Unnatural Desires: Artorum 2
By Domenick Ammiratti
Michael Mahalchick weaves and stitches scraps of scavenged cloth into raggedy wall hangings, lumpy totems, and squat, motley creatures, celebrating both quiet insustry and its flip side, sensual languor. One favorite trope is to take properly horizontal forms and give them the primacy, and display value, of the vertical. Quiltlike drapery No. 34 (Let Your Freak Flag Fly), 2003, was inspired by Gee’s Bend; to form the two perfectly titled To Die Dreamings, 2004, which together evoke a pair of slatted swinging doors, the artist wove strips of old clothes onto futon frames. As installed in this gallery – an ideal setting, at once expansive and warrenlike – the fabric grids and swaths mocked up windows and curtains to suggest the hideaway of a stoner Bachelard, with the floor sculptures – short and personable, lumpy or stick thin, wrapped in fur and bound in ribbons – suggesting imaginary friends.
Contra Bachelard, Mahalchick adknowledges the presence of adult concerns in his chilhoodevoking ur-home, as welll as the prsence of the child in the adult world. Take those imaginary friends: Stevie, 2003, a fur-cloaked sprite, pokes fun at the mystic Beuys of I Like America and America Likes Me; Terry, 2003, a roly-poly bear, embodies the convergence of care-taking, play, and erotics that extended throughout the show. At the gallery’s door hung a drooping net of patterned strips like a deboned God’s eye, woven using a minitrampoline as a frame. Its red, pink, and turquoise bull’s eye is encircled by fuzzy orangered yarn that flower here and there into unkempt tufts, leading a chain of association from cunt to womb to home to bed and thereby back again. But the warmth manifest in Mahalchick’s self-described “love objects” us not focused on la boue. His materials are clean, and his compositinos – like the lyrical I Am the Resolution, 2003, a field of portcolored tatters and marble-size blue, turquoise, marigold and lemon beads sewn onto a bedcover that’s been belted in the middle – are highly structured.
When Mike Kelley brings craft objects into the gallery, he’s interrogating the value systems in which blankies, sock monkeys, etc., are embedded. Mahalchick’s art despite its knowingness seems to embody a retreat from adult language. Its quasi autism is curious for an artist heretofore focused on music, video, and performance and who is committed enough to live acts to arrange a five-night-a-week performance series for the run of his exhibition. These events peopled Mahalchick’s dreamy pad with an array of creatures still odder than his own: a pair of dancers in scary masks, fedoras, and gold chains like Afro- Hasidic gnome-pimps; black-clad musicians grinding themselves into zombiedom by repeating a single phrase by Satie for three hours. The highlight of a strong dance lineup, Jeremy Wade’s thrashings in a darkened adjacent office were transmitted into the gallery via a night vision closed-circuit video, evoking both pioneering work in that medium and the visual vocabulary of mediated war. On the final night Mahalchick assembled almost every one of his performers into a live-action montage, drawing the curtain on the series and his show by strumming a guitar and leading a a”We Are the World”-style singalong (“We Are beautiful, no matter what they say”) with an intensity – a refraction of the weaver’s nervous hands? – that belies the artworks’ laid-back air.
Published: Summer, 2004