In the 1990s, Scott Treleaven was best known as a film and zine-maker. Toronto-bred and living in Paris, Treleaven had made a name for himself through his zine, Salivation Army, which he filled with collage, drawings, 35mm photographs and sprawling notes. It was a meeting place of Queer, occult, and punk interests, if you can imagine such a wild thing.
Treleaven’s new show at Silverman Gallery in San Francisco is an evolution of his genre-crossing method. It employs drawing, photography and sculpture, though delineating between them feels counterproductive, as all his mediums consciously overlap. Upon first glance, the work almost appears to have been made by several artists. On the rightmost wall hang multiple small and near-monotone 35mm images of objects photographed through aging second-hand mirrors, titled Portal Photographs, while the leftmost wall features large, abstract collages obscuring painted images, titled Cell Drawings, with a gestural effect that recalls Cy Twombly’s expressionistic mark-making. Separately, each set of works refuses narrative, but together, they engage in dialogue.
The substance of the show, however, is the pillars in the center of the floor (Totems, 2011). Standing between four and six feet high, the triangular-shaped Totems are draped with scanned and printed C-prints from Treleaven’s own super-8 films: film strips made positive. Secured only at the top of each pillar, they hang loosely and overlap to form an object equal parts collage, photograph, and sculpture. Two out of the three are totally abstract, featuring moments of color and lens flare from the films. The third pillar intermixes frames of light, sky, and a nude young man running away from the camera with a white dog seemingly in tow. These stills, drawn from a visit to Marshall’s Beach in the Presidio, provide the one moment in the entire show in which a narrative becomes fleetingly imaginable. In relation to the mediated abstractions that encircle it, the encounter with a recognizable sense of scale and time is disquieting.
Still, much like a zine refuses the sequential structure of a book, the result here is a story that goes nowhere, a memory that’s slipping away before our eyes. Using film and photography to deny, rather than affirm, narrative is a strange thing indeed, and the effect here is at once haunting and sentimental.