Saturday, March 31, 2012


Philadelphia's finest, Michael Macfeat. You want to see this.

Michael Macfeat on his latest show and on his work:


I have always been passionate about literature. It provides a release from thinking about oneself. Although I have always been a voracious reader, it wasn't until the age of 46 that I began writing.I strive for clarity in the written word. This may seem odd considering my historic indifference to it in the majority of my visual work.

"Between the demand to be clear and the temptation to be obscure, impossible to decide which deserves more respect." - E. M. Cioran

The phrase BAR SINISTER is the title of the current exhibition at TIGER STRIKES ASTEROID. BAR SINISTER is no longer commonly used in the conversational English of everyday life; it has been rendered obscure by disuse and time. Chivalry is dead and along with it, its symbols. The United States of America disavowed the system of royalty long ago. Collectively we flatter ourselves for our enlightened and equitable system of government, often ignoring the reality of the situation. Because the term BAR SINISTER has been rendered anachronistic through disuse, it will be interpreted in a multitude of ways that have no reference to heraldry at all. As a heraldic symbol, it is a band terminating at the bottom left of a coat of arms. It hints at or designates illegitimate birth or parentage. Primarily it is a sign denoting bastardy. The minority, those still aware of its original meaning, may interpret this as a direct reference to my reputation (real or perceived) within the culture industry. Sinister means "left" in Latin. Perhaps it will be seen as a reference to my politics. Those without knowledge of the historic use of the phrase BAR SINISTER could conceivably interpret it as the game-face one dons upon entering a dive bar with a reputation for violence. In that case the stern visage is a pre-emptive strategy and serves as a warning. In popular culture, Simon BAR SINISTER was the name of the evil genius in the Under Dog cartoons, a villain in perpetual pursuit of world domination that was never attained.

The images in the exhibition were stolen from the Internet with the surety of Somalian pirates overtaking a yacht full of wealthy foreigners. No consideration is given to ownership or copyright. Taking great liberties; what a marvelous turn of phrase! I have always enjoyed taking them but I prefer stealing them. This may be a genetic predisposition. Unless condominiums can be constructed on "intellectual property", the term is an oxymoron.

"Reality-based art hijacks its materials and doesn't apologize. - David Shields

The work in the BAR SINISTER exhibition at TIGER STRIKES ASTEROID spans the extremes of two decades. It consists of sculptures created in 1993 and seven images created in 2010/2011. The combination of two entirely different disciplines made twenty years apart may not be a traditional exhibition strategy but there are similarities in both bodies of work that may be unrecognizable from a visual standpoint alone. Without a familiarity of the works that encompass the vast middle section of these two decades, the logic behind this conceptual approach may in fact be invisible. It certainly will not be the first time my tactics will seem incomprehensible to the majority of viewers.

The two major reasons for this exhibition at TIGER STRIKES ASTEROID are the curator and the gallery policy at TSA. Terri Saulin and I became friends. We were both close to the sculptor, Bill Walton, although we didn't meet until after his death. In fact, we met at the perfect time. Establishing our friendship eased the pain of losing our mutual friend. Terri is responsible for the idea of exhibiting my work here, she presented it to the exhibition committee of TIGER STRIKES ASTEROID and offered to curate it. I trust her judgment implicitly. This exhibition is a monument to that trust. I can't thank Terri enough for being brave enough to trust me as well.

The second factor involves the generous exhibition policy of TIGER STRIKES ASTEROID to devote half of their exhibition schedule to outside artists. This policy is an example of the praxis of collective responsibility, a concept often foreign among artists. TIGER STRIKES ASTEROID is the exception in a system rife with narcissism and self-interest and they should be lauded for it. I cannot thank them enough for inviting me to exhibit at TIGER STRIKES ASTEROID and leaving me to my own devices. They are a remarkable group of people.

"Art is not truth; art is a lie that helps us recognize truth." - David Shields

In 2008, the Trading Card Series was exhibited at the Rosenwald/Wolf Gallery at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. It was the first exhibition of my work since the Cold Sculpture exhibition at Vox Populi that I curated in 1993, which included James Mills, Robert Sciasci, Kevin Madden, Bill Walton and myself. The Trading Cards were conceived as a way to bypass having to exhibit work in galleries. They were not originally intended to be exhibited at all, although they eventually were, thanks to a sympathetic and persuasive curator in Sid Sachs.

Each card in the series is formatted 3" by 2" in size, laminated in plastic, consisting of photographs of authors and other creative individuals with quotes attributed to them. The series stemmed from my passion for literature. After making work for years that was idiosyncratic and frequently misunderstood, the Trading Card Series was a deliberate effort to create works whose intended meaning was clear and unmistakable. Rather than selling the work, it was distributed free of charge and anonymously, putting use value above exchange and eliminating the albatross of reputation through anonymity. Whatever clarity the cards themselves carried, the strategy of anonymous distribution inevitably cloaked them in a certain amount of mystery. The images used in the cards predates the work of the Color Theory Series by its theft of images from the Internet.

