Review: Brian Selke / Songs You’ll Probably Hate

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Brian Selke‘s first solo exhibition recently opened at the Peoria Art Guild in Peoria, IL. The title Songs You’ll Probably Hate, is a statement about lacking the experience and capacity to understand the relationship of others to yourself. It is a self-conscious statement that is said when one is about to expose themselves for the first time, perhaps to a crush with a mix CD. Given this title, I decided that this is how I would approach the exhibition–each piece is a song to be experienced and related.

To enter the exhibition, you must take a flight of stairs to the second-floor gallery. It is there that you are met with Selke’s first piece Alarm Clock (no image, audio only). The sound is not as irritating as it is confusing. The alarm seems out of place yet familiar, not causing concern in any of the people heading up to the show, but noticeable enough to make a statement. “Do you think the light makes that noise when it is about to go out?” and “Is there a door open that makes that noise?” are some of the ‘only slightly concerned’ comments I heard on the way up. Alarm Clock plays throughout the opening in the stairwell, both ‘waking’ visitors up and, like all alarm clocks, waiting to be turned off.

In the middle of the gallery sits Green Tail Lights, a Honda Civic, presumably Selke’s, with its flashers on. Though the car is not a subtle object, the action is. Once you get passed the tired question of how it got to the second floor, Green Tail Lights begins to function similar to Alarm Clock. The car is both eliciting a sense of waiting and urgency. Flashers indicate double parking, 15-minute zones, stalled on the side of the road, and so on. Green Tail Lights’ flashers are waking the viewer with a subtle and familiar sense of urgency. Like the alarm clock sound, the flashers are waiting for an intervention–waiting to be turned off.  The usual yellow sign of caution is replaced by a flashing green. Perhaps not to warn the viewer, but to tell them to ‘go’.

Songs You'll Probably Hate
Songs You’ll Probably Hate

Hanging on a large wall is One String Rickenbacker–a pristine white bass with a thin neck and a single string. The bass is attached to a full stack amp that reads “power on to play, power off when done!”. It does not take long for people to pick it up and fumble around its thin neck–producing, if the participant is lucky, something that resembles a song. A loud rumble fills the room that is as hard to ignore as the theatrics that quickly follow–waking and capturing the attention of anyone in the gallery. The bass itself plays the role of both sculpture and instrument. One String Rickenbacker is a beautiful aesthetic object that restricts its function. The participant, if familiar with playing a guitar, needs to reorient themselves with what they assume they can do. The moment of confusion is more poignant than the simple tune that follows.

Unlike the previous three pieces, From a Sun does not deal with waking or waiting. The piece, along with Man, raises a question of existentialism and sentimentality.  From a Sun consists of stars created out of unlit match sticks. This ideographical use of a star to symbolize a star creates a reflexivity that accentuates the everyday material. This reflexive nature allows the pieces to be viewed on multiple levels: to deal with the piece as a representation of the night sky with stars from afar (as abstract representation), as one moves closer they must deal with the stars as symbols (cognition through language), lastly the intimacy with a single star reveals its material (objectivity and function). The relative nature of the piece reminded me of Eames’ “Powers of Ten”, though when you ‘zoom in’ from the universe the reductive scale stops at the same plane we are aware of–not of atoms and quarks, but of the everyday.

Man seems to support From a Sun rather than stand as a piece on their own. If From a Sun represents a sense of ‘outer’ then Man is a look inward. The piece is an awkward clear plastic rendition of a human male with humorously large bulging eyes. The shadow that the figure casts is more prominent than the figure–a fleeting existence. On the idea of inner or outer, Man suggests our being is perceived on what we effect on the outside. The piece is a witty support for From a Sun, but falls short of the elegant use of materiality and attention to viewer relation.

Glitter Knife and Big Star are harder to approach than the others. They felt violent, esoteric, and biographical-after hearing that the knife and pins belonged to Selke’s grandfather. The knife is stabbed into the wall the same way I assume the pins are. The two pieces do play off of each other–the glitter on the knife acting as a sort of camouflage, asking me to not take the violent action that had occurred seriously. On the other hand, the pins exist as decor hiding the action of pressing them into the wall, as if one was pressing them into skin. The knife’s glitter wants to be disarming but produces a sense of insincerity and failure. This leads me to believe the knife is about a type of posturing or sugar coating–doing what one wants, with minimal  regard to how it is perceived by others, but enough to haphazardly cover up.

Though the show had a tendency to pull in different directions, Selke’s work exhibited an enthusiasm and a willingness to experiment that was hard to ignore. The themes Selke is interested in are complicated–dealing with them in a delicate and fluent way only comes with experience and time. Selke has a natural ability to sense and analyze his world and, in turn, produce work that is honest and instinctual.

Songs You’ll Probably Hate is open until January 11, 2013 at the Peoria Art Guild