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A Pathology of Process

Some art is about product, the final work, and some art is about the work coming into being, about process.  Katelyn Farstad’s current show, Mouthbreather at Midway Contemporary Art, is a hybrid, a collection of works that show the scars of their creation and express a pathology of process.  The works are all busy with detail […]

Katelyn Farstad, Mouth's Self Portrait. 2012 . Cat litter, caulk, photographs, ink, acrylic . Courtesy of the artist's website.

Katelyn Farstad, Mouth’s Self Portrait. 2012 . Cat litter, caulk, photographs, ink, acrylic . Courtesy of the artist’s website.

Some art is about product, the final work, and some art is about the work coming into being, about process.  Katelyn Farstad’s current show, Mouthbreather at Midway Contemporary Art, is a hybrid, a collection of works that show the scars of their creation and express a pathology of process.  The works are all busy with detail and assorted parts–collected odds and ends, ostentatious junk, painted over and glued together; this is making as compulsive behavior, worrying over the details for the sake of worrying over details in the creation of a meticulous chaos.  You can recognize the constituent bits of some of the pieces from across the room.  And You Will…, for instance, features a broken (deconstructed?) chair and a nail strip used in a nail gun.  Some of her works hide their bones at first, but as you get closer and study them, you suddenly spot the plastic netting or painted sponge, some odd and out of place bit, and realize all of the pieces come from the same impulse. Mouthbreather is, in a sense, a collection of modes, a family of creations — the talented older sister, the careless little brother, the uncle no one sees anymore.

wake up sleeping dogs secret.farstad

Of course, there is only one artist here, but what is on display strikes me as evidence of a struggle: of the self striving to present itself, of a knotty, complicated process of working out confusion and frustration — breaking the chair into pieces, throwing clay, shoving sticks through family photos on the wall.  Some things emerge lovely despite the apparent tumult of their making, such as Caught by the Ripe Fruit Cop.  But many of Farstad’s works come out intricately insane, honest, and visceral; Wake Up Those Sleeping Dogs is a good example.  Carpet is roughly stapled to one side of the piece, a wicker vase crudely glued to the top; there’s a plastic tray of some kind, that has been abused by slashes of paint and clay; and a hole on one side of the work’s base, with a chunk of wall or ceiling inside.  It is a dog house as chew toy for our most anxious pets, those with the nervous habit of chewing through walls.

Many, if not all, of the pieces on view feature a tenuous, even unnatural physicality: the works are impossibly balanced, sticking out horizontally from the wall, fabric ready to slip.  They offer a record of kinetic energy like debris after a storm, with things where they should not (could not) be — upside down, sideways, splattered over, unstable.  This further evinces that feeling of process throughout the show — of control and the abandonment of restraint, of frustration and release — what the act of creating is all about.

Installation view of Mouthbreather at Midway Contemporary Art. Courtesy of the gallery.

Installation view of Mouthbreather at Midway Contemporary Art. Courtesy of the gallery.

Each piece in the informs the others; I found I learned more about the success of one work from the perceived failings of another. And taken together, they evidence nothing so much as manic creation in action, the process at work — like someone breathing with their mouth open, perhaps.

Noted exhibition details:

Mouthbreather by Katelyn Farstad is on view through February 2 at Midway Contemporary Art in Minneapolis.

Image credits: Middle left, Wake Up Those Sleeping Dogs, 2012, mixed media, 66″ x 26″ x 36″. Middle right, The Secret V.2, 2012 acrylic, bleach, fabric, plastic.

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Jay Orff is a writer, musician and filmmaker living in Minneapolis. His fiction has appeared in Reed, Spout, Chain and Harper’s Magazine.

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