Catharine Clark Gallery presents Hollow and Swell, an exhibition of new animations and watercolors by Chris Doyle. The works mark the conclusion of Doyle’s extended response to Hudson River School painter Thomas Cole’s iconic five part series, The Course of Empire (1833 - 1836), which depicts a single landscape as it transitions from a pastoral setting to a dense metropolis that finally, through conflict and overpopulation, deteriorates to a site of overgrown ruins. Hollow and Swell draws inspiration from the central painting of the cycle, The Consummation of Empire (1836), which imagines a neo-classical civilization at its apex. Whereas Cole’s painting responded to a shift from agrarian to mechanized society during the Industrial Revolution, Doyle’s work considers the impacts of digital technology on a rapidly proliferating cultural landscape.
The centerpiece of Catharine Clark Gallery’s presentation is Swell, a 4K digital animation with an original score by Emmy nominated composer Jeremy Turner as performed by Flux Quartet. Swell imagines a city that has grown to unprecedented heights at a historical juncture where industrialization has yielded to a technological revolution. Natural environments are obstructed by buildings and structures throughout Doyle’s animation, a salient metaphor for our attempts to control nature through modes of expansion that undermine our most basic needs for survival. Doyle renders laborers and construction workers in silhouette, reminding us of the human cost of industrialization and expansion. At the same time, traces of the artist’s intervention—including a depiction of Doyle’s hand illustrating the animation—draw attention to the role that artists also play in pervasive—and even invasive—proliferation of “culture.”
Hollow and Swell also features The Price of Gold, a stunning three-channel animation displayed on a folding “screen.” Adapted from Doyle’s 2016 animation In the Labyrinth—which debuted at Catharine Clark Gallery’s 2016 presentation at Texas Contemporary—The Price of Gold depicts an eerily luminous setting of twisted thickets, branches and animal skulls rendered in gold. For Doyle, the landscape in The Price of Gold represents a “repository of fears, desires, and fantasies” that reflects the looming threat of environmental collapse caused by material consumption and excess.
In two related watercolors, Doyle renders the Hermitage Museum’s famous Peacock Clock, a gilded automaton fabricated by James Cox in the late 18th century that features three life-sized mechanical birds. As both a decorative object and a symbol of excessive wealth, the Peacock Clock becomes a strange artifact of a decadent history before the onset of bloody and violent social upheaval. Multiple sculptural objects throughout the gallery, in contrast, present hybrid animations presented under glass vitrines—Doyle remarks that “part handmade, part digital,” these works “bring together elements of the natural world with electronic components into a kind of precarious” harmony.
Catharine Clark Gallery’s presentation of Hollow and Swell coincides with the launch of BOX BLUR 2.0, a series of concerts, film screenings and conversations. In its second year, BOX BLUR is the non-profit wing of the gallery and part of an ongoing initiative to support performance programming and education. Partners for BOX BLUR 2.0 include Chris Doyle, Words on Dance, the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, Jeremy Turner, Eos Ensemble and Alice Gray Stites on behalf of 21c Museum Hotels.