"Oh shit"….phew, for a moment I thought it was a dark, dreary post election November. I am speaking about Jack Metcalf's and Brett Hargeshmeir's collaborative show at the MAM's April Artini event. The show transforms Newt Gingrinch into a dancing Grinch dressed in a leotard and speaking in semantic-colorful-meaningless-soundbites. Albeit, there was not any connection between Dr. Seuss' Grinch and this show, but it's what comes to mind when I think of Newt Gingrich…to me he sucks everything good and pretty out of life. However, in this imaginative reformation of this political icon, Metcalf & Hargeshmeir convey to me the meaninglessness and absurdity of the whole political situation.
"Semantic Ascent" features many woodcuts of a grotesque, multi-limbed Newt donning leotards and funny hats. Each Newt has an emotionally charged facial expression, and through repetition appears to be dancing around the space like a deformed-mud-puddle-stained ballerina. Incorporated into this somatic display are brightly colored, geometrically painted speech bubbles by Brett Hargesheimer. I enjoy how these appear like nonsensical blurted statements, although their appearance is too pretty compared to the general vomit, I mean, speech that we normally hear from our pal Newt. But I suppose that is part of the "semantic" portion of the show’s title.
"Wait? Semantic?" I ask myself. "What does "Semantic" actually mean, anyway, and how does it relate to this show?" Wiki tells me Semantics is the study of meaning with a focus on the relation between signifiers, such as words, phrases, signs and symbols. Ok, I am getting somewhere in understanding the function of the speech-bubble-paintings, but this still wasn't enough. So I ask Jack Metcalf. He tells me about this 20th century analytical philosopher with a long name who defined the term semantic ascent as "a shift from talking about the world to talking about words." Hmmmm…ok??? Metcalf continued to describe situations from graduate school to the bar where most of the miscommunication he witnessed came from linguistics, i.e. the words, rather then the actual, understood world around us. So there is a disconnection between the words that we use and the reality they are used to describe. At first glance it's like "duh," but I am not so sure we are completely aware of the subtlety and pervasiveness of this event and how it plays out in our lives. Jack continues, "This disconnection is frustrating in the way it advances the way we use language into a meaningless realm."
Well this is all fascinating, Jack, but why Newt?” Beyond some personal connections, Metcalf tells me he chose Newt because, "I considered Newt to be a ridiculous, meaningless, contradicting individual, and it is these very qualities I wanted to borrow from him." Aha! The light shines in and illuminates the darkness. To recap, Ballerina Von Newt points to Newt’s ridiculous and contradicting qualities. While, the flawlessly painted speech bubbles represent the highly polished sound bites we hear from Newt. These blurbs in regards to semantics and due to this communication-disconnect can sound true but can still be meaningless, empty, and ultimately false.
The Newts weren't the only ones dancing at this collaborative mega event. The Bare Bait Dance crew improvised movement that nicely complement the dancing Newts and they wore clothing that were similar to the color of the speech bubbles. I would have liked to see the dancers engage with the audience and artworks more, however I didn’t see all of the dance performance so maybe I missed what I was looking for. The Best Westerns done sang some fine soundin' country music, while some BFA printmaking students printed woodcuts onto shirts for the show’s attendees. Burke Jam played some videos and Kris moon
spun records providing a nice soundtrack for both
the real dancers and the Newts.
The ephemeral nature of this one night event contributed to Semantic Ascent’s powerful playfulness, and certainly offered some contrast from the previous show in the MAM's main gallery the never-ending Ansel Adams exhibit! At the end of the night, and again unlike the Ansel Adams show, Metcalf invited the audience to take home whatever portion(s) of Newt you wanted…how cool is that? The ladders were highly sought after.
Overall, the artworks were highly engaging on the visual and spatial sense, and I really enjoyed the grotesque, humorous and satirical nature of this show. It was a good fun experience, while also carrying a strong sense of content that invited me to think and look deeper for my own semantic ascent.