The exhibition is part of “Crackle & Drag,” which is the umbrella title of TR Ericsson’s practice since 2003 and has developed into an inspired chronicle of a rustbelt family in post-industrial America. What begins as a soft, searing, and complex portrait of intimacy and Americana evokes universal themes of love, loss and ephemerality. With conceptual rigor and emotional directness, Ericsson uses a century’s worth of family archives to reconstruct the past, exploring the healing powers of commemoration and the pitfalls of memory.
His work raises difficult subjects such as domestic violence, mental illness, suicide, love, loss and financial struggle, as it investigates triangular relationships between three generations through the objects that outlive them. “Crackle and Drag” has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Everson Museum of Art during the last three years, also earning the century-old Print Center International Award. An eponymous monograph earned distinctions in the Aperture and Kraszna Krausz awards. Works from this body are in the collections of the Cleveland Museum of Art, The Dallas Museum of Art, The Indianapolis Museum of Art, Harvard Library, MoMa (New York), the Whitney Museum, Yale University Collection and numerous private collections including those of Marguerite Hoffman and Agnes Gund. The film “Crackle & Drag,” premiered in Belgium at Harlan Levey Projects in September 2015 before being presented in several festivals. Throughout his career, Ericsson has also created works which bring artists who have influenced him into the narrative. Often it’s in these works that the artist/author offers up intimate expressions related to his personal outlook and biography. Duchamp’s Étant donnés was obliquely referenced in a series of powdered graphite works of Tom’s wife, Rose, where she became the doppelgänger of both a murdered girlfriend and his deceased mother. Bruce Connor’s Angels were inverted into erotic Lucifers in shadowy photograms of Rose, once more, but by far the most enduring and complex influence has been the work of Marcel Broodthaers. Around the same time the artist began to manage the details surrounding his mother’s death, including the emptying of three homes (hers and both her parents’) into a storage locker in Ohio, he was, for the first time, learning of the work of Marcel Broodthaers.
First, randomly, in a Pop art anthology, and later in an issue of October Magazine, picked up in a used bookshop, in which the entire issue was devoted to the artist. Eggs, mussels, frites, toys, shovels, wicker chairs, footstools, clothes, ladders, suitcases, shoes and bones, found objects in narrative clusters, staged performances, films and installations... these all contributed to a poet’s visual vocabulary which is difficult to decipher and nearly impossible to penetrate for the casual viewer. Tom found Broodthaers more enchanting than frustrating, and intuited that somehow Broodthaers’ curious signs and symbols, as well as his games with objects and language, could also be applied to the stored objects in the locker in Ohio.
Of course, this influence was complex and never obvious. Our personal lives, like many of Broodthaers’ works, resist easy interpretation. Our private lives and complex inner motivations are often mysterious. Any expression of those interior realities should be equally mysterious to others. Allowing for this and giving this the space and the patience it deserves is where real empathy begins. It does not start with knowing but with not knowing, and Ericsson asserts this unknowableness as being key to his entire enterprise. Having grown up in his grandfather’s bookstore, which specialized in poetry, Tom felt other affinities with the work of the Belgian artist. From early adolescence he’d been reading poetry and continues to do so today.His approach to art is one that sees fiction as that which“...enables us to grasp reality and at the same time that which is veiled by reality.” Then there are the shared objects employed by both artists, the archiving, resurrection, rearranging and grappling with context and meaning, suspension of ideas, or, in Tom’s case, an emotion within the object itself. In this case, instead of just seeing the banality of the thing, one feels the sponge-like way that it holds what was lost. By combining and re-contextualizing these objects, there is a shift in meaning, creating new possibilities, new stories and questions that drive the work forward in time.
This poetic approach implies some form of ambiguity; a resistance to being nailed down in a world that craves definition. As Ericsson points out, “Romanticism is rejected again and again - it’s always cringe worthy and wrong. The industry loves its absence, because its presence makes everything more difficult, its anarchy, scholars love their accumulated propositions that they all begin to think of as facts though they’re not, curators love to define art and it’s meaning, but it’s a lie. Broodthaers knew all this and even his heirs resist the easy definitions everyone wants, the work resists this, resists what is ultimately a kind of collective and institutional violence.”
To escape this violence, Broodthaers and Ericsson both view the art institution as a tool or a vessel to lend new meaning and gravity to some sort of alternative history; a tool to create significance where there was formerly irrelevance. After all, art could also be defined as a useless object with no inherent value other than perhaps being beautiful, interesting or well crafted. It may hold an age or an idea, but how do you put a price on that? How do you sell a story or a family history, and why? Like the museum, it is a question of significance and monetary value, which then demand our attention, time and respect.