Falling For You—a three-part exhibition spread over the course of six weeks at Triumph — was a series of complex two-person shows folded in upon one another that invigorated the typical exhibition format. In mimicking the ubiquitous plots of television shows, or the ominous delivery of characters in theater, a multivalent dynamic occurred. What is left to interpret is the politic of group shows or perhaps more acutely, a curatorial analysis of a viewer’s demand for narrative.
At center stage was veteran artist Catherine Sullivan who arranged a slew of theatrical props. Decipherable among them were: wooden handles, brushes, marching drums, a wooden spoon—splayed and organized, ready to be picked up as part of the performance. The props’ power lies in their solemn composition. Throughout the exhibition, they were distant and removed, maintaining their agnostic presence. All the action was built up behind, in front, and on top of them by the artists Joel Parsons, Michaela Murphy, and Christalena Hughmanick.
Acts One and Three served as bookends. Parsons and Hughmanick notably challenged the perception and the power of pink. While Parsons used the color to propel a heavy romanticism, complete with a bejeweled, found photograph placed in a shrine-like installation dedicated to Soviet choreographer Rudolph Nureyev, one turned the corner into a safe space with 300 pounds of pink, soft, sweeping compound underfoot. The display was heavy in materials: perfume bottle tops, rhinestones, chandelier crystals and roses, to name a few. But, the domination of the feminine materiality escaped gender associations and went straight into the exhaustion of performativity.
Act Two, in terms of narrative structure, was the climax and Michaela Murphy appeared as the brooding and opaque character designed to change everything. The pink was covered by the blue-ish gray of sunflower husk ash. The viewer, having moved freely about the exhibition before, was now confined and cornered to the perimeters of the space. Upon entering the gallery, the immediate realization is that the audience was set up to fail; the hard lines diminished and blurred with interruptions of anyone wishing to see the exhibition. While the audience stepped around one another in a haphazard dance of free walking space, a curious mechanism hung overhead. Two cylinders endlessly rotated and created loose falling pieces that amounted to black looking snow. aWhat was so saturated before turned into a stark exhibition delineated by control of an artist who was not there but made themselves clear and present.
In radical juxtaposition, the Third Act with artist Christalena Hughmanick as the maintenance laborer pushed the performativity in the final iteration. Dressed in a hazmat-looking suit, replete with the assistance of Jo Geczy, Hughmanick mixed pink-dyed plaster and filled each interruption of Murphy’s composed ash walkway. Boot, hand, and unintelligible imprints were carefully preserved in a pink casting. The action removed any semblance of Parson’s romantic nostalgia and rendered the pink paler and entirely sickening. Hughmanick crept around, with the analysis of a crew member removed from the plot, attempting to preserve the evidence of each imperfection. While the cylinders overhead were still present, anything left to create the movie-magic snow was gone, and all that was left was the audible clanking as it turned.
As the audience watched Hughmanick pour the slowly drying plaster, thoughts born of endurance crept in. What does it mean to watch something at all? The exhibition was packaged in the contemporary audience obsessions of binge-watching and cliffhangers, wanting to unravel something quickly and build on top of it more and more. But by intermixing the literary highbrow of symbolism with the foreshadowing of pink, language, and conceptual frameworks, Falling For You hinted at a layered resistance of narrative. The result of the group show turned three-piece production, was an experience embedded with the complexity of identity, gender, and performance and a microcosm of contemporary art itself.