they are only fastened in the upper corners. Through the half covered windows inside the tent, you can also look at the paintings outside which are symmetrically installed in two horizontal rows like a cartoon strip; one strip per gallery wall. On the left hand side, Craycroft has colored the entire paper, and the paintings at both ends of the installation are bright yellow, while the colors in the middle of the installation are gradually evolving towards blue, through green and red. All the paintings carry traces of the other colors; the strokes are unevenly applied and give an impression of mixing and testing primary colors, as these other colors poke through. There are also two circles, one black and one colored in contrast to the paper, which flows through the strip in a wavy pattern, trading places on the way. They mirror each other without ever fully overlapping, and at three occurrences they are split between two canvases. It is as if their movements are part of a larger continuum outside the paintings, or like that bouncing ball on the karaoke screen that helps you to keep the rhythm while doing your vocal exercises. This is not to say that Vives and Craycroft are dancing on their own, because they both share some kind of naivety in their approach: Craycroft’s color mixing is reminiscent of painting exercises from kindergarten, while Vives’ indoor tent reminds me of playing house as a kid, or a kind of secret retreat. Only, the music here betrays you, and the boundaries between withdrawal and display are accordingly blurred. Both artists similarly share an attention to basic figures and patterns, and a kind of playful, yet disciplined, exercising with different shapes. And maybe, exactly, they share a coming to terms with a time or summer of the past.