Phillip Maisel — STACK @@ Right Window
By Eric Dyer
There are photographs of stacks hanging on the walls. A physical stack rests on a raised platform as a window display. Paper, wood, plexiglass, MDF board, siding, mirrors and glass - all collapsed - pushed back against the wall space; flat. Image on image; heaps of photographs: stacks on stacks on stacks, racks on racks on racks. Some abstract data type, push and pop operations on the collection are the addition or removal of an entity.
Right Window is a small gallery on Valencia Street that exhibits art film, performances, and has an installation space which you can see outside through the front shop window (1). Upon entering there are old theater chairs, a blank screen, and through a small doorway is the exhibition space at roughly 10 feet by 5 feet or something, which it seems Maisel managed to fit a compendium of ideas into.
Maisel’s work turns itself inside out like a wormhole, destroying space and obscuring time. Or maybe it’s not that extreme. Through reiterating and repeating the material compositions, changing minute aspects of the wall-leaning piles, Maisel’s work contrasts the wall surrounding the photograph, the physical area where the photographs took place, and the flattened space created through his process. A pile; a heap; a group of things. He lives around the material that everyone experiences in passing, generally thought of as mundane objects combined and amassed to create our cut out homes and paper towns. Maisel says his process feels intuitive and there is a lot of play involved in setting up the works. He chooses the material based on qualities like reflection, appearance, and texture; he’s interested in “how they are transformed through the photographic process into something else.”
Looking at a restored black leather notebook (2) in one of the photographs, I wonder if some of these stacked objects, among the repetition and commonality of materials, subsume some sort of sentimental significance. Some items seem more important than others. There are funny objects with left over text, “This side faces artwork, score opposite side.” Some items seem easily replaceable, but are still being used. Maisel stated in an interview with Apartment Therapy in 2008, “I like old things. I’ve always lived in old houses. I like the wear on the hardwood floors, I like seeing the layers of paint at the chipped edges of window frames. I love the architectural flourishes you get with older homes” (3).
The large installation in the front window appears to be an unphotographed stack. It becomes a mirror, a replacement of what the photos accomplish in a two dimensional form. It allows the viewer different possibilities — the entire sculpture can be seen, not cropped by Maisel’s eye (4). The limitations that are applied to the photographic format unfold, but new limitations are created since the viewer can still only see what the architectural space allows them to view. The things you know you know versus the things you know you don’t.
Maisel’s work seems to be in conversation with the history of photography. Like James Welling, his work is both simultaneously representational and abstract. In an interview with Bombsite, Welling stated that, “The object existed when you photographed it, it exists into the future, it exists out of time. But we can’t help but view it in our own time and think of it in terms of where we’re standing now. Which is so key in your work: Where am I standing now?” (5). I believe this concept reflects aspects of Maisel’s practice, and also reveals some questions he may be posing while shooting the repeating materials, structures, and forms he creates; in the show at Right Window, Maisel’s installation furthers this prodding of time by allowing the viewer a glimpse of past through the present material. His work also relates to the process of Miriam Böhm, where what is in the background and foreground are issues generated through the process of photographing an object, photographing that photograph that is now an object, photographing that photograph, etc. While Maisel’s process is not a replica of Böhm’s, the result is similar in its disorientation of space through a different kind of repetition — instead of repeatedly taking photographs of the same photograph, he repeatedly takes photographs of the same “stack” of materials, and through this repetition, distorts proportion, distance, and space. The end result requires the viewer to engage in the process of deconstructing the pictorial plane to understand what is real and what is created through manipulation of space; what has changed and what has stayed the same.
Maisel’s interest is in, “the sequence of time between the images, the abstraction of formal elements, and the confusion of dimensional space.” The photograph, with all of its precision and exactitude, is deceptive. Maisel believes these attributes can be misconstrued for indubitable evidence, however he aspires toward a degree of ambiguity. Anaïs Nin stated, “It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see.” Ultimately, Maisel shows us it’s not what you know, but what you’re willing to know you don’t.
(1) Right Window is collaboratively run by Katie Bush, Craig Goodman, Cliff Hengst, Scott Hewicker, Kevin Killian, John Koch, Anne McGuire, Karla Milosevich, Paula Pereira, Jocelyn Saidenberg, Steven Seidenberg, Claudia Schleyer, Wayne Smith, and David Van Der Voort. Past members have included Dodie Bellamy, Samaki Dorsey, Cheryl Meeker, Chuck Mobley, Marina Moreno, and Cassie Riger. Right Window is in the ATA building at 992 Valencia Street.
(2) organized but worn; used and stained.
(3) Han, Sarah. House Tour: Phillip’s Lower Haight Shared Arrangement, “Apartment Therapy.” Last modified 8 26, 2008. http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/house-tour-san-francisco-59773.
(4) But then again, it was created by Maisel, so who’s to say this piece hasn’t already been placed to reposition the viewers idea of what the photographs could be, and what repetition can be seen in the full sculpture itself?
(5) Golden, Deven. BOMB Magazine, “James Welling.” Last modified 2004. http://bombsite.com/issues/87/articles/2627.