Ruckus logoA white walled gallery with two people looking at art, and the vinyl text, “Slow Burn” on the wall.
Above: Install of Slow Burn, courtesy of Weston Art Gallery

Slow Burn


Review
Mary Clore


Slow Burn, Breanne Trammell’s current exhibition at Weston Art Gallery, is a chaotic response to an even more chaotic world. By immersing her work in 80s and 90s childhood memorabilia, Trammell places herself squarely in the conversation around her generation’s anxieties. What do the youth of the 80s, now adults in their thirties or forties, think about? Balancing cynicism, humor, and sincerity, Trammell answers this question without retreading too-common arguments about millennials. Her work shifts in volume and tone, leaving space for moments of nuance and quiet surprise—ultimately creating a place for connection amidst the turmoil we encounter every day.

One of the first things I notice is that nearly every aspect of Slow Burn features text. Pieces of phrases and whole paragraphs appear throughout the space, forming an incessant dialogue that builds to a cacophony. The text contains errant thoughts and concerns oscillating from the level of national crises to the minute and interpersonal. The artist presents ideas in retro fonts and neon colors, sometimes accompanied by pop culture figures, as in her Poochie stickers. In Trammell’s iconography, Mattel’s pink and white poodle wears her signature purple sunglasses and delivers phrases like “FRIENDSHIP IS THE MUSIC OF LIFE” and “GET COPS OUTTA SCHOOLS!”

Different thoughts have different levels of urgency in Trammel’s work. On a wall covered with bright printed banners, what stands out immediately are the issues that define our social and political moment:

“PLAGUE!”

“STOP KILLING YOUTH”

“LEGALIZE FREEDOM”

“GIVE A DAMN”

These statements come with bright backgrounds and glittery rainbow text, scattered with random imagery like a photo of Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine from Seinfeld. On the next wall, a giant yellow bumper sticker says “Existential crisis is my co-pilot” in playful red letters. To some, the glitter and the stickers may seem childish or irreverent. Trammell’s narrator, a faceless millennial, navigates a constant stream of crises and dresses up their response in the same way formative information was presented to us: with the kitschy aesthetics of 80s and 90s consumerism.

The sheer amount of text—including take-home booklets, comments scribbled by guests in shades of blue colored pencil, and vinyl lettering applied to the baseboard, the floor, and other unexpected places—is overwhelming. The varying levels of sincerity create a feeling of whiplash. In one corner of the gallery, the video Kind of Bluets: 33 Great Moments in Color (Aid) Commentary plays, wherein a narrator reads texts reminiscent of Maggie Nelson’s Bluets in the cadence of a sports announcer over background audio of a cheering crowd, adding an absurdity that cuts through the earnestness of the poetic phrases. It’s a genuinely funny parody of the kind of popular poetry that is branded as hip and cool for artsy types of Trammell’s generation—which still resonates with me as a younger millennial—in contrast with the world of athletics, its machismo, commercialism, and altogether different approach to aesthetics. Shades of blue reappear throughout Trammell’s work, however, suggesting a true affinity for Nelson’s book, despite the artist’s willingness to poke fun at it.

A quieter moment in the exhibition takes place on a long table where Trammell has placed a series of rectangular cards printed with more phrases that take us deeper into the inventory of her thoughts with the invitation, “GENTLE HOLDING ENCOURAGED.” As I lift each one, the cards become tender physical objects, printed with different fonts on colored paper, and laid out precisely on a grid of blue rectangles. This collection of wordplay, jokes, and absurdisms features phrases like:

“Tallboy in a Cheeto bag”

“tfw yr constantly reminded that yr doing the work that 3 men used to do”

“FULL DENIM JACKET”

“Station wagon lift kit”

The small printed phrases seem hyper-specific, like they’re references to real jokes or conversations—the kind of thing my roommate texts me during our tedious work days, and then I laugh about it with her later while we sit on the couch eating chips, or the things I say to a friend in conversation, and then, giggling, open my phone to tweet the scramble of words out of context. The shorthand in the text alludes to digital communication, but each card is embossed with hand-printed text that reads in a specific tone. The physicality of the cards as objects, with their designated spaces on the table, shows precision and care. Language—and its accompanying ideas and feelings—so easily bleeds over from our digital lives into the physical world. Here there is no stark dichotomy of online/offline, and noise takes up literal space.

Throughout the onslaught of words and exclamations in Slow Burn, there is a constant voice asking for care and connection. This is most explicitly stated on a pink banner with san serif text, reading like a letter to a friend: “...I find that there is no room to not be okay. I am hesitant to say I need an extra lift. A back to rest on. A shoulder to lay my head. I help others relieve the stress but there is no one to help carry the weight that burdens me.” The imagined narrator asks for intimacy and care, something Trammell has built into the gallery space, with all of its interactive moments and unexpected details. There are objects to pick up, touch, and inspect, things to take home, and the exhibition featured a multi-sensory music and performance variety show, Rhythm/Rythmn Society, on July 11. This work is made for connectivity, and the barrier between viewer and artwork is especially thin here.

Trammell has taken thoughts and feelings that float through our minds and our news feeds, and she has made them physical in this space. The exhibition title describes the state of the world outside, as well as the way these thoughts compound throughout the gallery into a kind of static. Inundated with the same kind of unrest and anxiety that already colors most of my days, I don’t necessarily feel better about the world after spending time with Slow Burn. But the fact that Trammell’s work is objectively funny is what makes it a realistic portrait of our generation; we have to laugh as we descend further and further into uncertainty. I do feel less alone.

-

Slow Burn is on view at the Alice F. and Harris K. Weston Art Gallery, East Gallery, through August 28, 2021.

The Weston Art Gallery is located at the Aronoff Center for the Arts, 650 Walnut Street Cincinnati, OH 45202 and is open Wednesday through Saturday, 11am-4pm. The wearing of face masks and social distancing are recommended.

Notes:
-

8.14.21

Mary Clore (she/her) is a painter, printmaker, museum professional, and art writer based in Louisville, Kentucky. She is a founder and editor for Ruckus.
A white walled gallery with two sawhorse tables in the center with small pieces of paper works on top, and lined all around, and completely covering the walls, are various posters or different shapes and colors that read things like “Plague!” or, “Stop Killing Youth!”
Install of Slow Burn, courtesy of Weston Art Gallery

A white walled gallery with two sawhorse tables in the center with small pieces of colored paper works on top and lined around on the walls with posters of different shapes and colors that read things like, “Existential crisis is my co-pilot.”
Install of Slow Burn, courtesy of Weston Art Gallery

Close up view of a sawhorse, plywood table with an orderly grid of various colored paper with smaller, centered text on each one that read things like “IM4HUMOR” or “BERNARD SHAKEY.”
Install of Slow Burn


A corner of a white walled gallery with three pieces of art in frame. On the left a large, pink square of fabric that has illegible gold text. In the middle, an arc of 7 flag-banners that all read different messages in colored text on a canvas colored fabric. On the right less visible square of white with faint blue markings surrounded by a thick black border.
Install of Slow Burn, courtesy of Weston Art Gallery

A wide angle shot of a white walled gallery featuring a show called “Slow Burn,” according to the vinyl wall text on the right side of a narrower hallway leading into a larger space. What seems to be a blue t-shirt with yellow lettering hangs on the left side, and directly ahead is a large square, wall hanging work divided into 4 sections of blacks, reds, blues, and yellows.

Install of Slow Burn, courtesy of Weston Art Gallery