Brendan Fowler became well known in the late 90s for his performance work under the name BARR, a pop-deconstructing low-level indie star. In recent years, however, he is increasingly focused on the object-based side of his practice, aestheticising the same conceptual, self-reflexive and often self-deprecating ideas while smashing, on some levels quite literally, the forms and phonetics of contemporary art.
As a performer Fowler speaks and sings about idiosyncratic moments of his personal life, spinning narratives while forced to also navigate his immediate present. He might be in the middle of a great anecdote, but then his equipment breaks, or he forgets his idea… or encounters one of the many other things that create life’s stutters. The smash pieces give form to a similar feel. The photos all come from personal moments in Fowler’s life – his studio, a friend’s place or his mother’s garden. Fowler stacks the images on top of each other, both hiding and revealing, showing and cancelling out as he goes, smashing and weaving image through images. As the camera visible in one work seems to suggest, photos only ever show us what their makers choose, and Fowler gives conceptual prowess to a kind of intimate game of hide-and–seek.
Resonating culturally, art historically and as studies in constructions of personal identity, Fowler’s images are layered with associations. The hydrangeas in Fall 2010 – Winter 2012 (Proofing ANPQ with Casey, Miles Taking Apart White Flat, Plywood in Car, Flowers in Patty’s Gazebo 2) are a case in point. Fowler grew up with his mother, Patty, gardening and taking amateur photos of flowers, and this shot is taken in her gazebo. Fowler, however, is also interested in what a flower has come to mean: “I’m coming to them as the ultimate exhausted signifier of beauty. I’m thinking that they are so exhausted that they sort of say “nothing”—the word nothing, as in, negated—out loud. But everyone has to take them on—the Impressionists, Warhol, Wool, Laura Owens, ad infinitum—so they become a micro-conversation about personality. They become like your signature, a mark of penmanship. They are kind of an infinite feedback loop oscillating between impersonal and hyper-personal. I’m interested in both the exhausted flower as an abstract mark and the very genuine flower as signifying all the things that they signify specifically and not-so-specifically.”
The ‘crash’ aspect of these works is highly seductive – it’s hard not rubberneck the images as you walk through his show. They feel spontaneous and a little wild given the lack of control that one associates with most accidents, though it’s an effect that in fact takes many hours to achieve. Fowler consciously plays with seriality in how they are made, and the repetition of the three-frame and four-frame constructions is a playful but important physical representation of his larger, multi-faceted oeuvre.
Brendan Fowler was born in 1978 in Berkeley, California and currently lives and works in LA. His work has been included in such major exhibitions as the 2009 New Museum Triennial “Younger Than Jesus” and the current “American Exuberance” exhibition at the Rubell Family Collection Museum in Miami, and he has performed at New York’s Performa performance art festival and at The Kitchen, New York.