Beyond Monotony: Nietzsche’s Eternal Return at Nurture Art

Jonathan Brilliant, "The Eternal Return Piece" (2010) (click to enlarge)

Repetition in art can be so juicy … when it’s done right. Second-rate minimalism has so deeply traumatized all us with its dull monotony and draining sense of sameness. Indeed, the fear that your favorite professor heard or saw you yawning after the 18th Judd slide in that dark lecture room binds us all together. However, there is another facet of repetition that minimalism’s fierce rejection of ornament and narrative has left un-explored. The show closing tomorrow at Nurture Art, titled Eternal Return, reveals a more vivacious take on recurring forms. The exhibition’s name is a reference to Nietzsche, but more on that in a second.

The magnum opus of the show is Jonathan Brilliant’s colossal site specific sculpture, “The Eternal Return Piece” (2010). It is made of 30,000 wood coffee sticks that are held together without any glue or adhesive. Shear tension binds these sticks together. You would think that the vortex-like sculpture would be as fragile as a deck of cards but it’s not. Ben Evans, Nuture Art’s gallery director, proved his point by brazenly pushing in on the sculpture while I watched and in the process demonstrated its resilience. It’s mind boggling how much can be achieved by contorting a stick over and over again. Brilliant’s work felt as much like a feat of engineering as aesthetics.

Elsewhere, Reuben Lorch-Miller’s video, “Nonterminus” (2002), of an endless tunnel really scores an aural bull’s-eye. It emits this haunting noise that fills the entire gallery. Most angsty video artists indulge in a heavy-handed approach to eerie sounds that it comes off trite and grating like nails on a chalk board. This noise had a subtlety that feels queasy and haunted. Sound remains the Achilles heel for many video artists who tend to myopically focus on the visual.

A view of Eternal Return at Nurture Art (click to enlarge)
A view of Nurture Art's Eternal Return (click to enlarge)

Tara Parsons also uses one item over and over again – boxes of dental floss. Her neatly arranged grid, “Dental Records” (2005), invokes repetition on many levels. Not only does everyone have floss in their cabinet, but they are expected to use it every night. Although you wouldn’t exactly admit this on a first date, we can all fess up to the fact that every six months our dentists, who, leery of our real and not professed floss habits, lecture us about the benefits of flossing more regularly. Looking at the boxes of dental floss may very well evoke the dark realization that our broken vows to floss more will continue.

This recurring tooth floss scenario is an apt example of Nietzsche’s idea of the eternal return of the same. As the old adage goes, history is doomed to repeat itself, but when we honestly examine our daily lives, we can likewise see so many repeating patterns. This gruff thinker was really trying to unpack why we can gain so much knowledge as humans, but still make the same typos over and over again, fail to floss our teeth after a thousand lectures, or keep forgetting that small detail you told yourself is really important five minutes ago.

Like most shows at Nurture Art, each work explores the common theme in a different manner. Some play more with the formal potential of recurring patterns, and others go for the jugular with a content that plays with Nietzsche. Such a wide spectrum — all with a language that appears informed by minimalism — creates a rich viewing experience which explores the beauty of repetition without becoming tedious.

Eternal Return is curated by Christine Spangler & Tyler Wriston and features the work of Jonathan Brilliant, Judith Braun, Joy Curtis, Thomas Lendvai, Tara Parsons, Reuben Lorch Miller, and Cody Trepte. It closes Saturday, February 28, 2010, (the website listing is incorrect) at Nurture Art (910 Grand Street, Brooklyn, NY).

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