BY Michael Darling in Reviews | 06 JUN 98
Featured in
Issue 41

Chris Finley

BY Michael Darling in Reviews | 06 JUN 98

As pervasive as television is in filling in the hours of the day for wide reaches of the population, it is surprising how little artwork has been made that addresses this international pastime. For the last several years, however, Chris Finley's work has been nurtured by the droning, uninflected rhythms of television programming as it goes from mindless morning talk shows and children's cartoons to mindless midday soap operas to even more mindless afternoon talk shows. Finley syncopates his practice to this repetitive cadence of appetisers, action figures, amnesia and adultery, so that he can watch it while carving boxes of pencils into little bits, punching round holes in magazines and rubberised placemats, or slicing plastic dolls into unappetising calamari ringlets. Over the past few years, all of these materials and more have been gathered up and organised into ingenious sculptural stacks structured by plastic, off-the-shelf baskets, containers, and planters. Finley's waking world has also been deeply affected by computer and video games, and he has recurrently applied techno-metaphors to the understanding and presentation of his work, looking at the stacks as 'files', or exhibitions as consecutive stages in an unfolding cyber-adventure.

This show, titled 'Level Two', is quite different from the previous, more installation-oriented 'Level One' in its emphasis on discrete objects: paintings, drawings and a sculpture. 'Level Two' also departs from previous Finley exhibitions, which have often been characterised by their interactivity, relying on viewers to 'click' through the files of his sculpture by exposing layer after layer, or in the last show, to jump on a trampoline to glimpse a painting installed behind a low wall. This latest exhibition has a marked frontality and seems guided by a policy of full-disclosure that may signal a change in Finley's practice. Coming upon Chomp (1998), for instance, a signature Finley accretion of garden-variety plastic planters, I immediately peeked under the topmost enclosure to see what sort of weird universe the artist had concocted this time, only to find that all the innards were already displayed to one side. Except for a plastic filing cabinet filled with 'baby doll and brontosaurus calamari' and several paperback best-sellers in which every other word had been circled, there is less copious evidence of 'mis-directed' labour than one has come to expect. Three videotapes and five audio cassettes do feature time-based tests of inanity and endurance - 30 minutes of the artist making an 'ooops' expression, or endless loops of ambient computer noise with thematic titles like Wiggle, Retch, Pick It, Stretch - but neither monitor nor cassette player are included in the piece, making this material relatively inaccessible.

A similar inaccessibility is found in the ink on paper drawing Worm (condensed) (1997), in which various letters, images and text are layered on top of one another until they become a collectively unintelligible blotch of black. In an adjacent space, a quartet of drawings serve to rewind this action, laying out the images one by one before being compressed and obliterated, revealing refreshingly twisted compilations of wordplay, sexual innuendo and pop imagery. A cycle of four large paintings follows a similar logic: three present thematically unified, straightforward compositions, while the fourth compiles all the material. Titled Drool, Sweat, Scream (1998), this work is clearly the most challenging in the show with its complex, crystalline fragments of competing imagery that appear as if three separate computer graphics have been merged on screen. An almost paint-by-numbers application of shiny enamel lends the work a graphic, claustrophobic flatness, but shafts of space open up in and amongst the figures so that one's eyes have room to probe and explore the bits and pieces of pictorial information. Such is not the case in the simpler, separate paintings Drool (1998), Sweat (1998) and Scream (1998), which offer themselves up easily for visual digestion. In the methodical, goal-oriented structure of Finley's work, one can assume that these pieces are meant to be seen as stages or encounters that lead up to bigger and better challenges. If the composite painting Drool, Sweat, Scream is to be seen as a metaphorical portal into a subsequent realm where complexity, optical luxuriance, and rewarding interactivity are the name of the game, I'm ready to move past Level Two and tackle Level Three.