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Matt Browning
at Lawrimore Project, Seattle
Review by Suzanne Beal

In this, his first major solo show, instead of Matt Browning going for the big splash, his entire installation takes up the space of a fireplace mantle. And it all works.

A 2007 graduate of the University Of Washington School of Art, Matt Browning would have presumably tried to make a splash with his first major solo show. Instead, the artist placed the entirety of his already quiet pieces in an even quieter location: the farthest corner of the 6,500 square foot gallery. His installation takes up the length of a single narrow shelf. In spite of treading softly, “Tradition as Adaptive Strategy” carries a big stick.

Browning carved thirty-four individual cone-shaped works from solid blocks of fir, each piece consisting of a funnel, a delicate three-legged support, and a base. He built a fire out of fragments of leftover wood from the carving process to transform sap into pitch, which he used to fill and coat each of his sculptures. In light of Browning’s use of heat in the creation of “Tradition as Adaptive Strategy,” it’s hard to overlook the significance of its placement above a former fireplace.

The individual pieces that make up “Tradition as Adaptive Strategy” recall, among other things, whimsies. Makers of these fanciful carved objects often sought to impress viewers with free-floating objects carved from the center of the block. Likewise in Browning’s current body of work, what was once hidden at the core - sap - becomes the central focus, captured in freeze-frame as it oozes down the sides of his funnels.

Browning initially found inspiration in the ongoing Pitch Drop Experiment initiated by Professor Thomas Parnell. Parnell began the experiment in 1927, seeking to prove that pitch - a rock hard substance at room temperature - would over time reveal its high viscosity by forming into drips. During the span of the eighty-two year old experiment only eight drips have been recorded, each at approximately eight-year intervals.

By casting a long-term lens on the properties of pitch, Parnell succeeded in making what seemed like an inert object come to life. Browning breathed life into his work through similar means. By making connections between the work that arrives fully formed to the gallery mantel, and the time consuming process that precedes Browning, it is demonstrated that object and maker were – so to speak – carved from the same block. Seemingly soft-spoken work can speak volumes in the gallery – especially when that work is the result of experiences savored on the road thereto.

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