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Christopher Russell

January 13, 2009 - April 12, 2009

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About the Exhibition

Christopher Russell employs photography, bookmaking, writing, drawing, and digital-media printmaking to illustrate his explorations of the darker side of the human psyche. Investigating, and sometimes fabricating, the reasons people live or behave outside of socially acceptable margins, his work offers visions of what many would deem dirty, broken, useless, or criminal. Through the lens of a present-day flâneur, viewers are made privy to Russell’s observant, analytical wanderings along the physical and emotional outskirts of society.

Steeped in historical references, Russell’s novella Budget Decadence seamlessly fuses writing and object making to create an all-encompassing environment that challenges the traditional divide between the two practices and expands the very idea of what a book is. To stand in his Hammer Project installation is to stand, literally, in the novella.

Heavy with the psychological implications of home, interior, and family, the story unfolds, inspired by decadent writers of the late nineteenth century, rich in often unsettling details that build toward catastrophe. Simultaneously, Russell refreshes for our millennium the experiments in poetic strategies applied to prose by the New Narrative writers of the 1970s and 1980s, adding layers of meaning and possible interpretation.

Jarring juxtapositions and stark imbalances are apparent in much of Russell’s work: the photographic images and his treatment of their surfaces, his choice of framing materials and furnishings for the gallery, his digital mimicry of Arts and Crafts movement progenitor William Morris’s Trellis wallpaper (the first chapter of Budget Decadence), and his hybrid artist books/zines (each containing subsequent chapters of the novella). Nevertheless, the seemingly disparate aesthetic elements of the installation are in fact deliberately chosen and constructed as reiterations of themes in the text.
 

Essay

Burned Out

By Amy Gerstler

 

“I became convinced that buildings don’t just fall into ruin—something in them aspires to ruination. It’s the same with people.”1

 

Christopher Russell creates “ripe ruins.”2 His artworks can be seen as portraits in absentia: of individuals and families who’ve fallen through the cracks, and of their ailing environments. “I photograph the physical margins of the social pact,” he has said, “the edges of town, spaces that have been . . . abandoned.”3 Employing “intermingled layers of narrative and images,”4 and materials such as floral fabrics, glitter, dirt, and hacked and scratched photographs, Russell gives us sun-bleached, ripped, splattered, graffittied, murky, erotic, sullied, elegant evidence of resilience and destruction.

In his untitled installation for the Hammer Museum, as in much of his work, Russell’s human subjects have died off, fled, or been removed. We are left with their detritus: furnishings, stained bedspreads, scribbled notes, smears, empty rooms, and interior monologues that surface in tiny, eye-testing type emanating from the wallpaper. “I’m trying to look at this white trash residence the same way that Huysmans is looking at his environment,” he comments in discussing the piece.5 The novels of French writer J. K. Huysmans (1848–1907) are known for lush description, strange images, obsession with decadence and decay, and litanies of darkly realistic detail. More

 

Curated by Darin Klein.

 

 

Hammer Projects is made possible with major gifts from Susan Bay-Nimoy and Leonard Nimoy and The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation.

Additional generous support is provided by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, Good Works Foundation and Laura Donnelley, the David Teiger Curatorial Travel Fund, and Fox Entertainment Group’s Arts Development Fee. Gallery brochures are underwritten in part by the Pasadena Art Alliance.

 

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