Nina Katchadourian: Seat Assignment, April 5 to May 24 2014.
“Seat Assignment is born from an investment in thinking on your feet, from optimism about the potential that lurks within the mundane and from curiosity about the productive tension between freedom and constraint.”
Nina Katchadourian has been making installation, sculpture, photography, sound, and moving image works for over 20 years. Originally from California and based in Brooklyn since 1996, she studied with Allan Kaprow at the University of California, San Diego, where she did her MFA. Her work often springs from astute observations of the everyday and from her engagement with the chronically mundane. Katchadourian is somewhat of a method artist: like a method actor, she is never not in art-making mode. This is highly evident in the ongoing photo and video series Seat Assignment, which began in 2010 and has since yielded an extensive archive of images—all made on airplanes using only found materials and documented with a camera phone.
Like much of Katchadourian’s work, Seat Assignment reflects the artist’s wry and generous wit, but the project is also a complex re-ordering of, and reflection on, mass-mediated images and our voracious appetite for them. Several years ago, Katchadourian began exhibiting a portion of the project featuring self-portraits made in an airplane lavatory, where she donned paper towels and tissues to effect the look of Flemish paintings. Seat Assignment at Cecilia Brunson Projects, however, focuses instead on works the artist made on the surface of her tray table while confined to her airplane seat. We see crumbled pretzels arranged on a picture from an in-flight magazine to create the image of a landslide; a shred of a cocktail napkin forming a halo for an elderly dog; sweater lint behaving like noxious black smoke pouring from the engine of an airplane pictured in an airline advertisement; an image of the stranger beside her spied in a shiny seat belt buckle. No materials are off-limits for hijacking in service of Katchadourian’s highly improvised but startlingly precise constructions.
Katchadourian’s prolific, highly varied, and almost relentless output is reflected in Flight Log, a 15-minute digital slide show that catalogues hundreds of images made in-flight and groups them into thematic categories. These include collections like “Proposals for Public Sculpture,” “High-Altitude Spirit Photography,” and the enigmatic “Sweater Gorillas.” Some categories are as traditional as one might find in an art history textbook (“Landscapes”). Others (“Disasters,” “Provisional Shelters”) point to the underlying anxiety that the artist-passenger seems to feel, while “hurtling through space at high speed in a long metal tube full of strangers.” The levity and humor that is pervasive in the project exists in a symbiotic relationship with the urgency to make—even under circumstances where good art might seem impossible. Seat Assignment reflects both the joy and the relief that come from this absorption, for maker and for viewer.