Last week, I sat down outside Cocoa Cinnamon at one of the artfully designed picnic tables with one of Durham’s most conscientious artistic thinkers, Chris Vitiello. His show “Loaded Objects” opened at the Carrack Tuesday, 10/14. There is a reception tonight, Friday night, 10/17.
To say it is Vitiello’s show requires some explanation. He curated rather than created the work. What that means is he self-consciously and deliberately procured and arranged what you will see at the Carrack.*
Chris concedes the show is very personal. He sought works that transmitted unambiguous meaning. Meanings that were legible and available rather than abstract. (Although he noted that these works didn’t necessary have to be easily accessible in their message, just not obtuse.)
To explain further Vitiello told me about a couple of works of art that served as inspiration that couldn’t be in the show. He described a work by Peter Oakley. A Glock on a pedestal. Glock is a legendary line of pistol makers out of Austria. Used in the movies by everybody from The Terminator to Tommie Lee Jones, fugitive chasing Federal Marshall, Samuel Gerard.
There was only one catch, Oakley’s Glock was carved out of black marble. Realistic in every detail. Vitiello said you were constantly aware of it in the exhibit. You were unable to walk around the room without it catching your eye. The weight and power of the object was telling.**
This was a keystone idea for the exhibit you will see at the Carrack. Vitiello likes to think about scale, as do I. (No news to regular readers.) His last curated show at the Carrack was called “TINY: Attention, Exploded” and explored the miniature and very small in relation to other objects in the world and the world at large. In his artist’s talk, he showed footage following what he dubbed the largest painting in Durham; miles of paint splatter that had dripped from a truck onto the asphalt it had traversed, juxtaposed against a film from Charles and Ray Eames that held a steady shot aerial/overhead view very slowly backing out from a picnic in a park, through the atmosphere to outer space where even our planet and our sun become a tiny dot.
This time he is again asking about Art’s place in the world. The show will include relics and salvaged pieces composed of elements that were not originally intended as Art, but have gained comparable status through their veneration or symbolic value.
Vitiello had an opportunity to further dig into these ideas at an artist residency in western North Carolina this past spring. He met the iconic photographer and Wilson native son, Burke Uzzle, whose photo-journalistic roots go back to shooting the image that became the album cover for Woodstock.
It was another Uzzle photograph that helped Vitiello hone his vision for this show. The image is the traditional three wood crosses often seen on rural American land. But in this case they were framed in the foreground by an Exxon gas station—Exxon, whose colors are naturally red, white, and blue. Vitiello found layers of legible meaning; development paired with desolation, Big Oil juxtaposed with Christianity, and the metaphorical representation of America and Americana within it all.
Vitiello loved how Uzzle knew where the camera needed to be to frame the shot. He had to stand on the roof his car to get it. Yet he had already pictured it in his mind’s eye.
Vitiello intends to curate other images of such singularity in the next ten days at the Carrack. In his title, “Loaded Objects,” I think of the pairings described in Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being: light/darkness, warmth/cold, being/non-being, and the one applicable here, light/heavy, which Kundera says in Goethe’s and Kant’s day was included with the other pairs as positive and negative poles.
Or for more modern thinkers you could imagine it the way a time-travelling Marty McFly explains to scientist Doc Brown the meaning of “heavy” in the 1980’s. “No Doc, gravity hasn’t gone haywire in the future, it is the metaphorical weight of our experiences and feelings.”
One artist whose work is in the show is Durham guru, Jim Lee. Vitiello was captivated by a collage of two photographs that Lee showed previously at the resplendent Pleiades Gallery (just up the block from the Cupcake Bar). It is a composition with juxtaposition and profundities reminiscent of the Uzzle photograph Vitiello described. It fuses two photos Lee took on a trip to West Africa. An old woman, a laborer in the cocoa bean planation trade, is pictured with fancy, luxury, Belgian chocolates directly behind her. As Vitiello put it, form and content become one. I would argue that Vitiello, Lee, and the Carrack are quite conscious of the way this work speaks to Durham’s present.
Another artist, whose piece I remember seeing myself at Pleiades, is the fabulously talented Claudia Corletto. For those of you who attended the first “Truth to Power” exhibit at Pleiades Gallery in 2013 it will undoubtedly be unforgettable. For those of you who didn’t, I won’t spoil the whole surprise, I will just say it involved a wire coat hanger and the meaning was unambiguous.
Another work that I am greatly looking forward to seeing is by Mark Iwinski. Vitiello describes it as a life-sized piece of tree stump created entirely in white paper. Its jagged ends are a ghostly mimicry of life and death. Stumps are not live trees. They are the relic, the remains of live trees that once were.
Another central piece in the show is a literal block of wood, an object of personal veneration for Vitiello that unlocks a powerful story as we sip on our luscious coffees.
Vitiello had long been a fan of outsider artist Vollis Simpson and had written about him for Indy Week, which Chris still writes for. Simpson’s studio in Wilson and his whirly-gigs are legendary in the Art community. When Vitiello heard of Simpson’s recent passing from Outsider Arts Gallery owner Pam Gutlon, he had to make a pilgrimage. He told me the studio was desolate, ghostly, abandoned, and sad. But it was a windy day, and the whirly-gigs were twirling like mad. Art still extant. Awesome, thrilling motion that had outlived its creator.
A square chunk of wood with drill holes in it sat forgotten on the press. It looked like a scrap you might toss. But Vitiello saw a relic, an artifact, Simpson had never intended for this block to become an object de Art. Yet he had created on its very surface. Imbued it with his presence and being. You can ponder it and a remarkable life in Art at the Carrack.
“Loaded Objects” brings it full circle. Vitiello told me of another Oakley piece that like the Glock served as inspiration for this show, stone-carved Styrofoam takeout containers that looked so real at the opening reception that the caterers tried to clear them away, only to nearly sprain their wrists on unreality.
Through the power of replica and the mundane transmogrified into artifacts, Vitiello asks us to ponder the reality of our experiences. When we hear tell there is a veritable island of so-called disposable straws floating around the Pacific Ocean, what do stone-carved Styrofoam containers mean to us as residents on this planet?
Vitiello and Durham both push for the genuine. Hipsters take note: fronting is considered a faux pas around these parts. Directness and intentionality have served us well. In a parallel digital world there exist millions of excerpts of persona and social media memes that are not us. Here, “Loaded Objects,” curated by Chris Vitiello, is intended to transmit via Art unambiguous, legible, available messages to us, Durham, opening windows to the world we live in.
Show runs through October 25th. Opening reception this Friday, October 17th, 7pm-10pm.
*Naturally, this is quite in line with the Carrack’s mission of intentionality and community-awareness in its own curation. They seek to display that which matters artistically to Durham now. (A broad but intelligible mandate.)
**Perfectly mimicked by the literal weight of the object de Art.