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Robert Youds: Light Industry

Standing in front of Robert Youds’ work Erickson’s Cabin, you hear a snapping, like a frozen tock echoing in a fridge; as colour dims inside its large Lexan lightbox, the structure and sound thicken into an object. You might feel denser as well, perhaps, for stumbling into sensor-triggered surveillance, but the change in light intensity happens automatically: it’s not based in motion, just in time. This idea—not motion, just time—is a worthwhile mantra, in fact, for Youds’ entire show at Deluge Contemporary, titled “Room upgrade for Pacific Northwest afternoon.”

On Cabin’s top surface, weathered sheets of birch veneer are appended, fastened like calendar pages. Behind the Lexan’s veil, muted shapes in blues and greys commute changes in relations, moods or types of weather. In contrast, the veneer sheets are super-materially static, like Magritte’s trompe l’oeil faux bois, and they provide some relief for the aporia of looking.

Overhead, a big, overdetermined ceiling lamp is suspended; its shade, printed with a graphic of heavy chains, masks flashing neon squares that busily indicate outlying space.

This work, Usonian Cave, might refer both to Frank Lloyd Wright’s utopian America and to the shackled slaves of Plato’s parable, who read cast shadows in place of the real. Observe the jellyfish-like pulse of Cave’s lights in your peripherals, projecting the limits of the room. Like a labyrinth’s rhythmical confounding, the spiralling of these lights implies a lathe-like turning—out to in, or thick to thin.

The show’s eponymous work consists in part of a wall-mounted square of fluorescent tubing; this plays circuit-as-frame for a propped fascia of cedar shingles, against which more tubes haphazardly incline, as if dragged by magnetism. The anti-craft of the lean-to is belied by a Stuart Davis squiggle of interlaced extension cords. Random holes bored in the wood brace your gaze as perspectival penetration; in the dangling continuity of these measures, a guileless stylishness affixes accident to immersion.

Youds trained as a painter; exchanges of artifice and authenticity constitute an architectural networking between collection and performance that he calls “transmission.” Viewers are “captured” in an atmospheric continuum of light as structure, dematerialization as play.

Just stare at the translucent panes of red, orange, chartreuse and violet—a drugstore counter of colour—in the long wall comprised of two hinged, mullioned panels called Turn on your electric. In between the gently rusted structures, a surfboard inclines, active and passive in its suggested arrest. The board pops through the gridded colours’ tenses, lapsing in and out of time’s climes: 1960s or 1990s, last summer or future youth. It suggests retro/neo as brought to you by the Delaunays and the Eameses—a West Coast aesthetic, not so much –ism as –ification, that stymies time in place, like the moment you step outside an airport (be it LAX, Vancouver or Charles de Gaulle) for the first or the fortieth time.

Richard Artschwager once prescribed making art while watching TV, working only during commercial breaks, so time becomes precious. Youds’ structures and textures synthesizing varied time signatures (rust, warp, gloss, sheen, haze or flicker) confer an ethics of time and matter, suggesting the way each might rightly be used beyond merely being used up.

That suggestion continues through to the final work in the exhibition. The angled fluorescent tubing brokered by sheets of grey and yellow glass in the low, horizontal span of Wood is resilient in earthquakes rests on an aromatic cedar beam, a battery to wood’s soft insulation. The glow of the tubes mimics sunlight passing through venetian blinds in the gallery’s adjacent south-facing windows. Time, merged and elided, resolves on the wall. You feel steadied by the likes of Youds’ light, and by its longer-than-expected stay, just as you might feel about a raking slant glanced upon waking.

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