Google the term “daily practice,” and you’ll get an assortment of mindfulness tips and prompts encouraging a regular, self-actualizing regime.
What the search is not likely to deliver are parameters like those adopted by the 15 artists in “Every (ongoing) Day” at Arena 1 Gallery: Place a piece of light-sensitive photographic paper in your purse at the beginning of the day and take it out at the end. Or, upon waking, take a picture of your sleeping wife. Or, close your eyes and draw for the length of one song on your iPod.
For many in the captivating show, a daily ritual emerged from the practical need to keep the hand limber and the muscles of observation taut. Jody Zellen’s music drawings, Pam Posey’s watercolor sketches, and Annetta Kapon’s cut-paper collages answer this need. Works in this vein might be on the same continuum as the artists’ primary projects but are more warm-up act than main performance. Their verve is hit or miss.
Other artists in the show make steady deposits into a diaristic record to track changes over time in the perceiving or perceived self. Karl Baden bound 30 years of his stark, mug shot self-portraits into a brick of a book, and he also turned the images into frames of a 30-second film that accelerates and compresses decades of physical ripening.
Nancy Floyd’s daily photographic self-portraits over 35 years situate the artist in her home or work environment, delivering more piquant period flavor. The sections of the project mounted here like giant proof sheets take us from fake wood paneling to a bank of computers, from a young woman with long hair and bangs to a mature adult in a Black Lives Matter T-shirt.
Whatever the motivation, the outcomes overlap: Work with an outward focus inevitably reflects an inner world, and work that mirrors that individual world ends up revealing much more — about time, culture, place and style.
Instagram has turned many such private exercises into public performances, and there are four examples on display here. The most inventive and amusing feed is Jamie Newton’s, a chronicle of improvised sculptures assembled from common studio tools, household objects, light and shadow.
“Every (ongoing) Day,” organized by Posey and Zellen, testifies to the inexhaustible potential of the everyday. Christina Price Washington’s purse photograms, for instance, offer subtle tonal and textural accounts of each lived day. Fresh and surprisingly beautiful, they take their place within the history of chance operations in art stretching back through John Cage to Dada.
Of all the projects here, “The Sleep Piece (Exterior of Unconsciousness, One Photograph Every Morning Before Waking),” a collaboration between Laura Cooper and Nick Taggart, most deepens and thickens the conversation around daily practice.
The black-and-white Polaroids, mounted in grids of 30, are shot from above looking down onto the bed — a kind of domestic aerial photography. The conceptual rigor of the format tussles with the organic chaos of the subject. Formal order yields to sensual intimacy, and vice versa.
Of the 227 panels completed since 1993, eight are presented here — the very first, the most recent, and several in between. Frame by frame, morning by morning, Taggart and Cooper enact a ritual of creation that doubles as an affirmation of partnership, a dance of privilege and vulnerability. Both the pictures and the practice are spellbinding.
Arena 1 Gallery, 3026 Airport Ave., Santa Monica. Through April 14; closed Sundays-Tuesdays. (310) 397-7456, www.arena1gallery.com
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