Magic, Chance, Gifts (Bang, Universe, Everything)

Getting to Know you Better, April 15, 2010
By Susanna Bluhm

Chauney Peck’s solo show at SOIL is lovely with its titling. Bang, Universe, Everything pays homage to the special object, which may be given as a gift. It attempts to measure the incomprehension of a nuclear bomb. It grants shelter to a duck, cozy with chopped colored wood in its abdomen, perched on battered wood with toxic orange markings. To create the sculptural works in the show, Chauney followed directions given to her by chance cards that she made. Drawn and collaged upon playing cards, they say things like “thin bricks” or “cardboard or “NOT CENTER.”

The works on paper are based on the USA’s atom bomb test sites in the 1940′s and 50′s. Inhabitants of islands in the South Pacific were told to leave because the U.S. government was going to blow up their home. {By the way, U.S. government (as I’m sure you read this blog), what is the point of “testing” a nuclear bomb? What’s the worst thing that could happen? That it might not work? That the destruction wouldn’t be complete enough?} Not comprehending this undeniable force threatening to wipe out their universe, the people appropriately concluded “A powerful new god is coming.”

Chauney has let magic into her show by offering some of her work as gifts. (If you would like a gift from her show, you can contact her. At the end of the show, she’ll randomly select a recipient for each of the sculpture “offerings.”) In Bang, Universe, Everything, fourteen of the thirty pieces are offerings and the remaining sixteen are for sale. Here, she talks about gift-giving:

“I’ve recently received gifts made of wood, like driftwood carved into the shape of a gun. Those interactions have a power and energy that is vastly different than going out and buying a something made of wood. I’m a reading a book called ‘the gift’ by lewis hyde where he talks about the hunters that go out and kill ten birds. They take eight to their families and give two to the priest. The priest eats one and prepares the other as a talisman or an offering. He gives it back to the forest to make the birds come back next time they go hunting. It’s a humble gesture and a reflection of their gratitude towards nature. Similarly, it makes me happy to give an offering, and if you receive one hopefully, you will give something to someone else. You don’t expect anything in return except a vague karmic return from the universe. It’s about giving thanks and moving energy around continually. Giving my chance sculptures as offerings is a formal gesture that reflects my belief that art is gift that can keep returning.”

It was interesting to notice that the way I looked at the work actually changed when I realized I might actually get to have one. The object, and its possible transference to me, already felt magical. I’ve long struggled with the retail identity of the art objects I make, and I love the solution Chauney created for this show. It’s not a senseless free-for-all; rather, she thoughtfully measures randomness and decisiveness to counteract some of the inherent power of commerce in art. People’s wishes are noted and the work is then randomly dispersed. In the end, Chauney will have actually had more control over who will own her work than the artist in the typical commercial transaction. Likewise, the offerings themselves, which were created within a prescribed vocabulary of chance, emanate a calm control. Their precise, tender arrangements make a quiet space where one might wait for a powerful new God that is coming.

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