Here in the Pacific Northwest, as the sun takes its annual rest behind shrouded clouds, we find ourselves in early winter, a time of year when we retreat to our homes and creativity flows over the wood fire. Simone Fischer, a multidisciplinary artist based in Portland, answers the call of the season and uses the winter to rest, reflect and make art. His solo exhibition, “OFFAL”, presented at Astoria Visual Arts until November 28, highlights what Fischer calls “the poetics of iron”.
Fischer is also a garden enthusiast and “OFFAL” focuses on food, more specifically, non-food items or wastes found in agriculture today. The text of the exhibition gives the following definition of the word: “the entrails and internal organs of an animal used as food / waste or waste / waste from a process / from af ‘off’ + vallen ‘to fall’. as pronounced, is a homophone of “horrible”. This comedic irony runs throughout the show which criticizes the ethics of our current food economy under late capitalism and begs the question, “How horrible has it really gotten?” “
When guests enter the gallery, they are immediately confronted with Fischer’s series of installations. POWER RELATIONSHIPS (2020) which features a steel light sculpture and a crushed grocery cart. The light sculpture, containing rows of colorless fluorescent bulbs and held by a fabricated steel channel frame, produces a dull glow, reminiscent of a dimly lit grocery store aisle. Fischer explains the horizontal stripping of the sculpture as a (free) reference to the American flag and a nod to the sterile environment of corporate America; its dependence on steel as a support serves as a metaphor for the fragility of our capitalist society. The empty and crushed grocery cart, whose lower part and wheels Fsicher deformed, reflects our own individual consumption. Fischer, who sees the cart as a figurative piece, reminds us of our own isolation under capitalism, our crushed bodies and the things we take with it. Ironically, as I left the gallery, I saw a lone grocery cart residing in the shady side streets of downtown Astoria.
The installation of Fischer in 2019 Steel handbag Includes steel stand with plastic bag and steel container with chain link handles hanging from respective ends. The orientation suggests a scale, although the bar is horizontal, the objects appear to have the same weight. The plastic bag is adorned with red Swarovski crystals depicting the iconic rose and the “thank you” images found on the to-go bags. Both containers provide similar functions, but one is easily thrown away while the other is not. I see this installation as a nod to what Fischer calls ‘consumer performance’, pointing out that our act of consuming usually ends in rejection, while the objects we easily throw away contain value in their function. .
These are not the only containers found in the exhibit. Curator Laurel McLaughlin encouraged Fischer to include empty wine bottles, beer cans and even cigarette containers around the gallery to highlight the presence of this waste / receptacle. Fischer uses yellow, red, blue and white flocking to adorn the containers, also reminiscent of marketing and the use of primary colors to sell items to consumers. The scattered containers hold a strong frame together throughout the gallery, the hallmark of human existence and where what we typically reject is seen as ornamental.
Around the corner, the Fischer triptych Steel / Flying (2020) hangs on the gallery wall. Here, Fischer displays three replica two-dimensional steel pieces depicting a man taking refuge under a Rockstar energy drink panel, with a “Steel Reserve” sign and dollar sign highlighting the background. Along with the flocked vases, these pieces are reminiscent of the Pop Art commercial genre, perhaps even a nod to the 1964 exhibition American supermarket. The texture of the triptych is interesting: Fischer oxidizes the rust and creates abstract lines of engravings on the surface, which creates a worn look.
Rust, like mold, is a type of wear and tear on surfaces that develops over time. For Fischer, rust is used to “express the tension between love, rage and shame in my heart over a landscape over which I have had little control.” It’s a nod to her old neighborhood of 82nd Street and, as she remembers, “landscapes riddled with addictive advertisements.” The play words of “steel” and “steal” further emphasize the disparity of classes, those who must steal for resources and the ramifications of theft within our police state.
Adjacent to Steel / Flying, Fischer and McLaughlin, hanged a warning, another two-dimensional steel engraving. a warning successfully counteracts the class narrative in Steel / Flying showcasing the wealthy through an abstract chandelier, an image Fischer took on his cell phone in New York City. The light-emitting play hints at the grandiose of the upper class, but as Fischer pixelated the chandelier, viewers are confronted with the reality of the room. How sustainable is wealth and what are the ramifications of hoarding money? Together, Steel / Flying punctuated by a warning creates a conversation, a representation of the disparaging gap between classes.
In the center of the gallery is the series of installations by Fischer Ellison (1950/2021) and Mirror outlet (2019), undoubtedly the highlight of the show. Mirror outlet offers the outline of a steel hanging door reminiscent of the door of his childhood home which is then draped with photographs printed on muslin. The diaphanous depictions are a compilation of the signage we see as we walk through our cityscapes: the arch of McDonald’s, a Marlboro ad, various restaurant signs and even a marquee that says “SEE YOU IN HELL MY FRIENDS”. Behind the door, dried Nardello peppers hang in the light from the gallery window. Fischer sees this as a self-portrait, bridging the gap between old Portland and the newly developed areas.
In front of Mirror outlet, rests Ellison, a sanctuary-like offering of three different seeds, green beans, fennel and echinacea from Fischer’s garden, atop a handmade rug, crocheted by his great-great-great-grandmother, Ellison , in 1950. The offerings invite the spectator to look out the door, even imagining crossing it, after the corporate advertisement, towards a more sustainable future.
Annie Eskelin, director of Astoria Visual Arts, explains that the coastal town is an ideal location for this show as it opens up a dialogue with rural farmers about the effects of consumerism on their business. Fischer creates a link between theory and praxis, WASTE offers a dialogue around themes such as the concept of food scarcity, the delicacy of the food chain and sustainability through local agriculture.
I enjoyed the dreamlike, partly dystopian, partly utopian feel of the series, in which Fischer and McLaughlin have built a world where the ramifications of our own consumption meet a tenderness and a reminder that the earth, which provides us with kindness. of green beans and peppers, still exists to support us. Fischer’s use of materials is remarkable, cloth against steel, crystal against plastic, and even the emphasis on bloodied animal remains (from the title) counteracting the earthiness of the seeds.
Fischer has been a longtime gardener and during the pandemic she changed her priorities from working in the studio to planting seeds in her garden. Raised by her mother and maternal grandparents on the outskirts of Portland, Fischer grew up with an appreciation for, as she claims, “anything dirty.” “Gardens bring us together as does art,” says Fischer, whose family ultimately created the garden project, Gardens of Salvation, a community garden seeking to provide agricultural resources to local communities.
As the show wraps up and Fischer embarks on her annual winter hideaway, she intends to further develop the ideas for “OFFAL” by providing community meals through Salvation Gardens. Visitors to “OFFAL” can participate in this extended practice; Fischer provided small packets of seeds from his garden to take away for visitors to the gallery. The offer can grow throughout the 2022 season and beyond.
Astoria Visual Arts, a federally recognized organization since 1989, supports the arts around the North Oregon Coast by providing exhibition, residency and enhanced educational opportunities for local youth. WASTE until November 30, open Fridays from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays, from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays, from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. and by appointment. For more information, please visit astoriavisualarts.org or email [email protected]