Let Light and Love and Power Restore the Plan on Earth: Rob Smith’s Locrian Invocation at TARL
Last Saturday night, following the Artist Trust auction, David and I caught the tail-end of the opening party for Rob Smith‘s exhibition at TARL, the art gallery situated in a single room in artist (and former Crawl Space member) Matt Browning and curator Jessica Powers’ basement in the Central District. A sculptor and musician, Smith is a current MFA candidate at the University of Oregon and a record collector of the highest degree. Locrian Invocation, his current installation of sculptures at TARL, is based on an obscure 1972 LP of healing music by New Age harp guru Joel Andrews.
After being led through the exhibition by Jessica Powers, we returned upstairs to listen to the soothing sounds of the LP and examine the cover art that served as a point of departure for the work in the show. The record’s lofty mission statement graces the cover like a New Age manifesto, while the haunting face of a monochromatic bodhisattva—(Jesus? Pythagoras? The Master K.H. Kuthumi, Chohan of the Second Ray? Yes, all of the above)—casts a crystalline gaze from the verso.
According to the exhibition’s press release, Rob’s intention is to decode the contradictory riddle encoded in Locrian Invocation:
The Great Invocation “Let light and love and power restore the plan on earth,” has been a guiding linguistic fulcrum for much of the Spiritualist Utopianism of our past 65 years. Within this phrase we also get some of the most debilitating capitulations into the conservatism and idealism typical of Western projects of spiritual emancipation: passivity, non-material motors of change, and the frightening notion of a plan to be restored.
The works in this show abstract from the LP itself, using formal properties of reflection, bondage, and tethering to diagram the contradictions of such a project, and make them critically legible to the uninitiated.
For Smith, the utopian meanderings of the Spiritualist movements of the West are paradoxical ideals, worthy of simultaneous admiration and condescension. It seems the loftier our spiritual goals become, the more tightly we wind up tethered to the materialistic complacency of the status quo. (Would Reagan, George W. Bush or Fox News have even been imaginable were it not for the scourge of twentieth century hippiedom endlessly provoking the deeply ingrained insecurities of our inner asshole?) Perhaps even worse is the cultic notion of a “plan” that must be uncovered and fulfilled. No matter how nobly conceived, such static certainties always find themselves at odds with the physical reality of a universe in constant Heraclitean flux.
Smith brings this conflict to life with a group of sculptures that resonate materially and conceptually with the paradox he has set out to illustrate. Huge slabs of aquamarine plexiglas in the deep, contemplative hue of the record jacket are strategically combined with geological artifacts that twist and warp the gleaming surfaces to their static will. One piece is backed with a mirrored sheet upon which the artist has faithfully rendered the mooning protagonist of the record jacket, tethering his placid expression to a ball of raw sulfur. Another piece rests parallel to the floor in the form of a broken shard bearing the Locrian mantra in crushed sulfur.
Like the rockbed that surrounds the seeker in William Blake’s immortal portrait of Newton, these rocks embody the earthbound origin of the spiritual quest, and the use of of sulfur in particular encodes an additional, more esoteric layer of content. In alchemical terms, sulfur represents the active, masculine, solar principle, which is tempered by the lunar fluidity of mercury, or quicksilver, which it requires in order to create. There is no mercury in this equation, and in each instance, the sulfur is condemned to burn with a fiery passion sans action.
This was my first trip to TARL (I was very sorry to miss the inaugural exhibition by Raymond Boisjoly) and I found the experience exceedingly satisfactory. It’s great to see that there is a local art space carrying on the Crawl Space torch, even if that space is small, slightly out of the way and has a water heater smack dab in the middle of it. The space lends itself to edgy, innovative ideas, and TARL has clearly risen to the occasion. I’m looking forward to seeing much more from these smart young curators.
TARL is located at 1447 21st Ave E and is open by appointment only. (Don’t be shy.) Locrian Invocation is on view through March 6.