To be clear, a landscape is a view cut from the land itself; cut from the depths of the visible terrain that expands ad infinitum. It’s a selection of space composed for display, implying the lens of our vantage point. That space is looking back at us, but does not see us. If a landscape reclines, it’s the viewer that has laid it back. With this process in mind, imagine a scene in which Manet’s Olympia has been absorbed by her chaise lounge, which in turn is swallowed by the room. In Reclining Landscapes, Ryan Sluggett refigures such a relationship, turning the nude, her furniture, and the architecture into a heap of parts.
Cardboard and tin, nylon sheeting, nails and twine, necks, shoulders, and backs, rough-cut painted boards, a woman’s hand, a rag, pieces of sheet rock: we encounter this as a territory of odd limbs and slab-like objects. Two knee-high geometric plinths present us with artifacts, supine, but without the actual contingencies of their use. We walk around and through these stations. In the center, low to the ground, is an oblique flickering projection with a windy, rattling sound score. It can be thought of as a drive-in movie playing for a lot of parked sculptures. Together we watch an animation that depicts a wild state where these sculptures have no inherent forms, but live through a succession of interchangeable bodies, morphing one from another through cut-and-peeled facades of color, texture, and material. Sluggett feels out a course between the gestures of the figure and structures of landscape using a language of clumsy assemblage. Upon seeing this metamorphosis, Mario Merz might’ve offered, “Art makes it possible to pass through things, to be in a process of going through, not an arrival.” Art Clokey riffs, “Yes! It creates a massaging of the eye cells.”
These fragmentary sculptures, in concert with the video and sound, “pass through things” in two ways. First, as a sequence of permutations of form characteristic of Sluggett’s offhand style; and second, in the narrative of traversal inherent in our basic habitation of space. The aural and optical movement and materiality combine as a total physical presence. We’re in the ambience of a specific location, but it has been transformed to a degree that dissolves any identifiable reference to an original elsewhere. In its place is the desire to make a new terrain out of the sum of the sculptures’ parts. This bounded set of internal relations renders the group of individualized ‘reclining landscapes’ into a single, self-contained place. From this view, the artwork plays out like an abstracted atoll.
A small island, just like the space of an abstract painting, promises a sense of autonomy. The allure of such a place is that it lies outside of economically saturated space, outside of the valued space of acreage and fence lines that we have cut into the land. But the fear of such a place is in its wilderness, its exile, out and away, dis-integrated from society.
Unlike Paul Gauguin or some contemporaneous early ethnographers who framed islands and their indigenous cultures as grounds for essentializing the human condition, Sluggett is not interested in the meaning the terrain evokes but simply the shape it takes. As in Guy Debord’s practice of the dérive, Sluggett has posited the artwork for the wandering individual, but here the sculpture drifts through bodies in order to describe terrain. Reclining Landscapes is a contraption that acts as a transducer between the genres of figurative and landscape. The arranged heaps conflate the living with the inert. Olympia and her chaise lounge are both consumed then digested in the artist’s reckoning with topographies. All the while, Sluggett jettisons identifiable social or political implications. He has stripped such motives from these movements, doubling what Herman Hesse voiced in Siddhartha: “I am going nowhere: I am just walking. I am wandering around.”
Eben Goff is a Los Angeles based artist.