The exhibition Overland at Planthouse takes two artists exploring place and space and brings them up against each other, in a mismatched joining; more collusion than juxtaposition. As a pairing Victoria Haven and Erik Hougen works in surprising ways. I believe the comparison brings us closer to this abstraction of place that we constantly talk about while pointing to pictures, films and computer screens. Overland makes several arguments without forcing it. The plein-air imagery that Hougen exploits and the interior, angular spaces that Haven creates seem different enough, but both reference a lens, window or another filter which determines our point of view and field of vision.
Vic Haven offers us portals into spaces through abstractions of complex geometric forms. We are greeted with the wall painting, Odyssey, that is an untwisted Möbius strip stretched long to mimic the angle of the sloping ramp into the space. The different values of blacks and grays pick up light coming in at the same odd angle. Haven says this work “operates like a key on the legend of a map…to a psychological space and the broader territory of ideas”. The conceptual space inside of Overland begins with Odyssey as its introduction.
Haven obsesses over the quality of each segment of her paintings. Blacks and black grays, matte and glossy, allow the eye to focus on subtle value shifts rather than variations of color. Like listening to a piece of music with one instrument, the voice of the black is heard in subtle variations. The two paintings on panel and Odyssey exist this way while the works on paper focus on forms of light and shadow, and not of the differences of tone at all.
Jump Cuts, a suite of 16 works on paper, are Haven’s works related to Kubrick’s The Shining. At first glance, they recall Judd and Sandback, but closer inspection reveals a very clear idea of planar space. Black ink reads as shadow and distance, uncomplicated by place. An all black “shot” list has been set on a pedestal, hinting at some mimeographed carbon copy from back when that was a miraculous technology. Without introduction, the Kubrick reference would only be apparent to cinephiles.
Haven decamped from her native Seattle to LA in 2013 and found the Stanley Kubrick exhibition at LACMA to be particularly influential. The model for the Overlook hotel (part of the influence for the show title) and the iconic hedge maze, offered a starting point with vantage points and shadows for the series of drawings exhibited here. In addition, crossed bars that are suspended like a structural element (imagine an x, laid on its side, wedged in a corner 7 feet up) are entitled Green Cross. These are covered in a the same hobbyist’s “grass” the hedge maze model from the Shining would use. Using Kubrick’s language as a director, and The Shining’s otherness, Haven’s abstractions leave us without place but only the very reminder of it.
A place, far different from those we recognize as “there” exists in Erik Hougen’s imagery. Some photographs are bled dry, bleached of color and printed on paper or raw canvas on stretchers. In the one large scale watercolor in the show, Bayonet Trials, Hougen presents a seaside motel, but from the vantage point of an approaching car. Wet rain slicks the pavement and a few doors, brick facade and roofing are visible. A pair of seagulls fly overhead, and nothing but gray open sky beyond hint at the proximity to water. This scene, possibly dreary, is made endearing by our triggered memories and the memorialization of these spaces by others:Hopper’s Western Motel room may lay inside that door or Eggleston’s or maybe some stop over from a car trip of our youth between Aunt so and so’s and the shore.
With Hougen the references are not direct, but he cites the imagery of David Lynch’s Inland Empire as well as Kafka’s Amerika and Camus The Stranger in making this space void of humans. Sawbones, a mysterious white on black image on canvas evoke these empty places, with only passing indications of our role in them. Hougen uses the canvas and stretcher to create a sculptural object, which have a starkly different in feeling from the works on paper. I saw sand dunes, heaving seas and clouds. After being told by Hougen that the image is that of headlights on snow drifts, the image becomes concrete landscape, but still devoid of any horizon.
In all of the places where Haven and Hougen share a wall, Overland sings as a 2 person show. Connections lay among both line and concept. My favorite interaction is Strap Handle, Hougen’s painting, hung above eye level and Haven’s Jump Cut 12: They all stop walking, below. The lines recall the same sort of angled light through windows that is found here and universally where right angles and sunlight collide. Hougen gives us concrete (electrical boxes and door bolts) and Haven gives us only the idea of a closed door, and unbroken shadows. These thematic connections between Hougen and Haven do not dictate tone and often yield enjoyably different results.
Each artist presents a projected work, Hougen’s is a video still and Haven’s a constantly shifting projected pair of black boxes with white text. Both seem like extensions of the artists’ practice, but they confuse the “flat work” within the show. These out of place bits make me feel unresolved. And frankly, I hope to feel unresolved about the work I saw in Overland for some time. My questions kept percolating long after leaving Planthouse, and thats how I know I have seen an excellent show. Now, when I see the show in my mind, I imagine living in a room with Hougen’s open vistas through windows that that will in turn create Haven’s constricted angular shadow.