Preparing to Continue

CRITICS CHOICE: Allen Topolski writes about Circuit Gallery artist Heather Layton‘s body of work entitled “Preparing to Lose” as part of our ongoing blog series.

Heather Layton, Training Exercise #1 (from Preparing to Lose), 2008

Heather Layton, Training Exercise #1 (from Preparing to Lose), 2008

Preparing to Continue
by Allen Topolski

Second place is so tragic. Third and all the rest hardly matter.

The Winter Olympic medal count just ran across the bottom of the TV screen – as if that is all we needed to sum it up. Who decided that the list’s order should be based on the over-all number of metals (US), as opposed to the most gold (Canada)? Aren’t we just altering the data so as to win?

Can’t we just say that ‘trying’ is all that matters and that losing only makes us stronger? Perhaps we’re not trying hard enough though; and who is to say if we are? And wouldn’t that be just a different strategy for winning?

Okay – ‘process.’ We can rest in the comfort of the ongoing. I like process. But process still does imply work toward an end. I’m afraid I have adopted process only because it continually poses the potential to become about trying or winning.

If only we could truly embrace continual transformation as a resolve… (It’s a paradox – I know – but we live plenty of them anyway.) Transition pushed to constancy bears out continuation. If we could desire that as a means of existence, we’d be happy to prepare to lose. Just as happy to practice to win or arrange our own downfall. Because the ‘endings’ would only exist in this scenario as points along a continuum, I guess what I’m talking about is just ‘being’ – but importantly, active ‘being’ and being a part for its own sake.

What Heather Layton is usually ‘talking about’ in her art – and what is so expertly presented in her ‘Preparing to Lose’ series, is ‘active being’ – the constancy or persistence employed by the collective and the splendor of contribution. Forget losing individuality to the collective, it doesn’t happen in the spaces of Heather’s art. If one truly commits to the role of the active participant, one’s desire for individuality – and the pride that comes with it – dissolves with the urge to conquer. Individuality is still there though – determined by fair distribution of different roles and separate objects – the weight of the buckets (Hospice) or the pattern of the bundles (Beautiful Burden).

Layton’s Circuit Gallery drawings look tragic to me – familiar and funny illustrations of futility – but that is only because I remain mired in finality. The parachute softens the landing and upon the landing it immediately becomes the – um, – burden? Nope. It immediately becomes the tool to manage a burden. Objects here are the same as people – they are what they can do or choose to do. By our common standards it may not be the best tool (that would be too similar to winning) and it may not be the best process (that would emphasize trying) but it is what it is and it is pointed not to a result divided and ranked but a shared experience, a story very worthy of telling.

Allen C. Topolski is a practicing artist, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Rochester (Rochester, New York). He teaches a variety of interdisciplinary courses. Topolski was raised in the coal region of central Pennsylvania. He was formally trained in painting and later realized the importance of artifacts from his post-industrial childhood town – they prompted the investigations of nostalgia and domesticity that dominate his work today. Topolski received his BA from Bucknell University and his MFA in 1990 from Penn State University. Topolski has a national exhibition record and is currently involved in a number of public art initiatives in the city of Rochester.


See more work by Heather Layton:

Heather Layton, Pull (from Preparing to Lose), 2008

Heather Layton, Pull (from Preparing to Lose), 2008

Heather Layton, Parachute Down (from Preparing to Lose), 2008

Heather Layton, Parachute Down (from Preparing to Lose), 2008

Heather Layton, Arsenal (from Preparing to Lose), 2008

Heather Layton, Arsenal (from Preparing to Lose), 2008

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