The Living End
Matthew Weinstein purposely confounds defined artistic practices. His, as he describes, “culturally transgendered” vision is evident in paintings, sculptures and animated videos that bring commercial art and entertainment processes like computer animation, airbrush, chemical compounds and theatrical dialogue into contact with cultural history. Of central concern to Weinstein is how we make contact with reality. We create tools to aid in this contact: communication tools, interpretive tools, artistic tools and scientific tools. Due to advances in visual technology, we now have imaginative tools that depict our dreams with shocking realism. These new visual technologies go beyond contact with what is exterior to what we identify as ‘us,’ they actually allow a synthesis between what we see with our minds and what we see with our eyes. This is the encounter that Weinstein captures in pixels, paint and metal; the encounter between our minds and our willful projections of our minds onto a landscape of our own creation. Rather than critique the nature of this shift in perception, Weinstein mines if for it’s aesthetic, poetic and philosophical possibilities.
Weinstein was first recognized in the 90’s as a painter interested in how the medium is an exteriorization of our physical selves and how it can be a register of our joys and fears therein. Choosing painting in a period when it was regarded as a medium incapable of approaching social issues with any intensity and specificity, Weinstein has continued his disregard of current artistic trends. He has allowed himself to be as submerged in film, politics, philosophy, popular culture and all forms of literature as in art. He has always chosen whatever medium he needs to embody a new idea, regardless of whether the medium is artistic or commercial. Art, for him, is just one point in a web of cultural connections.
A turning point for Weinstein was when he first began experiencing 3D imaging in early Pixar films. What captivated him were not the conventional narratives that this groundbreaking medium was put in the service of, but rather the space within the world of the film, one that was for him as new and profound as cubism and abstraction. It seemed odd to him that this new way of seeing was restricted to children’s entertainment when, as he says, “I was looking for a new experience to describe with a new vocabulary. And there it was. And that space in the movie, it was like a room in my mind that nothing had moved into yet.” He saw an opportunity to make art in a medium that was free of art historical precedence. He couldn’t believe that nobody was using this medium to make art with. Modeling his approach on other artists who without apology used commercial and non art processes to make art; Warhol (silkscreen), The Pictures Artists (graphic design), Donald Judd (high end industrial fabrication), Bruce Nauman (neon, video), Weinstein put together a small production team and began making his own 3D animated films, divorced from commercialism and inhabited by his own subjectivity and a desire to aim the profundity of this new medium outside of the world of entertainment.
In Cruising, 1980, created in 2010, two chrome ships slowly pass each other on a calm and glassy sea. The vessels, modeled after items found in New York City’s Chinatown, sparkle and glow for each other as they pass. In the world of the film, familiar and inanimate objects interact sentiently. The title is a clue to the fact that that these ships are engaged in the action of sexual display, cruising; these ships have desire. This film, and other films of Weinstein’s that feature his animated talking pigs and fish, examine the enduring human craving for Animism. Our last vestiges of our pagan spiritual selves, when we shared spirits with our environments, are trapped in the Western entertainment spectacle of the talking animal and the anthropomorphic object. For Weinstein, profundity lurks in the things closest at hand, and often in the things we don’t take seriously. But if we had never divided ourselves from our environment, if we had never decided that the world is for us and not of us, we never would have destroyed our environment. Having lived and traveled widely in Japan and Nepal, Weinstein’s distinctly non Western perspective is evident in the aesthetics of and the philosophy that drives his work.
One of Weinstein's most celebrated films to date, E Lobro, was originally created to accompany the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Maurice Ravel’s iconic 1928 composition, Bolero. Weinstein, with composer Francis Harris, then deconstructed Bolero and arrived at a melancholic echo of the bombastic original. He then re animated the piece to reflect the psychological complexity of the new and less melodic music. The main character in the animation is an alluring koi fish. She is born out of a giant clock. She swims erotically up a spiral of pleasures; a giant martini bathes her, two golden skeletons improve her makeup, and she performs an erotic dance with a handsome golden chauffeur. Finally, she languidly swims through a dining room, redolent of fin de siecle opulence. She fans the fireplace with her tail to the point of explosion, gazes at herself in a giant gilt mirror, and exits smoothly out of a window into a snowy and mountainous landscape, indifferent to her world as it burns to the ground. Is she laying waste to her world, or is she rebelling against the artificialities that enclose her? In Weinstein’s work, the interpretation is always wide open, allowing conversation and multiple points of view.
Weinstein’s paintings are as unconventional as his approach towards moving image work. His paintings exist alongside his films, but are not dependant on them for meaning. Each medium in his work reaches it’s own level of independence. The recent paintings included in this exhibition are drawn from the artist’s iconography of figures of uncertain gender, vaguely erotic objects and hallucinatory landscapes. The fluid gestural lines, transparent layers of color and luminous silvery tones give these paintings a seductive beauty. Their painterly style indicates rich textural surfaces, but Weinstein uses reflection and smoothness to confound physical expectations. These are paintings that evoke things but do not describe them. Like images appearing before us on a computer or film screen, they are more manifestations than images. “I want even their surfaces to be an abstraction of touch, not linked to me, not linked to anything that would get in the way of their ability to avoid identification,” Weinstein said.
“I keep creating these closed mental microclimates in my work,” Weinstein notes. “Each film is one. Each painting is as well.” This is a near literal description of his newest interactive film, The Living End, 2017,shown for the first time in this exhibition, and created with the support of Cornell Tech. The film’s narrator is a beautiful woman who is an imaginative representation of Anna Kavan, an obscure avant garde British writer who has become one of Weinstein’s many female avatars . She is confined within a glowing enclosure in the negative space of the blank computer screen. She tells the story of the events of her life outside the enclosure, and how she ended up enclosed. Neither self pitying nor weak, she is like any person explaining their own complex attitude towards their own reality. Sensors in the gallery monitor biological data of visitors as they respond to the experience. This feedback subtly influences the narrator’s demeanor, but does not change the trajectory of her narrative. She is not for us to change. For Weinstein, the artwork is not a toy or an entertainment, it is an organism existing alongside of us in a world where the object and the subject are not as clearly divided as our Western religious and philosophical traditions dictate. Weinstein’s films bring a myriad of cultural and philosophical issues together, while remaining self-contained systems, a point beautifully expressed in the character’s conclusion, “Then one morning I woke up. The door to my room was gone.”