Kirk Pedersen, “Bangkok Chinatown”
October 4 - November 1, 2014 at Launch Gallery, Miracle Mile
by G. James Daichendt
Kirk Pedersen’s multidimensional approach to art making includes everything from the recent series of mixed media works seen here, to shaping the aesthetic and foundation of his company Zero+ Publishing. An eye for the ordinary positions him as a curator of the commonplace, yet his sensitive approach as photographer perhaps is his best asset. We see this in a set of works entitled “Ambiguity," collaged, layered, and gritty pieces that are his most expressive to date and a welcome departure from the viewfinder.
Kirk Pedersen, “Bangkok Chinatown,” 2014, acrylic, watercolor, ink, posters and advertisements on wood, 20 x 16”.
Pedersen’s photography of travels throughout Asia has become an impressive reservoir of images. From urban decay to cultural oddities, the images themselves are in-depth perspectives on what typically goes unnoticed. Publishing several books on the topic, the juxtaposition of various countries and themes is disjointed but the tension is often pleasing. The remoteness from American cultural sights is part of the allure but the formal qualities like the texture, color, and format hold our attention and keep the viewer captivated.
A journeyman of sorts, Pedersen collects images the way a hoarder fills their residence with seemingly useless junk. In these travels, he focuses on the cracks, walls, and contrasts that others overlook. The inability to comprehend the saturation of detail that surrounds our immediate environments is understandable. We would be visually overloaded if we were able to do so. Instead, Pedersen’s photos allow us to stop time and relish these fleeting aspect of life. The distance in context makes it all the more clear how little we actually notice.
Pedersen’s new series of mixed media paintings is particularly exciting because they push his familiar process to another level of engagement. While he already displays a strong formalist eye, the new work emphasizes the artist’s hand as he carefully manipulates these photos and found objects for expressive purpose.
"Bangkok BR" is a mixed media painting that features bright yellow text with a blue background that has been ripped and collaged back together. The application has rendered the text illegible yet the orderly composition breaks the madness into six even rectangles. The acrylic and watercolor application muddies the composition, giving an overall sense of grime, wear and history that items in the street suffer through weathering and other physical wear and tear.
Jasper Johns’ use of symbols comes to mind because of the boldness and recognizability of the text in question. However, it’s frustrating not being able to play that card as the seemingly ordinary signage and text escape our exact knowledge. Instead we are left with a sense of order amidst the artist’s desire to reinvent his experience in Thailand’s largest city.
"Bangkok Chinatown," another mixed media painting, is layered even more severely. A cacophony of variously sized posters and photographs each compete for space on the wood panel. Advertisements for Coca Cola, one of the few familiar symbols adorn the top half while the red, white, and blue color scheme continues throughout. Rather than feature the products, these advertisements serve more as relics. They are about to be lost to the rough streets and shout for a continued purpose.
Pedersen’s transformation of these Eastern locals and experiences halfway across the world is hardly about documenting an exciting trip — if so what we would see is the sublime and/or romantic. Instead, it’s the routine transformed into emotionally charged physical and experiential moments. Pedersen’s sincere eye for formalistic issues combined with his cultural sensibilities shape his unique talents as an artist and curator. The energy pulsates from piece to piece and the artist’s own presence is felt as he pulls upon this organizational responsiveness to transform his documentary-like photographs. The ambiguity that gives the show its title comes from losing a specific context when the imagery is reworked and reinvented. This vagueness leaves us with fleeting feelings which, in the best sense, connects us to the unique texture of each place without truly seeing it.