February 24, 2008

Lines of Flight

Entrance into Reuben Breslar’s Black/White paintings requires a deft eye and the ability to discriminate between tactile surface anomaly and various historic referents fueled by his easy manipulation of media imagery. It is a practice saturated in postmodernist critique (simulacra and the hyperreal, dualities vs. binaries) and manifested within the battleground of representation. That Breslar’s very surface skillfully considers an approximation of digital information (sand grain as pixel) only adds to the potency of the paintings.

Breslar engages in his acts of “deconstruction and reconstruction where history is appropriated through the use of photocopied images of historical events” through a complicated four-step procedure: “I make 3D sculptures out of the Xeroxes that I then photograph and paint.”(1) Plato (speaking through Socrates) held that paintings are twice removed from the world of “Ideal Forms,” representing things which were themselves mimetic. We might then rightfully add two more steps in Breslar’s distancing technique, as the historic photographs he copies and constructs into a table-top allegory presumably documented that “most American triumph in the 21st(sic) Century: Space Travel.”(2)

However, these are not just paintings about distancing one from reality, or possible misrecognition within the representation of that reality. Instead, Breslar’s work is akin to a “line of flight,” the rhizomatic thought of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, that encompasses “all manner of becoming.”(3) Rhizomatic thinking conceptualizes outside of established, hegemonic modes of thought, rejecting the aborescent (tree-like) thinking characteristic of the grand narratives of modernism. Breslar’s NASA paintings embody this “acentered, nonhierarchical, nonsignifying system.”(4) They are both image mediation and manipulation at once, inhabiting the ideological, hierarchical information contained within its referents to form new “deterritorialized”(5) fixations on the myth of history, to “repossess our memories before they are handed to us.”(6)

History is territorialized through ideology. To question and attack a history that is “handed to us” is to deconstruct those grand narratives. The nationalist intent of this particular myth of US dominance in space may seem a facile observation in 2008, yet our militarization of space continues. Moreover, the doubt raised by conspiracy theorists over this “triumph” invokes a playful irony within Breslar’s version of the NASA narrative. Here then is content worthy of critique. Rhizomatically speaking . . . we witness Breslar’s architecturalized steps in preparation to detach and remainder the territorialized history from these images: a control room peopled with white-shirted crew-cuts, in a peak-roofed shanty beside three tee-pees made of ruined (and bleeding) American flags. The iconography beckons as if from an oblique-angled film noir, its mediated and manipulated elements of an erected and codified history slapped together as the “dominant discourse.”

Black/White continues at The Athenaeum through March 16, 2008.

Image: Soon the astronauts will be home (2006); © Copyright Reuben Breslar.

1. Breslar in an undated artist statement.

2. Breslar in an email dated Sept. 10, 2007.

3. Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus, Minneapolis, 1987, 21.

4. Ibid., 21.

5. Ibid., 21.

6. Breslar, op.cit.

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