Born 1970 in Pasadena, California; lives in New York, New York
Through photographs, sculptures, and installations, conceptual artist Michael Queenland examines the implications of faith and collectivity. His work centers on nonconforming figures from Henry David Thoreau to “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski and groups including the Sabbathday Lake Shakers and the Seventh-day Adventists to rethink radical American belief systems, a subject of personal consequence for the artist. Untitled (Derelict Cult Compound ) (2005) and the Untitled (Radical since 1774) series (2005) in particular are inspired by, as he recalls, “revisiting and reevaluating my own personal experience of going to Davidian meetings as a child with my father in Los Angeles and the experience of watching the Waco incident unfold on TV and in newspapers as an adult no longer tied to that community or any particular religion.”
Much of Queenland’s work, often composed of unadorned materials hewing to a reduced palette and deployed in sophisticated juxtapositions, treads a fine line, at once insisting upon sensible, material fact and the ineffable meaning that exceeds it. A visual pun on mundane and spiritual illumination, Candle Piece (2004) consists of a lit candle in a brass holder fitted with a superfluous extension cord plugged into the wall. Standing Brooms until All or None Fall Over (2002) offers, in his words, a kind of “impoverished magic,” as a dozen found flat brooms alight, unsupported, on their bristles in a Minimalist-inspired grid, a clique of anthropomorphized apparitional figures that tumble down one by one during the course of exhibition.
Queenland employs chance by using animals as well, incorporating arachnids into Trap (2004) and cats in Meant Every Other Way (2007). In the former sculpture, a tabletop infrastructure of chopsticks buttresses cobwebs ensnaring Styrofoam peanuts. Like the broomsticks in his 2002 installation, they seem to hover magically in midair, but here Queenland references Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards’s fire-and-brimstone image of man as a spider dangling by a slender thread over the flames of damnation. Conviction and its stakes is a leitmotif for the artist, further emerging in Bread & Balloons, a 2007 solo show in New York whose title slyly refigures Juvenal’s “bread and circuses.” Operating from the position that we now experience not a surfeit but a dearth of fervor, Queenland admits that while violence often attends promise, impassioned thinking still trumps the false assurances of cultural and political palliatives. SUZANNE HUDSON
Michael Queenland, Abnormal Ladder, 2007. Steel chain, plaster, wire, and wax, 168 x 12 x 12 in. (426.7 x 30.5 x 30.5 cm). Collection of the artist.