Friday, November 30, 2012

Apophenia: Recent Works from Roger Chamieh @ Tempus

Roger Chamieh is a sculptor who teaches art at HCC Ybor. In Apophenia, he showed just four works at Tempus Projects Gallery. As we walked around the pieces, accompanied by Liz Williams, who is well-known for her silk paintings, Roger told us that the suite of works was about his trying to quit smoking. At first glance, that makes perfect sense with three of the pieces. One has lungs connected to a gas mask with a tiny video screen(s) with a little girls' image playing. Another has a huge conical form again connected to a gas mask, but the open end of the funnel is partially pinched shut. Last, a rubber-covered canvas in black is pinched by what looks like a large truck jack standing on end. The 4th piece has apparently little to do with smoking. It is a table with two legs missing, and at one end an organic-looking esophagus-like horn rises from it. Is this one about food addiction?  The artist, btw, doesn't appear to be suffering from that.

Roger Chamieh, "Broken"
On the right is a photo of "Broken". The open end of the 'horn' is around 6.5' high. There are sounds coming from it. Look closely and you will see a small metallic container at its base (lower left), from which emanated the modified sounds of heartbeats. The piece at one level speaks of instability, over-the-top gluttony/ingestion. to me it seemed as much about the culture and/or impending apocalypse/mortality as anything else.

Roger Chamieh, "Anoxia", side view.

When an artist says a work is about something, that may be partially true, but art routinely transcends the intent of its maker. If there is not a stranglehold on the design of the work, ideas find their way into it that the artist may not be aware of. Or, the artist has a plausible easy pat answer that leaves volumes unsaid yet available to the astute viewers.

These works seem go well beyond an individual's personal battle with addiction.

Roger Chamieh, "Anoxia" front view.

With "Anoxia", there is a large funnel, made in a similar manner to that used in many commercial sculptures, using Styrofoam and polyurethane to make an inexpensive, large and very durable form. The form goes from being large and open-ended into a small tube into a gas mask, a secondary atmosphere. Yes, the title and rest work with the smoking, and more. Note the large clamp at the mouth of the funnel, making the opening into a figure 8 form. Metaphorically, this is also about the collapse of potentials and possibilities into the self and/or the course of life among other things. The gas mask is something the wearer straps on of his own volition as well.

Roger Chamieh, "Turgor"

"Turgor" has to do with the normal resiliency of tissue due to interstitial pressure from blood or fluids. Here another clamp is involved, this one on the vertical axis. As people get older when their skin is pinched, due to low turgor, the pinched part takes a long time to recover.

Chamieh's sculptures openly carry an inherent narrative of the processes used to make them. They're extraordinary and provocative formally speaking, yet their content is given equal weight.

Roger Chamieh, "Daddy's Girl"
"Daddy's Girl" is composed of styrofoam, urethane-covered and ultimately chromed externalized lungs hooked up to a tube leading to a gas mask. In the mask, a small video screen shows a girl, one of the sculptor's daughters.
It seems a little sentimental on the surface, and a gut punch to our feelings of immortality. The theme of self-poisoned atmosphere, whether personal or global is something we are all familiar with.

This show is a testament to the idea that sometimes less can be much more. The works are mature, have an uncommon sober and dazzling humanistic intelligence.

Congratulations to Roger Chamieh, Tracy Midulla and her crew at Tempus for a particularly strong show.

Roger Chamieh

--- Luis

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