Review of Ryan Lauderdale’s exhibition at Red White Yellow

A while back, I wrote this review of Ryan Lauderdale’s exhibition, which has unfortunately closed now.  Despite the delay, I wanted to post the text, so here it goes:

Ryan Lauderdale, Spiro Projection, 2010; Video Installation: Projection through prism, plexiglass vitrine, cassette-tape sleeve, mirrored hexagonal pedestal, candle, poster, plastic tube, ashtray; dimensions variable; courtesy the artist and Red White Yellow, Houston

Ryan Lauderdale
Red White Yellow at BOX 13 ArtSpace

Over the past five years, web-based programs such as YouTube and Flickr have revolutionized the distribution of visual information. What this means for art remains an open question. Ryan Lauderdale is on the forefront of unlocking the potential of digital technologies to transform artistic practice. Part public sketchbooks and part publishing, his Tumblr blog (astralzoo.tumblr.com) and Flickr site record the development of his artistic language and allow him to get feedback on his work. Lauderdale also uses the internet to inspire his aesthetic– a reductive, asymmetric array of symbols and shapes that alludes to the arrangement of windows or icons on a computer screen.

Even though he looks to the future with his use of digital media, the artist’s work is curiously populated with references to a 1990s psychedelic, suburban subculture that predates widespread use of the internet. Lauderdale thus uses contemporary technologies to look back, filter, and rearrange his past, particularly his teenage years in rural Oklahoma. The focal point of his exhibition HEADSPACE is “Spiro Projection,” a video he shot while dragging main in his hometown. Lauderdale inserted clips from old videotapes and found images that conjure memories of his youth into the footage. In front of the projector, a prism and plexiglas box fragment the video and cast reflections across the surrounding walls. A burning black taper candle, a lamp with an opaque inverted shade, and a small full-spectrum lamp behind a false wall are likewise dispersed throughout the room in a scattering of soft lights.

Sometimes Lauderdale’s references to psychedelic culture can get bogged down in a heavy-handed symbolism or nostalgia. This installation works because it leans toward abstraction. The artist’s open, improvised approach to HEADSPACE makes the work easier to enter and a more coherent visual experience. His subtle use of light and shadows create these beautiful, small gestures like where two poster tubes border a refracted shard of light. I also like that the installation doesn’t take itself too seriously. With dark posters clustered in a corner and objects sitting on the ground, the room is as comfortable as a teenage bedroom. I felt free to sit crosslegged on the floor, relax, and take it all in.

One of the artist’s greatest challenges is taking what is successful for him online and making it function in physical space. In HEADSPACE, his sculptures and digital collages feed off of each other and together are evolving in an innovative direction. However, I would like to see Lauderdale think even more critically about the conceptually loaded territory that he has walked into. In juxtaposing the aesthetics of psychedelia and contemporary technologies, he has hit upon a potential dialectic of mass-marketed transcendence. HEADSPACE touches on issues of subjectivity, memory, and utopian dreams of collective consciousness. I look forward to seeing Lauderdale continue to delve deeper into these ideas in future installations.

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