Sharon Watts Writes

when pictures fail me…

YogaCityNYC ~ article on art exhibit at The Kitchen

Y?O!G…A., the current art exhibit at The Kitchen, in Chelsea, assumed a metaphorical warrior stance last month as Hurricane Sandy lashed New York City, causing damage and delay to the show’s opening. The free restorative class that had been scheduled on Election Day in the gallery space (part of the artists’ conceptual intent) became more apt with the need for a rain date. We required far more restoration from Sandy than the election results.

Irony aside, this exhibit, housed in the hippest of neighborhoods and under the High Line, embraces some conceptual connotations of living in today’s world, not from any emotionally reserved vantage point, but with genuine sincerity.

Using the yoga mat as a launching pad for the diverse creative musings of collaborating artists Matt Keegan and Eileen Quinlan, the cool layout of the exhibit belies a warm, beating heart and a soul that wants to soar.

With a mixture of content that includes video, digital C-prints, painting, collage, stenciled word art, cut-out yoga mats-as-sculpture, and giant colorful body balls punctuating the room, some themes slowly came into focus for this viewer.

A video of rolling text between the artists (who have been friends for a decade) shares exchanged comments and reflects on their formative years. Against a political, cultural, sexual, and familial backdrop, reference points such as Rock Hudson, Ollie North, the Bill Cosby Show, and the first Gulf War pop out. Included also are lists of “firsts”: first kiss, first apartment, first time driving, first time losing control, first time having sex, first time being violent or witnessing violence, first time feeling yourself getting older. Keegan notes the obvious that I had never really stopped to consider: The “firsts” that map our time become less frequent as we age. Both artists pick up that thread and continue leading me to another theme: life’s routines.

What demands daily practice? What is profound, and what is mundane? How do we live when the firsts are gone? In another video, tandem screens show the artists separately, depicting a day in the life. Focusing first on domestic routines and detail (both are in relationships, both have cats, empty cereal bowls, and studios to commute to), the camera next witnesses the creative process each engages in, also part of a routine, in preparation for this exhibit. Keegan cuts geometric shapes into his yoga mats, layering and arranging them on the floor, while Quinlan sets up photo shoots for her mats, folding them into waves of color, then printing out the results. The camera follows them home, and domestic patterns again resume through family-time, dinner, washing dishes, brushing teeth, and bed.

Both Keenan and Quinlan have admitted to not being yoga enthusiasts. Instead, the mat serves as an icon for what they want to address. Certainly there is no avoiding it on the street; at the very least it serves as the ubiquitous accessory of the perennially trendy, which New York will never have a dearth of.  One wall piece is a grid of commercial photos featuring consumer goods in multiples–towels, shoes, shirts, belts, make up. Another contains photos of polished and adorable children, largely from recognizable ad campaigns. And a third collage has healthy lifestyle brands such as Silk, Kiehls, Kashi, and Pjur being literally kicked out of a prescription medicine bottle. The satirical message is here not just for effect. It asks us to consider decisions we make about our lifestyles. In addition to the barrage of advertising; health risks, war, fear, and political rhetoric are also a constant repetitive presence in our lives.

Which brings me back to the mat, and how I view it. Yes, it is the setting for a conceptual work of art. It serves as a framework: a place to center and compose myself, and be still. Here is where the act of repeating an asana, a breath, a non-thought attains a grace and beauty and relevance that transcends any accessory purchased at Jeffreys, just a few blocks away. Here is where sinking heels and spreading palms into adho mukha svanasana becomes an antidote to all that is profane and mundane. Here is where routine is elevated to spiritual art.

If you want to experience yoga a bit deconstructed, both physically and conceptually, don’t miss the final days of this exhibit. Ends December 22.

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