" I don't feel any guilt normally attached to "plagiarism," which seems to me organically connected to creativity itself." - David Shields

The sculptural work in this exhibition represents some of the only remaining freestanding work of its era. It owes a debt to the process oriented art of the late-Sixties and early Seventies and particularly to the Arte Povera group that originated in Turin and was championed by the writer Germano Celant. The sculptures share Arte Povera's avoidance of using precious materials. Joseph Beuys was also a major influence in both in his work and his politics. Limited storage and working space dictated that the sculptural works in this exhibition were either collapsible (hinged such as Scorpion) or in other ways easily transportable. Rather than the lack of studio and storage space being a hindrance to the creation of larger works, these additional restrictions provided a challenge that interested me. Despite meeting these requirements, the lack of permanent storage space still resulted in the destruction of the majority of these sculptures and almost all of my work in plaster. Very few of the sculptures still exist. Those that did survive were never exhibited before now. By 1993 I had lost all interest in exhibiting the work in a gallery setting.

The Trading Cards solved the problem of exhibiting within the art system by their distribution in the street. They avoided the confusion caused by an indefinite and ambiguous meaning of the sculptures by using text and quotes. The Trading Cards, with their literary origins, share the same unmistakable clarity sought after in my writing, without being saddled with the hindrance of my own literary limitations.

Although sharing literary and visual quotations with the Trading Card Series, the more recent Color Theory images are a return to the ambiguity of meaning found in the earlier sculptural works. The works of these two periods, although separated by twenty years and in two distinctly different mediums, can be seen as brackets on the end of a long period of work grounded in an attempt at clarity. The Color Theory works are a return to a poetic approach to image making that had been deliberately repressed in the creation of the Trading Cards. They represent a return to a freer approach to image making. They are not encumbered with the self-imposed constraints of standard size, the absence of color and the anonymous distribution the Trading Cards.

The prints and the sculptures in the current exhibition both concern themselves with the issue of color, one through artifice and the other through what appears to be the natural process of patina and entropy. The Color Theory images use digital technology to arrive at their colors, often from sampling existing advertising and journalistic photography on the Web. The sculptures use artifice in a convincingly natural but artificial way. They are much better liars than the prints. One example of this artifice is found on the hinge in Scorpion. The screws that were used to attach the hinges were new and bright. To combat this difference between the rusted hinge and new hardware(,) the screws were painted to appear rusty. Their colors appear to be the result of a natural process of entropy but in fact were coaxed in that direction a long time ago. After twenty years they may have actually rusted underneath the paint. It makes no difference at all. From day one they appeared to be in a state of disintegration.

"Color is something spiritual, something whose clarity is spiritual, so that when colors are mixed they produce nuances of color, not a blur. The rainbow is a pure childlike image. In it color is wholly contour; for the person who sees with a child’s eyes, it marks boundaries, is not a layer of something superimposed on matter, as it is for adults. The latter abstracts from color, regarding it as a deceptive cloak for individual objects existing in time and space. Where color provides the contours, objects are not reduced to things but are constituted by an order consisting of an infinite range of nuances. Color is single, not as a lifeless thing and a rigid individuality but a winged creature that flits from one form to the next." - Walter Benjamin

The Color Theory images use digital technology to arrive at their colors, often from sampling existing advertising and journalistic photography on the Web.

Both the sculptures and the Color Theory works require a certain amount of intellectual effort to embrace. But why not, does not difficulty have its own rewards?

I approach every exhibition as if it were my last. That alone is reason enough to exhibit the sculptures from the 90's with my current work. They also, from my point of view, present an interesting counterpoint to the prints of the Color Theory Series.

The one area in my life that I refuse to compromise is my artwork. Guy Debord pointed out that gypsies were allowed to prevaricate in any language but that of the Roma. The visual arts are my personal Roma. If there is anything consistent in my work of the last few decades it is my ability to change direction and confound conventional analysis. Ultimately, it all leads back to the same place, wandering in the labyrinth of the Minotaur.

"I have my faults but changing my tune is not one of them." - Samuel Beckett

Stop me if I start lying.

Michael Macfeat
31 rue Sainte Ouen


History will absolve Mike said...

Thank you.

ZS said...

I love you.

History will absolve Mike said...

I like to use ditto as a response to "I love you".
You don't hear "ditto" much anymore, it means the same thing and "I love you too" sounds so...I don't know...jejune.
We finished the installation of the exhibition today and I have never been happier about the presentation of my work than I am seeing it in this exhibition.
Do you know Terri Saulin? If you don't you definitely should. She is an incredible person and she helped immensely to keep me on course.
I have been crazier than a dog for the last few weeks trying to tie up loose ends that I have damn near driven everyone around me nuts but I am starting to level out again.
Very few people have my experience in rebuilding burnt bridges.
As my great grandmother Nellie Dunn used to say after inevitably burning dinner, "A little charcoal never hurt anyone."
She also used to say that she had "the prettiest legs in Cuba" but even at the tender age of 4 (she was over 90 years old at the time and had only slightly more body fat than a skeleton) I wasn't buying it.
She was the one that was in on poisoning her husband.
I don't dare to gaze too long into the gene pool. Medusa's stare would be an upgrade.