“When world-famous writer and thinker Stephen Hawking returned to terra firma after enjoying a lifelong dream of being suspended in a zero-gravity environment, he said with absolute charm that he “could have gone on and on.” But, with bittersweet irony, Hawking’s remark was painfully undermined by the image of his frail body confined in a wheelchair and his robotic digitized voice expressionlessly pining for endlessness. Even the video images of his limp body floating in that staged and catered environment project an odd sense of futility, reminding the viewer more about the continuance of hopeless immobility and less about the sense of freedom and fancy for which the trip was intended. Arguably, it’s not even a cynical read to see the whole experience as fleeting and sad.
Similarly, Todd Pavlisko’s 2007 solo exhibition at moniquemeloche gallery—which is anchored by an incredibly sensitive painting of the Hawking flight—speaks volumes about life’s cornucopia of calamity and our undying tendencies to add levity to our existence with aspirational moments of dreaming, chancing, socializing, collecting, drinking, playing, and basically just trying to ignore the inevitable end… ad infinitum. In the gallery, Pavlisko has orchestrated a handful of autonomous works that coalesce into something more of an installation—an overall environment that collectively keeps circling around these sanguine themes of paralyzing hopelessness and the sobering veracity of life’s impossibilities.
The painting of Hawking afloat in weightlessness begins the exhibition dialogue by recasting the professor’s event without all the fanfare—without the flight crew tossing him around and raising his fist to help him express enthusiasm. Instead, the sage of all sages floats serenely across the span of the canvas—alone in his tranquility and poignantly captivated by his own existential thoughts. The image is eerily reminiscent of Michelangelo’s classic Pietà where Christ’s body lies limp in the lap of Mary. Here however, with no other protagonist to complete the scene, the extension of empathy falls symbolically into the hands of the viewer who, by extension, assumes the role of Mary.
The installation continues with a large-scale sculpture where a fully functional bumper car can be driven almost pointlessly inside an extremely miniaturized arena, making a kinetic parallel to the Hawking painting and further activating the space with a sense of tragic impracticality. In the very front of the gallery, an elaborate contraption is situated to create a mysterious leak through a small hole in a ceiling support beam. Using wine as the dripping fluid, Pavlisko continues his ongoing lexicon regarding the stereotypical staples surrounding the institution of art and the art market. Likewise, an assisted readymade consisting of gold-plated loose change lies serendipitously on the floor.
The subtly altered coins are, in their natural state, an exact anthology of all the money the artist found in a year’s time. On more metaphoric terms and by way of the incongruous surface treatment, broader themes of value, worth, and stability can easily be read into this unassuming sculpture. The exhibition is nicely punctuated by two enormous framed, yet not “properly” installed, found commercial images of cotton clouds in a clear blue sky. By having these two-dimensional items exist as a sculpture, Pavlisko beautifully completes his incompletion
—and what better way to round out the exhibition and connect all the works than the fleeting floating fancy of an endless sky, fallen from grace, grounded, and leaning against the wall. With all hope and no hope colliding ceaselessly throughout the space, Pavlisko imparts his own cycle of repetitive desire with reminders around every corner about the “on and on” grind of our own dismal daily existence.” text excerpted from essay by Kristin Bly Rogers 2007
Todd Pavlisko (American b. 1974) lives in Chicago and also maintains a studio in NY. He received his MFA from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and his BFA from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. His major installation Trophy Membership 2005 is in collection of The Progressive Corporation, and he has work in the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation (California) in addition to numerous private collections from Chicago to New York to Panama. Recent group shows include I died for Beauty curated by Omar Lopez Chahoud at Newman Popiashvili Gallery NY, Changing Cities: Chicago curated by Paul Klein at Museum of New Art Detroit, The Eclectic Eye: Selections of Fantasy and Illusion from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation at the Contemporary Art Center New Orleans, and inBearable Lightness…Likeness curated by Franklin Sirmans at PS1, NY. Pavlisko is currently teaching the First Year Program in Time Arts at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago.