Saturday, March 9, 2013

Trey Burns and Alli Miller at The May Gallery

You see them everywhere if you look hard enough, but they are especially prevalent along the older highways of the South and West, places where boom years came and went and where the buildings and signs of earlier times were adapted to appeal to the trends of the present, often in vain. Abandoned signs with words mangled by wind or vandalism litter the landscape, beaming jabberwocky messages to uncomprehending drivers, and even those buildings that have found a second life can look lost in their new roles, surreal artifacts at the intersection of aspiration and desperation. A passing motorist may blink and wonder if an antihistamine is causing hallucinations, but no, this the lost America of detoured dreams and it is real. Trey Burns and Alli Miller have photographed these places and arranged them like collections of strange butterflies at the May Gallery.

Some are displayed in architectonic grid structures like stacked storage crates, while the ones on the walls appear in frames like the kind sold in discount stores, but they are really all hand crafted to look manufactured. This may be taking matters too far, but the photographs are definitely intriguing. One romantic example features a dusky swimming pool reflecting the familiar yellow squares of a Waffle House sign that was reworked to read: "We Buy Gold." In another, a concrete tepee that may have once housed a souvenir shop now sports a distinctly non-Indian sign: "Espresso." Nearby a bleak sign in a barren expanse of empty wasteland reads: "Museum Next Exit," even as a desert scene painted on the side of a derelict  shipping container mimics the desert that surrounds it like something a latter day Magritte of the badlands might have concocted after a peyote cocktail. The faux-Walmart frames and crate sculptures make all this fall under the heading of "conceptual art" but it works eloquently as an installation, a tribute to the random ad hoc surrealism of the American road.  ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Wessel Castle: Photographs and Mixed Media by Trey Burns and Alli Miller, Through March 22, The May Gallery, Suite 105, 2839 N. Robertson Street, 316-3474.     

Related: Angela Martin Berry's Left Out exhibition at The Front last month featured photographs of abandoned objects on city streets with an adjacent exhibit of tiny replicas of the same discarded objects recreated on a 3-D printer and presented in altar-like displays. Berry's comments appear below.

"The (photographs and) objects in Left Out illustrate a re-telling of a place through the observation of what has been abandoned. The objects photographed in this body of work are re-created as one-off prototypes modeled on a 3-D printer... Mimicking the process of how objects are produced and brought to market, these 3-D images reverse the creation process by bringing these objects from grave to cradle. Left Out resurrects forgotten objects in an attempt to elevate the histories of individual and collective choices that have led to their displacement in areas of the landscape like parking lots, sidewalks and vacant property we are socialized to ignore." - Angela Berry