It rained hard for an hour or so early Saturday evening, so there weren’t many cars or pedestrians on the road when artist Matt McAuliffe donned a blindfold and took his car out for a spin. “Blindfolded Drive” was captured on video and streamed online in real time; he was joined by a few volunteer passengers – the ink on their signed waivers still wet – to serve as witnesses to the bona fides of his sightless “performance.”
Those of us in the Bindery Projects’ new gallery space anxiously watched the artist navigate the Midway neighborhood’s rain-slicked streets by way of a projection on the wall. (The footage is embedded above, if you’d like to watch it yourself.) Later, in conversation, he reveals that he grew up very close by, so both the route and its surroundings were deeply familiar to him. He drove blind but surprisingly smoothly and, after a quick jaunt and just a couple of hair-raising moments, he returned to the gallery without incident.
The “Jackass”-worthy stunt manages, at once, to exploit and critically analyze the popular allure of such hazardous amusements. McAuliffe’s blind joyride, a longstanding magician’s trick with roots in the horse-and-buggy era, is equal parts puerile thrill-seeking and postmodern comment-in-action about the conflation of personal risk and entertainment. “Blindfolded Drive” is also the centerpiece of the Bindery Projects’ inaugural exhibition, “City of Glass,” which additionally includes an installation of McAuliffe’s sculpture, video and photography.
The show’s title is taken from the first novel in Paul Auster’s “New York Trilogy,” a clever mystery-cum-meditation on chance known for its intertextual layering of characters and narratives – real and imagined, borrowed and invented, unreliable and downright deceptive.
McAuliffe says, “I’m a big fan of Paul Auster’s writing. I love that his stories feel… almost organic, as if you could flip through the book and start at any page.” He describes Auster’s novels as stories the reader and author create jointly, making meaning and sense among disparate narrative elements on the fly, as part of the imaginative act of reading.
The artist thinks of his own artwork in much the same way, juxtaposing individual pieces with a sort of deliberate capriciousness. McAuliffe says, “When I have a show coming up, I tend to look around at what I’ve been working on, what interests me at the moment, and then put it together. I don’t really try to organize a show around a theme. The process is more instinctive than that – it’s about what feels right.” He’s particularly interested in the way viewers engage his work, in the conversation between pieces that naturally emerges when they’re placed in proximity to one another, catalyzed by the connections viewers draw in the act of seeing them together.
“City of Glass” is a spare assemblage: On one wall, there’s a stack of identical missing-person fliers. In the center of the gallery sits a table with a phone book, perforated here and there by X-acto knife-excised names and listings; mysterious pencil drawings on Midway Hotel stationery; and a handful of dimly lit cell phone photos – cryptic, even sinister images – laid out on a map. In a corner of the gallery is a small television displaying a series of short videos of McAuliffe falling backward into the arms of friends and family, “trust falls” on a stairway, in a backyard, on a sidewalk, on the rooftop of the Bindery Projects’ warehouse building. Nearby, the artist’s cash card – defaced, worn from use, expiration 10/13 – is mounted to the gallery wall.
I don’t sense a coherent story here. Rather, the individual elements on view feel like largely disconnected gestures – toward memory and trust, familiarity and alienation, longings for security in the face of certain hazard. McAuliffe’s objects and vignettes feel pregnant with significance, like the lingering traces of half-remembered dreams, and while I can almost taste a story there, I’ll be damned if I could put it in words.
“City of Glass” by Matt McAuliffe opened Saturday night at the Bindery Projects, a new studio and sometimes gallery space run by artists Caroline Kent and Nate Young. The show will be on view for just one week by appointment at 708 Vandalia Ave, 4th floor, St. Paul. For contact information, upcoming events and exhibition details: thebinderyprojects.com/thebindery_projects/home.html