Greg Leshé
Greg Leshé, Personal Radar, Exhibit A Gallery, New York, February – March 30, 2000

To exorcise or fully comprehend the psychological peculiarities of the conscious mind, people often develop complex tasks, systems of behavior or habitual regiments. Through successful completion of these activities, there is the hope that the correlation between the comforts and the anxieties that contrive an individual’s personality can be resolved. Greg Leshé investigates the roots of his own psyche by engaging in physical tasks that seek to articulate mental remnants of his past.

Pervading these memories is an enigmatic relationship to flying that has manifest from personal experience. Through recalling dreams of flight, the reverie and euphoric sensation of flying through the air, is clouded by the disappointing reminder of waking reality, where at once, the experience entails both joy and frightful anxiety.

In attempts to deal with this cycle of joy and pain, he collages installations that combine video documentation with the actual objects that were central in producing the activities. We experience Tail Spin, 1999 by looking downward through an actual airplane rudder suspended horizontally, into a video monitor where Leshé lies on his back with the rudder positioned on top of his body. Appearing to be pinned to the ground, he spins tirelessly in circles with a sideways running motion with his legs. In a half panic, spastic mode, he radiates the exasperation and ineffectuality of the physically grounded human condition. As the action repeats, round and round and round, his situation solicits a powerful empathy from the viewer. The camera gazes down at a humbled human subject who is defeated by physical restriction. By watching him spiral into further utility, we are reminded how we often feel pinned by some aspect of our lives. All too frequently, as we attempt to break free, but we merely end up running in circles, flailing about, expending energy, yet never getting anywhere.

Where futility, fear and helplessness is so vividly conveyed in Tail Spin, the triumph of sustained flight is witnessed in No Voice Tail Spin, 1999. As a monitor sits atop two steel saw horses, the action shows a view from Leshé’s perspective as he walks around and around on the two steel sawhorses above the same tail rudder. As he maintains his balance, the human narrators’ birds-eye view metaphorically circles above the ground as the glory of flight is preserved and the catastrophic gravity of the interrupted dream is held at bay. Yet ultimately, the sensation is bittersweet as he still relies on implied metaphorical flight and never really experiences the real deal.

In certain aspects, Leshé’s formal style of presentation owes much to the earth works of Robert Smithson. Smithson formulated a dialectic where the artwork becomes an entity comprised of the interaction between site and non-site. The site being the actual physical place out in the real world, and the non-site embodies the neutral, sterile gallery. He developed these ideas based largely on the urge to divert focus away from the singular sculptural object, to instead focus on the conceptual, relational dynamics of material, context and location.

Leshé, instead, yearns to transport the nostalgia of site defined as a scene of memory. By juxtaposing items with the events revealed in the video in the neutral context of the gallery situation, he illuminates a fresh perspective where the works function as narrative dioramas through the assembly of object and action, memory and ritual.

As Leshé uses his body to test his physical and mental limits of endurance and concentration, his work conjures immediate associate with 1970’s performance artists: Chris Burden, Vito Acconci and Dennis Oppenheim. More poignant, however, is a comparison with Samuel Nigro, whose sculptural/video installations I reviewed in the December 1st issue of Review.

Like Nigro, Leshé seeks not so much to propose body as subject through performance, but rather harness it as a medium through which to catalyze a psychological exploration through action and physical activity. Both Nigro and Leshé seek a personal catharsis that mandates an exchange of energy between man and material. Where Nigro seeks more to act as agent on such materials as sheetrock and stone, transforming them through his force and decision, Leshé uses objects to construct a narrative dependent on their function and symbolic association.

Where each artist engages in an activity to initiate personal transformation through action, Nigro’s work reveal psychological motivations that manifest in linear narrative structures. His tasks outlay metaphorical texts usually with a beginning and an end signaled by a chore done or completed. The structure of logic that breathes from each activity consequently appears more open and continuous. And perhaps more hopeful of actual transformation.

Leshé’s works, however, radiate a circular narrative where there is no resolution or obvious completion of task. But like an ailing obsessive-compulsive, as most of his endeavors remain largely closed circuits of operation there is no end in sight. The conceptual nature of his work has been brilliantly transposed into a series of small drawings on recording chart paper, which is used to diagram air pressure. Various, slightly neurotic statements and sentences emanate from the center point of the paper and flow continuously outward like the energy flow from his body during the strenuous activities.

A formal examination of his work raises an important and very contemporary question dealing with the nature and presentation of installation art. Video installation confronts an immediate formal obstacle: How to unite the sculptural installation with the content revealed through the video? More specifically, how does the artist rectify the ambivalence of the video monitor as object and /or vehicle through which to document action?

In any artwork, all that is visually presented demands careful scrutiny in order to establish context, intention and overall visual effect. Unfortunately, this is a very tough issue, and one without an easy answer especially as new technologies pervade contemporary artistic expression. Should the evidence and physicality of the monitor be neutralized through construction of boxes and frames? Or should artists simply refrain from installing them physically within a sculptural object?

While impossible to totally escape from the associations with all the loaded commercial and technological attributes, in some works, Nigro proffers a thoughtful solution, as, in his works, wooden structures house the monitors. When we don’t see buttons and brand names, we are less forced to visually assess the monitor as sculpture. The aesthetic situation is freed from obstruction as the action from the screen initiates the only intentional mode of expression. Equally acceptable are other installations which display the monitors separately, away from the objects they elucidate, giving them free range to document action and not demand sculptural association and critique.

Leshé, however, positions the monitor merely on top of, or underneath the sculptural elements. While thought has obviously gone into the symbiotic conceptual relationship between the action in the videos and objects they accompany, little has gone into the purely formal interaction of object and monitor. When positioned together, we are expected to make too large of a leap of faith in respecting one element as visceral object, and another as simply carrier of documentation.

Despite this formal point of contention, the raw content of Leshé’s work manages to largely overcome these formal drawbacks. By uniting the static objects with the dynamic activity of the videos, the immediacy of physical presence wrestles with a relentless pursuit of the past to propel narratives that seek to actualize the sites of personal memory and negotiate the ambivalence of nostalgia.

- Anthony DiMaggio