If These Walls Could Talk: Ryan Oskin and Kate Stone at Transmitter
Ryan Oskin and Kate Stone: Inside Out at Transmitter
March 29 to May 5, 2019
1329 Willoughby Avenue, 2A, between Wycoff and St. Nicholas
Any twelve-year-old with Photoshop can tell you about the inherent untruthfulness of photography, and yet our predilection to accept visuals as facts extends beyond the image. We see the marble facade and we feel the building is made of quarried stone. Rough hewn timbers in the local bar read as genuine and sturdy, though in truth the are suspended after-the-fact from the industrial ceiling and bear no weight. We respond viscerally to the rebellious graffiti that’s been planned out in advance by a housing committee. We fail to imagine the manipulation of the veneer in our built environments and our products, and indeed in our socio-political and economic lives.
Inside Out unpacks these dynamics through a fluid blend of photography and sculpture. Ryan Oskin’s photographs layer architectural elements, exaggerating the material density of built and rebuilt cities. Artifact (2017–2018) is a freestanding photographic print on aluminum, bent around a circular base and cut with a staircase profile. The print depicts varying stone balustrades in front of a brick background, something akin to advertisement from architectural wholesalers. The image is glaringly out of scale with the profile-cut stairs, a trick in much of Oskin’s work that jars the viewer out of a documentary mindset to see the works as thoughts, topologies, analogies. This is not a staircase, and these are not balustrades and brick. It is instead a unified conglomerate addressing vertical movement and opaque structure of less physical variety.
Oskin’s other works are less adventurous dimensionally, and more focused on the spatial divisions reflected in the show’s title. The strongest of these is Double Skin, (2018) a representation of three overlaid fences, hanging from the ceiling and spinning slowly with ambient air movement. A blue filigree fence (wrought-looking, but clearly cast) is superimposed on chain link, behind which is an imposing corrugated metal curtain. If they each could say something it would be this, respectively: “Don’t come in uninvited or I’ll sue/you’ll be roughed up/ you’ll be imprisoned.” The spin presents a mixed threat in constant motion. Now we are on the inside. Now we are on the outside. For a moment in between, the boundary disappears into two dimensions undercutting its imposing permanence.
Those strong works now noted, the promotional image for the show is a strange choice. Freedom (2018) is a compilation of two images of coming-soon-like material for glass high rises framed by a rectangle of clouds and leaning against the wall from a shelf. It’s hard to read “FREEDOM” printed across one of these two towers and not think immediately of 9/11, which, though interesting on its own, is out of place in the otherwise subdued and sophisticated exhibition—the uncle who brings up politics at Thanksgiving.
That shouting is thankfully drowned out by Oskin’s other works and by Kate Stone’s The Night Side (2018). This porous installation, built into a corner of the gallery, consists of a dilapidated pine-framed section of wall with crumbling sheetrock painted an inviting, oddly cheery pale yellow. Green carpet sneaks under your feet as you enter the tight space the new walls create. Quiet graphite drawings of furniture, windows, and other trappings of domestic life cover the corners. There are dark cracks in the wall, and peering through these one finds smaller interior scenes, either staged like a pop-up book with cut paper photos, or as stop-motion narratives. Using headphones mounted on the installation, the listener hears creaks and electric surges as the animations show the hidden life of empty space: shades fluttering, doors swinging on their hinges, and shadows dancing as external light swings from morning to night. An old adage comes to mind, “If these walls could talk,” but an unexpected end to that sentence also arises, “they would not speak in the languages of man, but in image and subtle sound, in memory itself, and at a pace we wouldn’t notice anyway.” Listening, stethoscope-like, to this internal domestic scene, the viewer is presented with the fragility of such spaces, of our own slight object-impermanence everytime we leave a home. It is there to us, but we do not consider its existence deeply, imagining it in stasis until we inhabit it again. What we take for granted, and what Stone elucidates so deftly, is the constant maintenance all things of “permanence” require, how we, humans, are the only element fighting entropy, and that entropy is hard at work wherever and whenever we are not. Stone exposes our own unintentional solipsism and the dangers that lie within.
Take off the headphones and I venture that you will be confronted with previously ignored sounds and visual shifts in the gallery: floor creaks, doors opening, trespassing shadows from the room next door. In harmony with Oskin’s photo-sculptures, Stone’s work creates lasting questions regarding the nature of space, physical and metaphorical, how structures do indeed speak to us (even when they lie), and what we must do to keep the house from falling apart.