Essay / The Big Rip

In the last year or so, I lost my grandmother, my grandfather, moved, quit a job, quit another job and tried to stop smoking at least five times. No one living today is an expert on what comes after death; however, we can all relate to when someone, something or somewhere ends.

We’ve anticipated the end of the human race for centuries, from the Mayan calendar to The Doomsday Clock, which moved thirty seconds closer to midnight this January (the closest it’s been since 1953). We’ve come to identify what might mean the end is near, be it through a CT scan or a crack in a building’s foundation. We’ve also created symbols to signify the end: a pink slip, a checkered flag, a tombstone. And in the face of life’s finality, we’ve come up with theories about what’s next. Heaven? A black void? A blockbuster sequel?

Endings can be difficult, even traumatic, but it’s not the only way to feel them. One of the most basic devices we use every day to mark the end of a thought is a punctuation mark. Every sentence we speak or type must be accompanied by one. A period, an ellipsis, an exclamation or question mark. What unites the artists in this exhibition is not a macabre outlook or a gothic palette, it’s punctuation. Through questioning, exclaiming, prolonging and simply stating, the artists in The End acknowledge the inevitable and how we choose to react to it.

The Big Rip, Seth Ledonne, alcohol-based ink and acrylic-based spraypaint on canvas, 2018

!           If anyone in The End is screaming, “The End!” it’s Zachariah’s Szabo. What at first might seem like a break-up conversation between lovers, Conceit of Memory is actually a set of direct quotes from correspondence between the artist’s mother and grandmother. Phrases like “FIND OUT WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU   DO YOU HAVE A HEART?” are only emphasized by transcribing them onto granite and marble. Apologies cannot take back these words. 

Seth LeDonne wields his words like lightning bolts in his double entendre, The Big Rip, tucked away in a corner of the gallery. LeDonne’s painting doesn’t just state itself; it shouts its presence. Referencing the ultimate fate of the universe and the age old phrase, “Rest in Peace”, LeDonne points out the parallels one life has to all life.

Lauren Wilcox and Zach Brown also implement a harsh duality with their respective diptychs. Perilously perched in between golden teeth, a pearl reveals itself in Wilcox’s Untitled ( Closed & Open). Through digital collecting and composting, Wilcox’s work speaks to the dangers women face regarding control and vulnerability. In Brown’s As Above, So Below, it is unclear what kind of relationship his figures had, but his contrast is anything but vague.

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The Frog, Su Su, oil on canvas, 2018

…          In cinema, ending fatigue is a term for when the space after the climax of a film and before the actual ending  is too long, leaving viewers bored or disinterested. Many experts estimate this gap should be no longer than 10 minutes. Gill Gorski, Tyler Gaston, Su Su and Aaron Regal challenge ending fatigue by ruminating in this space. Their works slow down the final moments of their subjects to convey stillness, regrowth, transformation and the process of change, be it for better or worse.

Regal’s photo essay Clearance: Documenting Gentrification in Pittsburgh’s East End expands on the end happening before our very eyes. Created over the course of five years, Regal depicts change in a 200-year-old neighborhood. Displayed in a grid as if we were looking at frames for an entire movie at once, his documentation feels multi-dimensional. By presenting the narrative this way, subtle moments contrast with more destructive ones to create a portrait of an area caught amidst social and economic shifts. 

Su Su also portrays change by referencing one of nature’s experts: the frog. Rendered in its final stage of metamorphosis, Su Su’s painting, The Frog, still continues to glitch, swirl and blur with its environment, long after its egg and tadpole stages.

Flux: Fig 8, (detail) John Belue, found photographs
Comes Right Off, Tracey Parker, oil on panel 2018

Of all the artists in The End, Tracey Parker, John Belue and Kathleen Kase Burk are perhaps the most direct in talking about about their relationships with mortality. Today we craft profiles, brands and personas online with the potential for them to exist forever. Parker, Belue and Burk acknowledge life’s limits by pointing out where the body starts and stops, as well as the ways we attempt to hold on to it. 

Parker’s painting, Comes Right Off reminds us just how physical we really are by satirically illustrating what we’re made of. In Memoriam by Kase Burk picks up where Parker leaves off. Through the power of objects, Kase Burk depicts how what we keep can speak to who we are, long after we’ve gone. Drawn in pencil, In Memoriam is a portrait of the artist’s parents told through the objects she found while cleaning out their house after they had passed away.

Ornate floral arrangements frame a deceased woman in Belue’s Flux: Fig 8 and time tints his found photographs to a rosy haze reminiscent of a rococo painting. Our unknown photographer isn’t afraid to get “the final shot” and it’s apparent how bizarre these photos really are when an onlooker comes into frame. Deer in the headlights, the woman’s shock foreshadows the culture surrounding photography today and our obsession to document everything, even this. Belue’s series sheds light on our culture’s relationship with the dead and the aesthetics of how we choose to memorialize a moment and a whole life lived.

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False Door, Real Feelings, Adam Linn, colored pencil and china marker on paper, 2018

?          Adam Linn’s work in particular seems to shift between the subconscious and conscious. Drawing inspiration from a “strangeness that surrounded his closeted, queer childhood,” Linn’s drawings beg to be interpreted through a dream dictionary. Locked away, gobbled up and shoved into a stiletto, Linn’s imagery renders the anxieties and pleasures of navigating one’s own identity for many, a slippery journey that turns to the past to make sense of the future.

Bill Wade’s photo is also shrouded in obscurity. Previously a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staff photographer, Wade is known for photojournalism. Regardless if the photo was shot on assignment, Embrace the Light breaches the poetic. Which side of the curtain are we on? Was it taken at the opening or closing? Is the end really, the end?

This essay was included in the show’s exhibition catalog seen here. It was printed by ColorPerfect Printing and designed by myself. To obtain a physical copy, contact me. Documentational photographs were taken by Zachariah Zsabo.

The End  is a group exhibition of Associated Artists of Pittsburgh who reflect on ideas of when something ends, stops, or ceases to exist. By facing complicated and often times dark subjects, the works in The End intertwine to create an anthology of endings that simultaneously define and defy what it means for something to come to a close.