MEANING IN ART: The Desert of the Black Cross

Aaron Colantti and Rob K-S
Trip Relics, Unfinished Projects
and a Good Hitchhiking Uniform
2011, mixed media, detail

On the heels of their Above the Line show in a St. Paul warehouse, Aaron Colantti and Rob Kaiser-Schatzlein (K-S) hitchhiked across the state of Wisconsin to Milwaukee to drive out for their residency at 17 Cox. Joined by filmaker Megan Schiller, they left St. Paul on July 7, 2011 and began The Desert of the Black Cross, a well laid plan that was to be redacted and rewrote again and again. A document of life on the road, including all of the changes and detours that are synonymous with a journey into the unknown, The Desert of the Black Cross is not a destination but a series of sleep-overs and a constant renegotiation of what is necessary and unnecessary, what stays and what goes.


Kazimir Malevich
 Black Cross, Black Square, Black Circle
1915, oil on canvas



The name of the exhibition is in reference to Kazimir Malevich’s painting Black Cross, and his manifesto on ‘Suprematism’, a search for the pure feeling in a painting.  Black Cross was a work stripped of every comfort and convention associated with art of its time.  In 1913, Malevich argued that his painting of a black cross on a white background was the most efficient way to achieve the “pure feeling” he wished to communicate.  By discarding comfort and convention, Malevich argued that one enters a metaphorical desert...

...in which nothing can be perceived but feeling.  Everything which determined the objective ideal structure of life and of "art ideas, concepts, and images, all this the artist has cast aside in order to heed pure feeling.

Aaron Colantti and Rob K-S, Sketchbook Grid
2011, photocopied sketchbook
installation view
Colantti and K-S have left behind their “ideal” life: access to a studio, equipment, and the creature comforts of kitchens and bathrooms. On the road, the back of their van was a studio by day and a bed for three at night.  Arriving at 17 Cox, their studio, exhibition space and kitchen were all rolled into one.  Their apartment upstairs was converted into a film production chamber and Rob had to sleep in the library.

All of these mash-ups and hybrid spaces are adaptations to the changes involved in crossing a desert of any sort. Survival devices are created or discarded to serve needs that change in each new environment,  Colantti said that this method is an “imposed pain” that inspires new ways of thinking, and is integral to maintaining a creative mind.

“When, in the year 1913, in my desperate attempt to free art from the ballast of objectivity, I took refuge in the square form and exhibited a picture which consisted of nothing more than a black square on a white field, the critics and, along with them, the public sighed, "Everything which we loved is lost. We are in a desert .... Before us is nothing but a black square on a white background!"

Aaron Colantti and Rob K-S, Tent + Stove
2011, tent, stove, basil plant
For K-S, the significance of a black cross on a white background is often limited to two interpretations: either it as a reduction or a minimal deployment.  However, K-S argues that the desert and the journey are a dialogue of additive and subtractive gestures.  A history of actions and redactions is Malevich’s process of arriving at pure feeling.  Likewise, the artist team’s journey across the country was not simply a reduction of belongings or a minimal deployment of needed objects, but a constant renegotiation of what was necessary or unnecessary.  Objects were obtained as needed and discarded when they became cumbersome or broken; plans were made and remade to solve new surroundings and discoveries.

No more "likenesses of reality," no idealistic images nothing but a desert! But this desert is filled with the spirit of nonobjective sensation which pervades everything.
Aaron Colantti and Rob K-S
 1081 photos taken since July 7 - August 6 2011
2011, digital video
An installation of moment-to-moment photography, a hitchhiking sign, video of hotel vignettes, graffiti tags, worn clothing: Colantti and K-S have broken down the convention that galleries show likenesses of things and events and not actually the things or events themselves. Most of the objects exhibited are either tools or artifacts of an event that happened between Minnesota and Massachusetts - and fall outside the definition of traditional art media and process. All of the work was created on the road starting on July 7th (K-S’ birthday); and then adapted and focused in 17 Cox’s space.

Speaking personally, this exhibition has stretched the assumed functions I had for an exhibition space. Now the tradition of exhibiting a finished object seems like an inherently second-hand presentation of what has actually occurred.  How can we present the history of an object with only that object?  And can a series of objects come anywhere near the actual weight of the history involved?  It seems the more objects we present the more we have to explain, yet each object still remains itself.  Is the whole exhibit necessary?  Or can a single object contain all of the context it needs?

...a tree remains a tree even when an owl builds a nest in a hollow of it.