Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Daniel Phillips

One of the religions of art is the Church of Process. It venerates the getting there over the destination. It asks you to believe, on faith, that the getting there – though you usually didn’t, couldn’t witness it – was wicked cool. Or at least wicked thought provoking. So praise be to it.

Often the process probably is pretty cool – if you’re the one doing the process. If you’re the one hearing afterward about how cool it was to rip down some wall and make a big pile of junk and then built some sort of giant transformer wall to replace it, well, then it may sound kind of tedious. Maybe you had to be there. Or maybe it was in fact tedious. And that’s one of nagging questions about Daniel Phillips’s exhibit “Tear Down These Walls” at Montserrat’s 301 Gallery.

Phillips, who lives in Jamaica Plain, tore out the wall at the front of the gallery, piled up rubble and garbage at the back of the gallery, jury-rigged a mobile wall that can open up into a kind of giant tool box, tacked up related notes and e-mails, stacked plasterboard against the wall, and documented it all in time-lapse videos.

The videos are multiple hours long, so I don’t expect you’re supposed to so much watch them as sample them for moments here and there. Some of the videos focus up close, luxuriating in the messy beauty of a man sawing wood, glue dripping, sawdust twitching. One of the videos, shown on a monitor laid in the pile of debris at the back of the gallery, provides time-lapse overviews – people buzzing around the gallery, cars blurring down the street out front at night, the rising sun illuminating the space.

At Rotenberg Gallery in May, Phillips exhibited time-lapse videos of himself making messes in his studio for expressionistic artistic effect. His MO here is the same, though he’s constructing moveable walls that – fingers crossed – will become part of the long-term gallery facility.

“Tear Down These Walls” can prompt thoughts about the nature of time, or whether construction sites can qualify as art installations (I’m open to the idea, but I prefer “real” construction sites). But none of its parts – sculpture, installation, performance, video – individually or together as a hybrid whole is beautiful enough or thought-provoking enough to silence the question: Why? Why does this stuff matter? I suspect it comes down to whether you have faith in the Church of Process. And I’m a skeptic.

Daniel Phillips, “Tear Down These Walls” 301 Gallery, Montserrat College of Art, 301 Cabot St., Beverly, Aug. 31 to Sept. 26, 2009.


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