Photo: Dominic Guarnaschelli
Veils – Installation by Dominic Guarnaschelli
Review by Keith Waits.
Entire contents are copyright © 2018 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
It can take real effort to avoid the over-saturation of red and green that is Christmas. Although there are several year-end celebrations, and in complete defiance of the Far Right’s specious fear-mongering claims of a culture war, Christmas is everywhere!
One exception can be found at Scheherazade, a unique space among Louisville’s visual art venues. It is so compact; relative to any other gallery space in town it is positively tiny, and you must view the work through a glass-paned garage door. Dominic Guarnaschelli’s new installation takes maximum advantage of these qualities with a visual concept that is simple, even if it is the expression of a complex series of provocative relationships.
As seen through the glass panes of the overhead door facing Magnolia Street, the piece consists of what appears to be an oversize, gift-wrapped box. The glossy, black-painted steel surface makes it more Monolith than Present, especially contrasted against the projected background set a few feet behind it. The slightly overexposed video shows a pair of hands tearing with great deliberation through layer after layer of paper custom imprinted with an array of dark-tinged symbols and sinister icons. The looping projection is called “Endless Time for End Times”, and the sculpture is titled “The Gift”.
That this installation is placed in December conjures obvious associations with the seasonal custom of gift giving, but Guarnaschelli is offering an oppositional aesthetic to Christmas and Hanukkah. The dominant color is black, with even the video fairly bleached of color. Instead of bright, happy hues, the video is the kind of de-saturated yellow that you find in old photographs, with patterned graphics of snakes, demons, and other dark spirits drawn from Botticelli’s 15th century illustrated manuscript of “Dante’s Inferno” and “Dispensational Truth” by Clarence Larkin, a conservative Baptist philosopher from the early 20th century who developed a unique visual strategy for interpreting Christian theology.
So the artist is investigating the centuries-old relationship between Christianity and Paganism, the sacred and the profane. The nature of that relationship feels buried beneath nearly impenetrable layers of modern religious culture. Protestant Christmas, in particular, seems hijacked by materialism and the dubious ethics of consumerism, making a meaningful connection to the religious foundations of year-end holidays a challenge.
“The Gift” is the bait; a shiny temptation conjuring up the mystery of what might be inside. Is it too much to take the choice of black as a suggestion of greed, and perhaps other ingredients that lie within the dark side of the human heart? Then we might accept the projected images as evidence of that truth, the inevitable revelation of peeling back the layers of paper-thin artifice that we have constructed around our most celebrated holiday.
I was prompted to remember that the foundational documents of Christian theology have been shaped much more by political need than the average person realizes. We all know that Constantine co-opted pagan ritual into Christianity because Paganism was far more popular at the time; he used it to sell his newly found spirituality to the masses, just as in the 21st century we employ the crassness of the consumer society to force people to stop and pay attention to the birth of a Jewish teacher who is famous for throwing the merchants out of the temple.
Yet Guarnaschelli is not necessarily an apostate; his installation can be seen as renunciation, but I think he is more concerned with restoring the balance that is often missing in theology for the masses, the appetite that exists for embracing a one-dimensional take on the vast and endless complexity of human spirituality. He is, quite simply, asking us to open our minds.
Veils – Installation by Dominic Guarnaschelli
Garage Gallery on Magnolia Street between 2nd & 3rd
(1401 South Third Street)
Louisville, Ky 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, where he is Managing Editor of their Artebella blog, and host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com. But spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.