Tobias Putrih | Laumeier Sculpture Park

One of the most apt descriptions of Putrih's work is that it effects "deformed perceptions." He plays with viewers' expectations and assumptions.

 

October 7, 2006–January 14, 2007

Wedged in between the stylistic agitation and marketable dexterousness of last year's Greater New York 2005 exhibit at P.S. 1 in Queens, there was a corner room that housed the quietly mesmerizing works of Tobias Putrih. Pieces of corrugated cardboard were cut into irregular circles and ovals, each shape varying slightly from its neighbor. When stacked to four or five feet in height, they appeared to be wind-carved rock formations, sinuously curved and improbably balanced like the unearthly boulders of southern Utah. The truly arresting feature about these sculptures was that, when viewed from certain angles, they revealed a startling transparency, due to the carefully aligned corrugation of each single layer. What had been weighty, opaque, and dense, suddenly became so diaphanous that only the outlines could be seen.

One of the most apt descriptions of Putrih's work is that it effects "deformed perceptions." This implies much more than the simple distortion of appearances; it alludes to the artist's entire oeuvre, in which he plays with viewers' expectations and assumptions. One piece from 2001, titled Lost Cinema III, is a series of stills from an electronic movie that may or may not have ever been completed. The few characters (friends of the artist) mill about in a cardboard desert, on a cardboard hill, under a cardboard tree. While a bit underwhelming, it introduces viewers to an artist who is just beginning to explore an interesting idea: that of querying people's sense of perception and how that influences their responses. Putrih, born in Slovenia but lately of New York, has moved from making films to creating sculptures about cinemas. Well, that and art galleries-areas in which altered realities both occur and are welcomed, which he refers to as "protospaces."

His earlier research into utopias and idealists led him to question the concept of perfection and our incomplete understanding of the spaces we occupy. In his various projects, physical constructs are meticulously designed to skewer presumptions. After all, what are movies but narratives of fantasy, and what are art exhibits but projections of someone else's reality? Even a full-house screening is a solitary experience as each moviegoer relates to the images projected onto the screen, almost oblivious to the other humans around him.

While Putrih seems to be aiming at movie houses and galleries as unconsciously naïve examples of idealism, one wonders if he is questioning-or redefining-the false reality of cinema and the escapism of art. In his Anthology and Deconstructed Cinemas series, the warping and curving of movie screens into three-dimensional structures demands a reassessment of what we as viewers are willing to give in order to escape from one reality into another. By suspending screens into elegantly arched curves, tautly held in place by floor-to-ceiling monofilaments, the tables are turned as cinema physically inhabits what we considered to be our space. And then, as an object that must be circumnavigated, it becomes a catalyst for more social interaction, unlike darkened and isolating theaters. More than a clever visual twist, it is a sort of revolutionary experiment in the possibilities of future cinema.

Taken on purely formal and aesthetic terms (is that even allowed anymore?), his constructions are compelling in and of themselves, without the need for classes in film history or the explanatory press releases. This in itself is reason enough to justify a trip to Laumeier to see Putrih's work.

Admittedly, projection screens and cardboard are flimsy materials, the sort that are not made for durability so much as portability, sharing in the transport of either knick-knacks, entertaining stories, or ideas. Perhaps ideas and an elevated awareness of perception are the things that the artist is trafficking. Perhaps Putrih is actually a bit of an idealist himself.

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